On the Road with Peter Gabriel’s “Scratch My Back” Tour

Our colleague Becky, who coordinates our Creative Advocacy work (that basically means getting creative types like musicians, actors, directors, artists involved with our human rights campaigns), was on the road earlier this month with our founder Peter Gabriel during his North American “Scratch My Back” tour.

Youssou N’Dour and local activists call for response to HIV/AIDS epidemic in Congo

Our colleagues Becky Lichtenfeld and Bukeni Waruzi traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo last week to work with local organizations and government officials and help catalyze action in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region. Watch this short video with a roundup of their time in Kinshasa and then read the string of blog posts for Becky’s daily reports and for links on how to take action!

Our Last Day at ‘Roo

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Well, last night’s Kanye West performance turned into an early morning set. After a long delay, the sun started coming up and by the time we walked back to camp it was full daylight. Still it was worth it to have seen both a Tennessee sunrise and sunset.

The tent has been busy as festival goers try to get to all the activities they’ve missed in the last few days. Our box of signed postcards is almost full and we have lots of sheets full of names of people who want to be updated about WITNESS. Even the some of the Bonnaroo media staff was really into our mission and stopped by the tent.

3 hours left before we pack up and I’m exhausted but inspired and totally excited about the work we’ve done here at Bonnaroo and across the organization. I’m a bit sad that this is the end of the festival but so very excited to sleep in a bed and take a long shower!

- Christine

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Sunshine!

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Despite more rain this morning, lots of people have been coming by the WITNESS tent. The sun came out in time for a really fun set by Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings.

I’ve also had an awesome time sharing the experience with all the other non-profits at Planet Roo. Folks from Oxfam, Carbon Shredders, Oceana and a bunch of other organizations have come by the tent to get more involved with WITNESS. We’ve gotten about 900 postcard petitions signed! (And you too can sign here) I’ve met an aspiring human rights lawyer, a young women who’s making a documentary in Ghana, a couple of activist musicians, and just lots of awesome people who care about social justice.

Tonight I’m looking forward to a late night performance by Kanye West, which ends a mere 6 hours before we open up the WITNESS tent for our last day of the festival.

- Christine

Day Two continued

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This has been a great day. It’s exciting for WITNESS staff to see first hand how people react to hearing about the work WITNESS and WITNESS partners are doing. There is a real sense of gratitude from the people passing by, and a real interest in getting involved.

I spoke on a panel about Arts and Activism yesterday with Marc Ross of Rock the Earth, Marc Brownstein of the band Disco Biscuits (and co-chair of Headcount), Tania Elizabeth of the Grammy nominated band The Duhks, Jennifer Fahy of Farm Aid and a few others. There were some interesting questions being raised, in particular – do artists have an obligation to use their platform for change? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think artists have more of an obligation then any one of us. We all live together on this planet, so it’s up to each of us to do what we can, if we can, and if that is what we choose to do. It’s great to be in the company of folks who are spending their time that way, but we’re each our own people.

There was also lots of great music to be heard. A highlight being Stephen Marley on the main stage, and his version of No Woman, No Cry. Swell Season was an unexpected favorite. Glen Hansard and Marketa  (Swell Season) were the stars of the film, “Once” and won an Oscar for best song from a soundtrack earlier this year. Chatting with Glen briefly after the show, it’s clear that he’s interested in human rights and hopefully will get involved with WITNESS in the future.

Rilo Kiley rocked the Roo. It was good to see them, as they are old friends from back when they would couch surf when they passed through NYC.

And then there was the great Willie Nelson! No words. And the day was topped off with M.I.A.

All in all, a jam packed day (no pun intended).

The rain started at about 9 PM and has yet to stop.

Cheers for now.

Becky and Team W

Bonnaroo Day Two

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Things are off to a good start in the world of WITNESS. We were on the radio in Tuscon, Arizona. And in Bonnaroo land. 92.9 The Mountain’s morning talk show host invited us on this morning to talk about the work we’re doing around the world. Apart from thanking Bonnaroo for enabling WITNESS to have a presence in Planet Roo (the non-profit area) we talked about WITNESS’ mission – to use video to
defend human rights.

We’ve also been meeting lots of interesting people. We spent some time speaking with an Iraq War veteran who just returned from his second and final tour of Iraq. It was interesting to hear his perspective on the war, now that he’s completed his duty. Things have got to change. That was his bottom line and the abridged blog version.

On a lighter note, one of the best things he learned in Iraq was how to take a 60 second shower. Too bad he was on the shower line behind us, not in front of us. And yes, we do have to wait in line to shower.

The beauty of Broo. So many people. So much music. So many perspectives. So many lines. So many lines. So many lines.

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20 Minutes til Vampire Weekend

Hi Folks,

Thursday night. Hot. Bonnaroo. If you build it, they will come. We build the WITNESS tent. And concertgoers are visiting us in droves. YAY. We’re projecting our short WITNESS promotional videos (which talk about the work we’re doing) on the top of our tent. Many people have also been signing our postcard to President Calderon of Mexico. It’s part of our Dual Injustice campaign to pressure the government of Mexico to do more to address the murders of young women in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua Mexico. You can sign the postcard too. Just click here.

