Tag Archives: Peace

Happy Birthday, Bonnie Raitt

8 Nov

Bonnie RaittToday Bonnie Raitt turns a very youthful 66 years old. I would like to honor and pay tribute to Bonnie Raitt and thank her for all of her energy in making the world a better place.

Bonnie Raitt is a lifelong activist. Born in California in 1949, Raitt’s parents were both musicians and performers and provided a home full of diverse musical influences. She also developed a strong social conscience early, enrolling in Radcliffe College’s African Studies program.

My plan was to travel to Tanzania, where President Julius Nyerere was creating a government based on democracy and socialism. I wanted to help undo the damage that Western colonialism had done to native cultures around the world. Cambridge was a hotbed of this kind of thinking, and I was thrilled.

I love that she talks about her own privilege and about colonization. While in school, she met and befriended legendary blues promoter Dick Waterman. This sparked her childhood fondness for performing and she quickly found herself enmeshed in the local blues and folk scene. Although she had planned to finish her college education, she had a chance to move to Philadelphia to work with a number of her musical heroes and took it.

While most people are familiar with her Grammy-winning work since 1989’s brilliant Nick Of Time, she had a celebrated muscial career and began releasing critically acclaimed albums in 1971. Her bluesy sound and musical excellence dazzled critics and her core of fans but found little in the way of commercial success. She was eventually dropped by her label, Warner Bros., in a purge that also cost Van Morrison and Arlo Guthrie their contracts. She took the time to regroup and work with her idols, eventually working on a project produced by Don Was. That connection led to the resurgence of her career. Eight albums, nine Grammy’s and a 2000 induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame later, she’s still going strong.

Throughout it all, she has been a dedicated activist. Her second album featured a dedication “To the people of North Vietnam…” recognizing the human cost of war. She helped found Musicians United for Safe Energy and has campaigned for numerous causes. It’s quite telling that her website features a prominent ACTIVISM button with numerous links and opportunities for her fans to help make the world a better place.

She also pushes for fairness and equality in her profession. Recognizing that most of the original blues performers were victims of exploitative contracts, she works tirelessly to establish funds for the generation that inspired her. She also recognizes the gender inequities in the music business and has been a vocal part of the Women Who Rock movement. An engaging speaker with a genuine heart, a passionate advocate for social justice, and an amazing musician, I wish you a very happy Birthday! Raitt is another woman I think I could cross the road for; her talent and sense of social justice  make me fall in love with her.

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Peace of Mind: Celebrating the Armistice Pals Project

11 Nov

armistice-palsToday is the 96th anniversary of the agreement that officially ended World War I, an official holiday in many countries that was once known as Armistice Day. Armistice is a powerful word, literally meaning the cessation of hostilities. The nations that had spent four years embroiled in armed conflict truly wished for it to be “The War to end all Wars” and established the annual commemoration to recognize the sacrifices and losses sustained on all sides.

Let us not forget that these losses disproportionately impact the marginalized/targeted and oppressed. However significant the military losses, the so-called “collateral damage” and impacts that linger long after the guns go quiet have stronger ripples among the poor and in communities of color.

Sadly, it was hardly the end of all wars, and over time most nations have chosen to rename the holiday. Most now call it some form of Remembrance Day, focusing on the soldiers but also pausing to reflect on all the casualties of war. In the United States, it has become Veterans Day, a fairly explicit recognition of the combatants.

A British group known as Armistice Pals is using this year’s holiday to raise awareness of the costs of war and to campaign for peace. What a novel idea, to campaign for peace. Helen Meissner, the director of the Folkstock Arts Foundation — dedicated to supporting acoustic musicians — recognized the long connection between folk music and peace campaigning. She assembled a group of like-minded individuals and organizations and Armistice Pals was born.

The group’s inaugural activity was a special recording of one of the finest anti-war anthems ever written. Where Have All the Flowers Gone? was written by the late, great Pete Seeger with Joe Hickerson in 1955. With its powerful imagery and striking chorus — “When will they ever learn?” — it has been recorded hundreds of times in dozens of languages and been awarded many honors.

Meissner collaborated with activist and singer Peggy Seeger, Pete’s sister and the widow of folk legend — and social justice champion — Ewan MacColl. Peggy was thrilled to be involved, continuing her long legacy of peace and social justice activism. She wants everyone to think carefully about the word “armistice” saying it

should be the buzzword for the minute people start disagreeing about something, then say “Wait, hold off, let’s see what this is really all about.”

