Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week we speak with musician Peter Gabriel as well as Graham Nash, David Crosby and Rodrigo y Gabriela about the influence the nonprofit human-rights organization WITNESShas had on them. Peter Gabriel was inspired to found WITNESS in 1992 while he was traveling with Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! Tour. He brought a camcorder with him to record the different stories he heard along the way. Twenty years later, WITNESS has trained and partnered with activists in more than 70 countries to use video and online technologies to document human-rights abuses and to raise awareness of abuses. Since becoming an independent nonprofit organization in 2001, WITNESS has launched the Hub, an online video community for sharing human rights videos.Gabriel is a singer and songwriter who rose to fame as lead vocalist for the band Genesis. He has since found success as a solo artist. In addition to being the co-founder of WITNESS, he is involved with a variety of other causes including Amnesty International.
Q: After starting WITNESS over 20 years ago, did you ever think that it would come this far?
Gabriel: I think what we didn’t realize was that our dream of getting cameras to the world and particularly to activists and human rights groups was going to be (done) way more effectively by the phone companies than by us. That’s changed everything in a way and it feels like this year, particularly with the Arab awakening, the whole thing has really blossomed because young people are using cameras on their phones and putting it up.
Blogging, tweeting, YouTube. It’s going all over the place and you can connect them all. Building popular movements that are actually overthrowing governments. This is extraordinary and wonderful. It’s not the end of the road because there is a lot of hard work such as in Egypt, which has brought us here tonight where getting a change in leader is one thing but building a stable government with a constitution and democracy is yet another. But at least the process is under way and it’s very exciting.
Q: When you first started WITNESS you never realized how Facebook and Twitter would affect WITNESS. Has it made it easier?
Gabriel: Yeah, and in some ways also it’s all over the place which makes it more difficult to focus, but I think it’s all going the right way.
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Q: Is there anything you are particularly proud of from the last few years?
Gabriel: I think there’s a lot of things. In the International Criminal Court, the prosecution opened with some WITNESS footage of child soldiers. There are laws that are being changed in Kenya, giving land rights to indigenous people there. When you see laws being changed and this evidence, it’s really making a difference, and the young video makers that are blogging with this Arab awakening. I come in and out but they live it. They’ve got an amazing team. They live it and they’ve done an amazing job.
Graham Nash and David Crosby are better known for their folk rock group Crosby, Stills & Nash. The group has been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of fame twice. Nash and Crosby have been on tour together and more recently launched their own record label.
Q: Tell me a little bit about WITNESS and how you support it?
Crosby: The idea is that if you put a camera in someone’s hand in a Third World country and some kind of abuse of human rights takes place, they can photograph it and 30 seconds later, it can be all over the world.
Nash: That’s an incredibly powerful tool because people can’t hide anymore.
Crosby: It means the world is watching right over your shoulder. Now, that really makes people who are abusing the populace and abusing their power,
Nash: Think twice.
Crosby: Think twice because they see the effect. It doesn’t stop them, it hasn’t stopped them in Sierra yet but it will. Because the entire world watches and starts making phone calls and I can’t help but think that it’s a great idea and will continue to have a positive effect.
Nash: When Peter asked we said yes instantly because we completely agree with the idea. It’s a fantastic idea and anything we can do to support it, we will.
Crosby: We can see a good idea when we see one.
Q: You guys preformed in Zuccotti Park a couple days ago, so is there any connection between the movement that’s happening downtown and what WITNESS does?
Nash: It’s all the same energy, isn’t it? It’s people reaching a saturation point and saying I’ve had enough.
Crosby: I’m going to stick up for what I believe in, I’m going to stick up for myself. I’m not going to be rolled over.
Mexican musical duo Rodrigo and Gabriela attended and performed at the 7th Annual Focus for Change Event hosted by WITNESS. Rodrigo and Gabriela specialize in playing fast, rhythmic acoustic guitars. Their newest album is"Area 52."
Q: Tell me a little bit about WITNESS and how you support the organization?
Gabriela: Human rights are in a recession of caring about all the issues in the world. [WITNESS] does it with the video, you can post it somehow. We got involved through invitation. They approached us and asked us to get a table and they invited us to play along here and give a little music because we are people who care about world issues.
Q: Why is it important for musicians like yourselves to support charities like WITNESS?
Rodrigo: I think for any entertainer it’s a responsibility because you have access to a lot of people and you have a chance to share that information, something they don’t know, that is important to the world. It’s as simple as that really for anyone in the industry.
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