Hoping for Peace in Our Time: Wishes For a Wonderful New Year!

Dove of Peace: Pablo Picasso, Lithograph (1949)

There is so much to be grateful for! Best wishes to all for a Wonderful, Happy and Healthy New Year! God bless us everyone!

Playing For Change: Song Around the World – “Stand By Me”

Nelson Mandela: South African Prisoner, Liberator and Peace Prize Winner, Dies at 95

Nelson Mandela: South African Prisoner, Liberator and Peace Prize Winner, Dies at 95

Nelson Mandela, who led the emancipation of South Africa and served as his country’s first black President, becoming an international emblem of dignity and forbearance, died Thursday night at the age of 95.

Mr. Mandela’s quest for freedom took him from the court of tribal royalty, to the liberation underground, to a prison rock quarry, to the presidential suite of Africa’s richest country. When his first term in office was up, he declined a second term and cheerfully handed over power to an elected successor, the country still gnawed by crime, poverty, corruption and disease, but a democracy, respected in the world and remarkably at peace.

Mr. Mandela overcame a personal mistrust bordering on loathing to share both power and a Nobel Peace Prize with the white president who preceded him, F. W. de Klerk. And as president, from 1994 to 1999, he devoted much energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites with fears of vengeance. When the question was put to Mr. Mandela in an interview in 2007: “After such barbarous torment, how do you keep hatred in check?” His answer was almost dismissive: “Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.

Read more about Nelson Mandela in the New York Times here.

Nelson Mandela Dies at 95: South Africa’s First Black President Remembered

The World Celebrated Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday

Mandela’s Campaign Against South African Apartheid

On August 5th, 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested after living in underground hiding for seventeen months, and was initially imprisoned in the Johannesburg Fort. He was imprisoned after being charged with involvement in planning armed action and a conspiracy to help other countries invade South Africa. The arrest was made possible because the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tipped off South African security police as to Mandela’s whereabouts and disguise. Mandela was later imprisoned on Robben Island, where he remained for the next eighteen of his twenty-seven years in prison.

In March 1982, Mandela was transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison, in part to enable discreet contact between him and the South African government. In 1990, State President F.W. de Klerk reversed the ban on anti-apartheid organizations, and announced that Mandela would shortly be released from prison. Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison in Paarl on February 11th, 1990, an event that was broadcast live all over the world.

South Africa’s first multi-racial elections were held on April 27th, 1994. The African National Congress won 62% of the votes in the election, and Mandela, as leader of the ANC, was inaugurated on May 10th, 1994, as the country’s first Black President, with the National Party’s de Klerk as his first deputy. As President from 1994 until 1999, Mandela presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation.

Mandela’s leadership was recognized when he was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

Mandela’s London Arrival for the Birthday Celebrations

Nelson Mandela arrived in London on Monday, June 23rd, 2008, for a week of events to celebrate his 90th birthday. Mandela met with Queen Elizabeth II, as well as with a number of other high-profile celebrities who included Gordon Brown, the former U.S. president Bill Clinton and the talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. The outdoor concert in honor of the former South African President was scheduled to take place at Hyde Park, London, on Friday, June 29th, with performers including Amy Winehouse, Josh Groban, Annie Lennox, Leona Lewis, Queen and the Soweto Gospel Choir.

Celebrating Mandela’s 90th Birthday: The 90th Birthday Concert

40,000 Fans Pay Tribute to Mandela

Will Smith charmed the huge 90th Birthday Concert crowd, and Amy Winehouse wowed them with her performance. However, Nelson Mandela proved to be the biggest star of all at the concert Friday in honor of the South African statesman’s 90th birthday.

Acts including Queen, Razorlight, Leona Lewis and a host of African stars joined more than 40,000 music fans for the outdoor show in London’s Hyde Park. Josh Groban and the Soweto Gospel Choir also performed at the event, which came 20 years after a 70th birthday concert for an absent Mandela at London’s Wembley Stadium. Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist, had at that point been imprisoned in South Africa for 25 years. He told Friday’s crowd that that concert made a big difference in his eventual release and the fight against the racist system, which was dismantled in the early 1990s.

Your voices carried across the water to inspire us in our prison cells far away,” said Mandela, who received the biggest cheers of the night. “We are honored to be back in London for this wonderful celebration.”

But even as we celebrate, let us remind ourselves that our work is far from complete.”

Amy Winehouse Performs: Mandela’s 90th Birthday Concert

Josh Groban Performs at the Birthday Concert

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Toast to Freedom: A Celebration of Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary

Toast to Freedom: A Celebration of Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary

Here’s our toast to freedom,
To human rights and dignity,
Love, respect and forgiveness,
United in the dream for victory.”

Toast to Freedom is a music video dedicated to human rights activism around the world. Nearly 50 artists contributed to the video, celebrating Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary. The basic tracks for Toast to Freedom were recorded at the legendary Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, N.Y. One of the last studio recordings by the late Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Levon Helm, it was also one of the closest to his heart.