That’s a powerful vision for using remembrance as a tool for avoiding future conflict.

Armistice Pals gathered dozens of folk musicians from several generations to record a stirring new version of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Peggy Seeger leads the rousing chorus that closes out the song, and the producers include a few lines of Pete Seeger singing the original recording. Noting how community action can resolve — or avoid — conflict, Peggy celebrates the healing power of communal singing, calling it a big part of her brother’s legacy.

He loved getting people to sing together!

Let us use Armistice Day 2014 as a time to reflect on the painful price of conflict and a time to work together for peace.

More information on the Armistice Pals project, including an interview with Peggy Seeger and the lovely recording can be found at Folk Radio U.K. The new version of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? went on sale on November 9 and can be purchased from Folkstock Records as a special edition including three other tracks. Proceeds will go to the Foundation for Peace, Peace Through Folk, the Malala Fund, and the British Red Cross.

I hope we can all take a moment to reflect today on how each of us individually and collectively can make the world a peaceful place.

A Holiday Invitation…

25 Dec
Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays

As this year draws to a close,  I suspect many of us are in an introspective mood.  Many of us are reflecting back on the losses of family and friends and social justice pioneers, such as Nelson Mandela and Lou Reed and to a certain extent Pope Francis and of course Wanda Coleman.  I know I am constantly looking at what my legacy for humanity will be. I extend an invitation for us all to challenge anyone who shows a lack of generosity and heart — to challenge these human flaws with kindness and with love.

I believe that if we are serious about eradicating racism, homophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, and poverty, we must all be engaged – we must all stand in solidarity with one another. When we commit any type of trespass against another human being, we must be willing to do some repair work.

How lovely that we don’t have to do the heavy work of social justice in isolation, but instead we find ourselves more and more engaged with the world. There may not be a point of completion, but we have the power both individually and in community that we make progress. I challenge us all to make the world a better place and cast away the very false notion of “people need to pull themselves up by their boot straps.”

Let us hope that we are each carving out a legacy that creates equity and celebrates our shared humanity. We are all responsible in creating a  community where we can be our authentic and vulnerable selves.  I wish everyone a wonderful, safe, peaceful, and reflective holiday season.

Eleanor Roosevelt and My Birthday

10 Dec
Me Age 6

Me Age 6

As 50 creeps upon me and I celebrate 47 today, I am comforted  that this day also marks the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted by Eleanor Roosevelt. Here is the Preamble to the now 30 articles in the Declaration:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

I love that the goal is for this to be the “common standard of achievement.”  Sadly, we have certainly missed the mark here in 2013. I look at the structural and government mandated homophobia in Russia and Uganda.  I look at the racism we still are fighting against in our own country, as I read about Shannon Gibney, a professor of English and African diaspora studies at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and am in disbelief that three white students filed a complaint because they were uncomfortable; thus Professor Gibney was reprimanded for doing her job. I can only hope those three white students will evolve and have a better understanding of structural racism.

My Birthday Wish: My birthday wish is that all of humanity take some action, no matter how small a step, to STOP racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, ageism, classism, eradicate poverty, and all other forms of marginalization.  We must learn how to interrupt oppression and yet keep people engaged in conversations.  What does it mean to be an ally? I would argue that being an ally is not a status, but it is action.

Celebrating Harry Belafonte

2 Aug

BelafonteGiven the recent events involving one of my personal heroes, Harry Belafonte, and Jay Z (a staunch supporter of marriage equality), I thought this would be an appropriate time to celebrate a social justice hero.  Belafonte is known world wide for his entertainment career, but I have always had a much greater appreciation for his social activism.  Belafonte has used his celebrity to help and support Dr. Martin Luther King.  In fact, it was Belafonte who bailed King out of the now famous Birmingham Jail.  He also financed the Freedom Rides, and helped our Bayard Rustin organize the March on Washington.

Belafonte’s dedication to human rights is not restricted to the borders of the United States, although it is worth noting that Belafonte was one of a handful of people who vocally opposed the policies of the George W. Bush administration. This was during the Great Silence when practically NO ONE dared to question the administration for fear of being called unpatriotic.  One of Belafonte’s most famous admonitions addressed Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and their implication in the violation of human rights under Bush II:

There is an old saying, in the days of slavery. There were those slaves who lived on the plantation, and there were those slaves who lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master, do exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him. That gave you privilege. Colin Powell is committed to come into the house of the master, as long as he would serve the master, according to the master’s purpose. And when Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture. And you don’t hear much from those who live in the pasture.

