Opposition activists attend an anti-government rally in Moscow to demand the release of political prisoners, among them the still-jailed members of the female punk band Pussy Riot (Photo Credit: Andrey Smirnov/AFP/Getty Images).
Sixteen months ago, three young women were arrested in Russia for performing less than 40 seconds of a punk protest song. Since then, millions of people have been captivated by their YouTube video. Five young women dressed in brightly colored balaclavas dance on the altar of in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, singing their opposition to the return of President Vladimir Putin.
As the world’s eyes turned toward Pussy Riot, it became clear that their arrest and trial was emblematic of something even bigger happening in Russian society. Pussy Riot became the story of the Putin-led government’s absolute intolerance – not just of punk rock, but of all forms of dissent.
What better way to introduce young children to human rights – and the values of fairness, equity, empathy and non-violence — than through upbeat music from all over the world?
That’s the thinking behind Kids World Party!, the latest CD from Putumayo Kids, released in partnership with Amnesty International to celebrate our 50th anniversary. 7% of each CD sale will be donated to support Amnesty’s life-saving work.
The detained activists had been holding placards inside the concert venue and collecting signatures for the ‘Demand Dignity’ campaign, which aims to end the human rights violations that drive and deepen global poverty. They were trying to raise awareness about human rights and collecting signatures to a petition. The Amnesty International official concert stall was also shut down.
Amnesty is present while U2 performs the European leg of their 360 tour.
Although no-one resisted the police’s demands to close down the Amnesty International stall, Amnesty’s Moscow office staff member and four volunteers were taken to a local police station. They were ordered to provide a written explanation for their actions, issued with an official warning for organizing a public action for which no prior official permission had been obtained, and released over an hour later.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident; rather, it reflects the continuing difficult climate in Russia today for people seeking to express views that the authorities regard as difficult, dissenting or sensitive. Amnesty International is concerned that the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are restricted in Russia for members of the political opposition and human rights activists; we are also concerned that Russian authorities such disallow such activities unless they take place with their explicit sanction, and crack down hard on those whom they regard as violators.
There is something remarkably similar about the passion that drives a human rights activist and the passion that inspires a musician. A person who is willing to stand beneath the summer sun at a rally to hold signs and wave petitions again and again, and one who performs at their very best beneath the summer sun day after day must surely be made of similar stuff. Amnesty International, of course, has known about this overlap for fifty years, and has used music to inspire human rights activists, and human rights work to inspire musicians for nearly that entire time.
This summer, for the second year in a row, we’re doing both of these things as a non-profit sponsor on the infamous Vans Warped Tour. The longest-running music tour in the world, Warped sees nearly one million fans every summer, and reaches countless more with its annual compilation album. This year, with practically 200 bands playing throughout the United States and Canada at 43 dates, Warped and its musicians are more socially aware than ever.
Enter Amnesty International. Warped is the latest place we’ve found this overlap of passions and we’re putting it to good use. Rights like freedom of conscience, opinion and expression are the very fundamentals of a musician’s career, and the punk, emo and rock musicians of the Warped Tour are acutely aware of this fact. So it’s only natural for bands to feel compelled to take action, whether it’s shouting out about human rights from stage, starring in a video blog or signing petitions at our tent – it’s their passion that fuels concert-goers to follow suit. So, come to Warped to see musicians and bands like Sum 41, All American Rejects, The Summer Set and Anti-Flag play, visit our tent, and be part of the overlap.
It’s amazing the power that music has to inspire people to stand up for what they believe in. And it’s also amazing how human rights inspire musicians. There’s a trio of artists who lent their voices this past Human Rights Day and they each have a unique story of their own…
Tom Morello, a talented guitar player, has social activism streaming through his blood. His mother founded the anti-censorship group, Parents for Rock and Rap and his father was Kenya’s first UN ambassador, so Tom’s long term involvement with social justice and human rights, comes as no surprise. Amnesty International and Tom Morello have been partnering together for many years (along with his NGO, Axis of Justice). His most recent collaboration is a duo of cover tunes that he recorded for the Lime Wire Store’s Live at Lime Sessions. The music was released on December 10, Human Rights Day and proceeds from the sale of these songs were in benefit to Amnesty International. Aside from the songs, there was also a fascinating interview with Henry Rollins and Tom Morello, about major issues that face all of us.
The U2 360 Degrees concert this past Tuesday September 29th, at FedEx Field in Washington DC, was truly spectacular. These guys really do know how to put on a show! The band performed all their acclaimed classics, and surprised the crowd with unbelievable stage props, lighting effects, stage expansions, and new medleys. U2 has tirelessly fought for human rights around the world and they did not fail to include this in their show.
I attended the event as a volunteer for Amnesty International spreading the word for Demand Dignity in the fight for justice against poverty, as well as signing up new members and explaining to people how they can take action. The bonus: going on stage with U2 and the other 85 volunteers in the name of Aung San Suu Kyi (prisoner of conscience in Myanmar) during the song “Walk On.” To call this moment amazing is an understatement. Walking on stage and helping to communicate a message of strength and hope to 84,000 people was simply powerful.
Amnesty International is excited to be a part of the Vans Warped Tour music festival this Summer! The Warped Tour has always been supportive of Amnesty and the non-profit community, and this year we are able to continue that relationship — in a big way! Amnesty has a branded tent at all 46 dates where concert goers can learn about human rights and take action on important issues.
Check out the video below of Amnesty on the ground at the festival with the band Anti-Flag. It really shows the energy of the crowd and the positive affect we can have on visitors. Then come on out and visit us on the tour!
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.