By Stephen Pate – Amnesty International is recognizing folk singer Joan Baez for her lifetime dedication to international human rights, along with Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei.
Joan Baez has been dedicated to singing and advocating about human rights since her 1958 career launch. The daughter of Quaker parents who believed in the non-violent protest of Mahatma Gandhi, Baez was an early champion of the US Civil Rights movement.
She marched with civil rights organizers and workers including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Due to her fame as a performer she stood in for Dr. King on marches and was arrested and jailed repeatedly.
Baez sang the Pete Seeger / Guy Carawan song “We Shall Overcome” at the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King gave his famous and inspiring speech “I Have a Dream.” Baez’ name became synonymous with the song and the black civil rights struggle.
Joan Baez was an early champion of Bob Dylan. After they met in 1961, she introduced Dylan to her audiences and sang his songs including a Dylan duet of “With God on Our Side” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963.
After the passage of the American Civil Rights Act, Joan Baez did not quit. She championed the protest against capital punishment and the US war in Vietnam. She later married David Harris, a anti-draft organizer.
Most people will remember Jane Fonda’s visit to Hanoi when the press dubbed her Hanoi-Jane. I didn’t know Joan Baez made an even more courageous 1972 visit to Hanoi to witness the war’s effect. During the visit she was forced to seek shelter from a 12-day carpet bombing mission by the US forces.
I admit knowing little about her activism after the draft protests until I saw the PBS documentary How Sweet The Sound. The video available on DVD shows how close her professional career as a performer has mapped to her social activism. Music and activism – it’s a powerful combination. Get the DVD from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk
Joan Baez dedication to human rights and activist causes did not abate for almost 50 years, almost bordering on obsessive in some minds. Even her son Gabriel Harris admits she was an absent mother due to her touring and work as an activist.
Baez was a founding member of the US Amnesty International organization. She visited Chile to protest the disappeared political murders after the overthrow of Allende. She founded Humanitas International to target human rights abuse around the world. She was not allowed to perform in Chile, Brazil and Argentina and was hounded by the government and received death threats in 1981.
After the Tienanmen Square Massacre in Beijing, Baez recorded a song condemning the Chinese government for the crackdown on student protesters.
She toured supporting human rights and political freedom in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Czechoslovakia, Sarajevo, gave concerts supporting gay and lesbian rights, protested the war in Iraq, child poverty, poverty in general, landmines – you name it and Joan Baez has probably been on the side of the angels for human rights.
Her human rights work at Amnesty International led to the establishment of the Joan Baez Award in her honor in 2011.
Most of us can probably agree that Joan Baez exemplifies the life of a social activist, which none of us has been able to achieve.
From Amnesty International – Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award is the organization’s top honour, recognizing those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights, through their life and work.
The Award will be presented at a ceremony in Berlin on 21 May 2015, with speakers including singer-songwriter Patti Smith.
“The Ambassador of Conscience Award is a celebration of those unique individuals who have used their talents to inspire many, many others to take injustice personally. That is why both Joan Baez and Ai Weiwei make such worthy recipients; they are an inspiration to thousands more human rights activists, from across Asia to America and beyond,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
On learning of the announcement, Joan Baez said: “”Amnesty International attracted me because of its founding principle that all human rights abuses and the suffering they create are unacceptable. The process of eliminating those abuses, even one step at a time, has created a compassionate, non-partisan, powerfully effective movement. I’m lucky to be part of it and proud to be honored with this Award.”
Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, statement:
Today is the 50th anniversary of Joan Baez’s performance to the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march in Alabama. She performed at the “Stars for Freedom” rally alongside fellow artists including Harry Belafonte (who was awarded the Ambassador of Conscience Award in 2013), Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Paul & Mary and Nina Simone.
Joan Baez has dedicated most of her life to non-violence, and civil and human rights activism. She has participated in marches for civil rights alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; advocated against the death penalty; campaigned for peace and against human rights abuses in Vietnam; defended the rights of California’s migrant farm workers; attended anti-torture rallies; and supported gay and lesbian rights campaigns.
She helped establish local Amnesty International groups in the San Francisco Bay area in the early ‘70s, and went on to perform in support of the organization during the groundbreaking “Conspiracy of Hope” music tour on Amnesty International’s 25th anniversary in 1986.
“With her mesmerizing voice and unwavering commitment to peaceful protest and human rights for all, Joan Baez has been a formidable force for good over more than five decades,” said Salil Shetty.
By Stephen Pate, NJN Network