Belafonte has fought against the neo-colonization of countries in Africa.  He has helped the fight against HIV and AIDS in South Africa.  Belafonte has dedicated his life to human rights and continues to interrupt oppression around the world.  He also expects all people to take action and stand in solidarity with all targeted populations. He was proud to serve as one of the Grand Marshalls of the New York City Pride Parade this year in recognition of his support of LGBT rights and marriage equality.

While I do not wish to get into the particulars around what Belafonte said and how Jay Z responded, I would like and hope that these two men can come together and have a conversation away from the public, as Belafonte has suggested. They both make good points — progress requires direct action and public figures with whom marginalized youth can identify.

Belafonte is not only a treasure for social justice but he holds institutional and systemic memory.  Jay Z is young and has enormous power and influence.  Imagine how powerful these two voices could be if united and how many of us would support them both to help celebrate counter narratives that challenge the dominant culture. If we want the world to change for the better, we need to look towards the solidarity of targeted populations coming together in numbers too big to be ignored.

Happy Birthday, Joan Baez

9 Jan

Today is folk music and social justice pioneer Joan Baez’ 72nd birthday. Born on Staten Island to a Mexican Catholic and a Scots Anglican, Baez was heavily influenced by the pacifist messages delivered when the family converted to Quakerism. She demonstrated her musical talent early on, and began performing in the late 50s. Fluent in English and Spanish, she has recorded in both (as well as six other languages).

After moving to New York City in 1960, she began performing more protest-based music along with her other folk repertoire. She soon met a young Bob Dylan and recorded a number of his songs. The two regularly performed together and developed a strong shared commitment to social justice. They both performed at the 1963 March on Washington. Baez also performed at Woodstock, viewing the festival as a statement against government oppression.

Throughout her career, Baez has been an outspoken proponent of social justice. A strong feminist, she is also a staunch defender of LGBT rights. She regularly performs benefits to relieve poverty and homelessness–sounds like a great social worker to me!. The overview of her involvement looks like a directory of social causes, and she is energetic for each one. She isn’t slowing down, either. Despite her distate for political partisanship, she recognized the true dangers of the GOP platform and endoresed her first major candidate with Barack Obama. She also participated actively in the Occupy protests, singing to raise money to support the cause.

In March of last year, Amnesty International created the Joan Baez Award for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights. At the launching celebration, she was presented with the first award in recognition of her human rights work with Amnesty International and beyond, and the inspiration she has given activists around the world. In future years, the award is to be presented to an artist – music, film, sculpture, paint or other medium – who has similarly helped advance human rights. What a powerful and fitting legacy for this tireless worker for rights for all.

Number 1 Hero of the Year 2012: Malala Yousafzai

31 Dec
Number 1 Hero of 2012

Number 1 Hero of 2012

Even with all the wonderful nominations TSM received for Hero of the Year, the winner was clear from early on. No one received more nominations than Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. The final decisions were based on more than just votes, however. Yousafzai — a young woman of 15! — is a shining example of social justice. Having virtually no inherent power or privilege, she found her voice at the age of 11 and has used it to great effect.

All of the heroes and honorable mentions have made the world a better place. What sets Yousafzai apart is the very real risks she takes every day. She has less to start with and has put it all on the line, even suffering a potentially fatal gunshot wound from Taliban assassins.

Her mission is simple but powerful — every child in the world should have access to a reasonable education by 2015. Coming from a place that believes women should never be educated, she understands the power of learning and reading. Nurtured by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, also an education activist, she began blogging about conditions in her province for the BBC at age 11. She also attended a Peshawar press club event, getting rousing applause for her powerful question:

How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?

For her powerful voice, tireless activism, willingness to risk all, and youthful promise, TSM is proud to honor Malala Youfsazai as Hero of the Year.

Honorable mention for the top spot goes to another Muslim activist seeking change. Ludovic Mohammed Zahed started the Unity mosque in Paris, the first fully LGBT embracing house of Islamic worship. Zahed’s mission includes full inclusion for women and transgender worshippers. He’s another brilliant example of change from the grass roots and a great example of using personal power to change the world for everyone’s benefit.

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