The song continues a long relationship between Amnesty International and the creative community, which has helped spread the word of its mission almost from the start in 1961. Artists contributing to Toast to Freedom included: Levon Helm, Kris Kristofferson, Carly Simon, Angelique Kidjo, Ewan McGregor, Saul Hernandez, Donald Fagen, Warren Haynes, Keb Mo, Eric Burdon, Taj Mahal, Florent Pagny, Marianne Faithfull, Jane Birkin, Jimmy Barnes, Rosanne Cash, Shawn Mullins, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Gentleman, among others.

Toast to Freedom: A Celebration of Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary

(Best Viewed in HD Full-Screen Mode)

The Making of “Toast to Freedom”

(Best Viewed in HD Full-Screen Mode)

Toast to Freedom (Long Version)

(Best Viewed in HD Full-Screen Mode)

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War School: Military Training for Child Soldiers

War School: Military Training for Child Soldiers

War School is an acclaimed, chilling short film directed by English filmmaker Ben Newman. War School was a film competition winner at Ctrl.Alt.Shift, a movement for a new generation fighting social and global injustice. The film re-creates a military training camp for child soldiers in a British school, transplanting the horror and injustice of the indoctrination of child soldiers to a British classroom setting. This short film performs one of the key roles of visual media in social activism, bridging the gap between the audience and a distant reality. By changing the context of the violation, the film recasts child soldiers; no longer are they simply “distant others” worthy of our pity and damned to a place of violence, but rather precious children in need of our attention and support.

War School: Military Training for Child Soldiers

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A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement

A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement

One of the most visible advocates of nonviolence and direct action as methods of social change, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929.  As the grandson of the Rev. A.D. Williams, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church and a founder of Atlanta’s NAACP chapter, and the son of Martin Luther King, Sr., who succeeded Williams as Ebenezer’s pastor, King’s roots were in the African-American Baptist church.  After attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, King went on to study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and Boston University, where he deepened his understanding of theological scholarship and explored Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy for social change.

King married Coretta Scott in 1953, and the following year he accepted the pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  King received his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955.  On December 5, 1955, after civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to comply with Montgomery’s segregation policy on buses, black residents launched a bus boycott and elected King president of the newly-formed Montgomery Improvement Association.  The boycott continued throughout 1956 and King gained national prominence for his role in the campaign.  In December 1956 the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama’s segregation laws unconstitutional, and Montgomery’s buses were desegregated.

Seeking to build upon the success in Montgomery, Dr. King and other southern black ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957.  In 1959, King toured India in order to further develop his understanding of Gandhian nonviolent strategies.  In the spring of 1963, King and the SCLC led mass demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, where local white police officials were known for their violent opposition to integration.  Clashes between unarmed black demonstrators and police armed with dogs and fire hoses generated newspaper headlines throughout the world.  President Kennedy responded to the Birmingham protests by submitting broad civil rights legislation to Congress, which led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Subsequent mass demonstrations culminated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, in which more than 250,000 protesters gathered in Washington, D. C.  It was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that King delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech.

King’s renown continued to grow and he was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.  The Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded to Dr. King by President Jimmy Carter in 1964.  In late 1967, King initiated the Poor People’s Campaign, which was designed to confront economic problems that had not been addressed by earlier civil rights reforms.  The following year, while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, he delivered his final address, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.  The following day, April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: I Have a Dream

A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King and His Time

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The Poetics of Hope: A Wish for Peace in Our Time

Dove of Peace: Pablo Picasso, Lithograph (1949)

Playing For Change: Song Around the World-“Stand By Me”

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On the Bowery: A Fairytale of New York

On the Bowery: A Fairytale of New York

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairy Tale of New York

Some people feel that The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York is the best Christmas song ever, and not just one of the best, but a gorgeous song no matter why or how you observe Christmas. Fairytale of New York isn’t exactly the epitome of restraint, with Shane MacGowan and the sadly departed Kirsty MacColl singing all over each other, slurring words and tossing all kinds of insults at each other.

The song starts out tenderly, with MacGowan recounting Christmas Eve spent in a Bowery drunk tank, but also his recent gambling win and dreams for the future.  MacColl lets us know, as the tempo picks up, that they met on a Christmas Eve, and after some light banter they really get into it, blaming each other for anything they can get their hands on, MacColl ending with “Happy Christmas your arse / I pray God it’s our last.

But then they sing the chorus again, and a string section that actually sounds like it belongs in a Christmas song begins to take over.  And it all feels, in spite of itself, grand and sweeping and even a little touching.  They squabble a little more, the same as every Christmas, but they’re losing steam; finally MacColl accuses MacGowan of stealing her dreams when they met.  This is a terribly poetic way to depict the deadening of expectations in terrible lives.  But MacGowan’s voice turns gentle, even though it’s still rough, and he responds:  “I kept them with me babe, I put them with my own, Can’t make it all alone, I’ve built my dreams around you.”

It’s a tough old life, and Fairytale of New York practically oozes with the gritty spirit of urban decay, poverty, alcoholism and general dysfunction.  But as the sounds of those strings float off and out of sight, it doesn’t seem to matter.  Not to them and not to us, because it’s the day to sigh and give in to our better inclinations and hold each other and admit there’s still something there.   Christmas is the arbitrary day of the year that purely through willpower and tradition we’ve turned into the day where we all try just a little bit harder at being better than we thought we could be.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairy Tale of New York

Slide Show: On the Bowery

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

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