Today is YOUR day
I’m writing this for the benefit of this planet’s approximately seven billion human beings. (Human Beings? Surely you remember us… We were very big in the ’60s…)
I want to take you back to the bad old days of 1948. This is long before they’d invented the internet. Hell we didn’t even have the wheel, electricity, fire or oxygen yet. It was a very primitive time. When friends met up at a bar or restaurant, we were forced to actually converse with each other because we didn’t yet have electronic devices to look down at to help us ignore the person we were in the presence of!
And when I say “friends” these were people we actually had to waste time getting to know with multiple in-person encounters! Not the new improved Facebook version of instant “friends.” Which saves all that messy time and business of actually knowing people! Anyway — enough of my esteem to Mark Zuckerberg for redefining words such as “like” and “friend” that had been so meaningless before he came along with his altruistic vision of improving the universe…
Back in that dreadfully primitive time a wonderful lady named Eleanor Roosevelt was a key instigator of a charter that was adopted by the United Nations exactly 65 years ago — December 10, 1948. The charter was called the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Put simply it was a Magna Carta for all the people on Earth. It guaranteed certain rights to everyone. At that time there were only 2.5 billion of us. In fact people were so bored those days by not having “social media” and the joys of watching video clips of cute felines that they were forced to procreate to alleviate the boredom. That’s why there’s 7 billion of us today.
The governments of the world took this pledge so seriously for the first few years after it was ordained in 1948, that they managed to ensure that the document was almost entirely ignored.
So in May 1961 a British lawyer by the name of Peter Benenson launched what he intended to be a one-year campaign calling for amnesty of all the world’s political prisoners. But within 12 months it became apparent that the need was so great — and the adherence of governments to the Declaration so perfunctory — that the campaign became the starting point for a permanent worldwide organization. That organization is Amnesty International. 51 years after it incorporated in September 1962. it now has over 3 million members and supporters.
It would be wonderful to tell you that the existence of Amnesty and the tireless campaigning work of its grassroots members over this past half century has eliminated all human rights abuses. But of course it hasn’t. There have been many successes — tens of thousands of political prisoners have been released because of Amnesty campaigns. However governments have become more efficient at covering up their abuses and slicker at projecting touchy-feely campaigns assuring the uninitiated that its nation is a paradigm of humanity and civility. An often passive, accepting media is an unwitting accomplice in this state of affairs.
Each year, most of the world commemorates the anniversary of that landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10th. There are a few exceptions. For the Fellowship of Tyrants, Torturers and Despots it’s a black day indeed. A reminder that some of us humans hold them beneath contempt. As Bob Dylan once observed: “even Jesus would never forgive what you do.” Dylan was singing of the Masters of War. I think we can take it as read that abusers of human rights should join the realms of the unforgivable.
It is a testament to Nelson Mandela’s humanity that he found it within him to forgive his oppressors. A nobility bridge too far for me. I’m with Dylan on this point. So I was heartened to recently learn that Mandela’s closest friends regard his forgiveness of those tyrants as an astute tactic to help achieve the grander goal of equality.
This year we mark the 65th anniversary of that landmark declaration. And we remember it at a time when we are freshly reminded of Nelson Mandela’s outstanding leadership. A powerful shining example of what can be achieved when courage and dedication are combined.
Over the years the struggle for human rights has had the benefit of some very captivating entertainers who have helped draw attention to the cause and raise funds for Amnesty’s essential research and campaign work.
Starting in 1976, there have been the “Secret Policeman’s Ball” benefit shows, movies and albums. The finest comedians (Monty Python, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, Rowan Atkinson, Eddie Izzard et al) and musicians (Pete Townshend, Sting, Bob Geldof, Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, et al). (Full disclosure: I had the honor of being co-creator/producer of those shows and instigating Amnesty’s outreach to the rock community. I think that was sometime back in the 14th century…)
In the 1980s and 1990s — instigated by Amnesty USA’s then Executive Director Jack Healey (an under-sung hero of the movement) — there were the Human Rights Concerts. These starred Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Police, Lou Reed, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, Youssou N’Dour, Tracy Chapman, Radiohead, and many more. (Fuller disclosure: I am the producer of the new first-ever release of those concerts on a DVD box-set, CD and digital.)
Whatever else you do today, I would like you to consider saluting Human Rights Day with the following actions:
1) Raise a glass to the memory of Nelson Mandela — and resolve to do YOUR bit for our world every day
2) View the short video clip below of the world’s greatest musicians expressing their support for human rights.
3) Read about the Human Rights Concerts and how musicians have worked to support this vital struggle
4) Make your own contribution to the cause by giving the gift of music that benefits Amnesty this holiday season
5) Visit the Amnesty International website and learn how you can get involved in this vital struggle.
I now return control of your eyeballs to regularly scheduled reading…
Martin Lewis has been a producer and activist for Amnesty International for nearly 38 years. His latest film for Amnesty “¡RELEASED! The Human Rights Concerts” – starring Bruce Springsteen, U2, Sting, The Police, Peter Gabriel & Radiohead – receives its premiere on Human Rights Day (Tuesday December 10th) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.