In 15 minutes we’re headed to see Vampire Weekend perform. They give a shout out to Peter Gabriel (WITNESS founder) in their song Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. Apprently, they are fans of his. We’re fans of theirs. How fitting.

We’re gonna check them out and see if there are ways in which we can get them involved in some WITNESS campaigns.

G’night for now from Manchester, TN.

Team WITNESS

PS. Did I mention that Melinda Doolittle was on my plane today? A WITNESS pin goes to the first person who (without googling) can tell me who Melinda Doolitte is.

Bonnaroo 2008!!!

P6120623_2WITNESS On the Road is back this summer and we’re kicking things off with Bonnaroo. The annual Bonnaroo Music Festival brings 90,000 people to the farmlands of Tennessee. WITNESS staff (that’s Miyoko our Development Associate in the photo) and volunteers are set up at Planet Roo a special area of the music festival designated for non-profit and environmental organizations.

Our tent is ready and we have WITNESS videos playing and laptops to explore the Hub. Check back at this blog for updates on our outreach adventures.

If you’re at Bonnaroo come visit us at Planet Roo and help us defend human rights!

- Christine, WITNESS Outreach

Back in New York

Hi Everyone,

We’re back home in New York City and still reeling from the success of the event.

Gillian said that as she walked down the aisle on the airplane headed back to NY, she saw lots of people reading articles about the event in the newspaper. It was heavily covered by the Mexican press. CANANA (Icunacury!) and La Comision (Alejandro!) did an absolutely amazing job.

And apparently the government is paying attention as well. The governor of Chihuahua even issued a statement in response to all of the press coverage. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Read some of the * articles* from these newspapers: La Jornada, El Universal. *Articles are in Spanish.

And here are some photos for your viewing pleasure.

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Gael at the press conference.

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CANANA on the red carpet.

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WITNESS and Diego signing the urgent action letter to President Calderon.

Mission Accomplished

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Well, we all did it. A major team effort. The CANANA event last night at El Museo Interactivo de Economi­a was a huge success.

Tam and I were eating  breakfast Sunday  morning and the woman next to us had her newspaper open and was reading about our event!

CANANA (Pablo Cruz, Diego and Gael) gave WITNESS and La Comision, along with Miguel David Meza and Paty Cervantes the time and space to address the importance of human rights, the use of film/video to defend those rights and highlighted the murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico. It was an event unlike any other in Mexico, and from what I could tell, people were really ready for it. They were soaking up the information and listening so intently, you could hear a pin drop in the room.

Journalist Carmen Aristegui hosted the evening and did an amazing job.

Speakers included Gael and Diego, GIllian and Tam from WITNESS, Paulina Vega from La Comision, Miguel David Meza and Paty Cervantes, Amerigo Incalcaterra (Mexico’s Rep to the UN High Commission for Human RIghts), and  Alejandro Ramirez and Francisco Cordoba (two of the evening’s sponsors).

It was one of the rare moments when it’s almost as if you are behind a mirror and can see how people respond to WITNESS and the work we are doing.

The most inspiring part of the night for me was seeing the strength in Paty Cervantes and Miguel David Meza. They stood on the stage, in front of hundreds of strangers, and talked about the enormous suffering they have undergone and the suffering which continues to this day. They spoke how our video Dual Injustice/Doble Injusticia has affected their lives and how important it is that we do not forget their story, or the stories of the hundreds of women who have been brutally murdered. Their grace was unparalleled.

WITNESS and La Comision, along with Paty and David, asked that everyone at the event sign a letter to the Mexican President Felipe Calderon, which we had placed at every seat. The letter asks in part, that those who tortured Miguel David in prison be brought to justice, that he receive reparations for what he has gone through at the hands of the police, and that those responsible for the death of his cousin Neyra Cervantes be brought to justice. Hundreds of people signed the letter. CANANA even had a HUGE version (at least 4 feet tall) made from the letter that Peter Gabriel signed, in the hopes that it would inspire people to sign it as well.

And in true WITNESS fashion, as the evening wound down, the beautiful Lila Downs had finished her set,  and people were leaving, etc,  Gillian, Tam and I, along with Paty and David, squished into a tiny taxi headed back to our hotel — but — WITH the HUGE urgent action letter. Too big to fit IN the taxi with all 6 of us, we put it on the roof. With our hands out the windows, holding  down the life size urgent action letter signed by Peter and Gael and Diego, we sped down the streets of Mexico City. We made it safely to the hotel and the letter continued on it’s way with Paty, to it’s new home in Chihuahua, Mexico.

More to come, along with links to the press on the event and photos.

Bye for now.

Becky

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Miguel David Meza and Paty Cervantes in front of a letter for Mexican President Calderon.

Press Conference in Mexico City

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WOW.

About 80 members of the press corps packed the conference room at La Condesa DF Hotel this morning to hear Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, WITNESS and our partner org in Mexico (La Comision) discuss the power of film and video to promote change, and to hear Paty Cervantes and Miguel David Meza speak first hand about the murders of young women occurring in Ciudad Juarez y Chihuahua, Mexico.

Along with that, We also screened a portion of the video Doble Injusticia.

Paty spoke about the disappearance and murder of her daughter Neyra and how she will continue to fight for justice, not only for her daughter but the hundreds of other victims. She mentioned that 2 women were found tortured, and mutilated on the side of the road in Chihuahua this past week ALONE! Next to her sat her nephew Miguel David, now free from prison. He said that even though he was wrongfully incarcerated, he has faith — faith that if we join together and tell the world about what is happening and pressure the government, that perhaps things will change. We all hope so, which is why we’re standing together with Diego y Gael and asking people to PAY ATTENTION.

From the press conference we ran to eat a late lunch and are now getting ready for the evening event!

We’re told that Mexico has not seen this type of fundraising event before and we are so lucky to have CANANA and Ambulante supporting us in this way.

A member of the press asked Gael and Diego this morning where their consciousness came from — how they got involved with WITNESS and what happened to sensitize them to social justice issues and human rights, etc. Diego was so eloquent when he said (and I am paraphrasing here) that he was born on this planet. That he lives in this city. That he reads the newspaper. That he watches the news. That he is a human being on this planet  and we as human beings need to care about each other. I couldn’t agree with him more.

Becky

PS – attached are some personal snapshots of the press conference.

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Everyone is arriving

Hello,

The whole WITNESS team has arrived and preparations are steadily underway for tomorrow’s events. Tickets are still being purchased, seating arrangements are being made, and everyone is convening in Mexico City.

Tomorrow’s day will begin with a press conference where Gael Garcia Bernal y Diego Luna along with WITNESS’ Tamaryn Nelson and Gillian Caldwell, our partners at La Comision Mexicana , Neyra’s mother Paty Cervantes y Neyra’s cousin Miguel David Meza (among others) will be speaking. We hope people will come away from the days events having learned a bit more about the situation in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, about the use of film to promote change, and feeling empowered to take action.

Miguel David Meza flew in this afternoon and Tamaryn and I met with him. Miguel David was freed from prison last summer after nearly 3 years of wrongful incarceration. Tam has worked tirelessly on the Dual Injustice campaign, so to see him here in person was really moving.  They talked about the day he was freed from prison last summer. Tam and I happened to be together that day in Los Angeles with Miguel David’s aunt. It was an emotional day – and I felt so lucky to be able to hear him recount it from his end. His case is still open, and the judge’s verdict never recognized the torture he underwent at the hands of the local police. On top of all that suffering, Neyra’s case is still unsolved and his own torture case has never been investigated. Just a reminder as to why the work we are all doing together is so important.

We are grateful that Gael y Diego are enabling this platform for WITNESS and our work with La Comision in Mexico.

That’s the news for now, but I’ll be sure to post again soon.

Becky

Made it to Mexico City

Hi,

So it was touch and go for awhile, but I made it safely to Mexico City. Huge thunderstorms rolled through New York City early this morning wreaking havoc on the highways and subway system. I made it to the airport 20 minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off. In the end, we sat on the runway for awhile, putting me in the exact same situation when I arrived in Dallas. I ran through the airport jumping on Plane 2 just as the doors closed and we pulled away from the gate.

Miraculously my bags arrived and I am now settled into the hotel.

Soon I’m off to meet my colleagues at Ambulante for dinner to discuss the remaining details for Saturday’s event.

More soon,

Becky

ps. Check out the photo of D.F. from the air.Df_002small

On the Road again….

Hi All,
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Tamaryn and I are busy preparing for our trip to Mexico City tomorrow (Wednesday August 8th). As you can see from the picture, the work is piling up!

The actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna along with their production company CANANA and their film festival Ambulante are throwing a benefit dinner and concert for WITNESS and our partner in Mexico, La Comision Mexicana de Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos on Saturday. One of the goals of the evening is to raise awareness surrounding our campaign related to the murders of approximately 400 women in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico since 1993.

Under fire for their inability to resolve these crimes, the police have tortured people to confess to the murders. Our video Dual Injustice tells the story of Neyra Azucena Cervantes, who disappeared in Chihuahua, Mexico and her cousin, David Meza, who was tortured to confess to her murder. Even though there was no evidence linking him to Neyra’s murder, David was in jail for nearly 3 years.  The video was a part of an international campaign for his acquittal, which successfully led to his release in June 2006.

So that’s just a snapshot, but there’s much more to come in the next few days.

Hasta muy pronto,

Becky

Summerstage with Rodrigo y Gabriela

In an uncanny feeling of deja vu beck and I are once again manning the witness table…  This time at summer stage in central park for  rodrigo y gabriela.  Let me tell you, it’s a whole different experience when you’ve showered in the last 36 hours…  Everyone is cleaner – including us.

In an odd turn of events, lots of people in our immediate vicinity are wearing camouflage. why, we wonder?

we are here today after meeting r y g at bonnaroo. They have hooked us up with this table and we are psyched. Go check out their music!