Sunday, December 26, 2010

Take Action on the Death Penalty Today!

It's not too late to take action for Kevin Cooper! Kevin Cooper, who has been on death row in California for 25 years, is asking outgoing governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to commute his death sentence before leaving office on January 2, 2011. Kevin Cooper has consistently maintained his innocence of the four murders for which he was sentenced to death. Since 2004, a dozen federal appellate judges have indicated their doubts about his guilt. Urge Governor Schwarzenegger to grant clemency for Kevin Cooper.  Read Nick Kristof's recent NYT column, "Framed for Murder?", for more on the case.  More information about this case at the Free Kevin Cooper website.

Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition
On the book front, listen to this interview with David Garland, author Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition, who discusses why capital punishment continues in the United States despite the abolition of the death penalty elsewhere in the Western world. The book has drawn much attention based on former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens' review in the New York Review of Books.

That Bird Has My WingsRights Readers author and California death row inmate Jarvis Jay Masters (Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row) has a hearing coming up early in January. Check The Campaign to Free Jarvis Jay Masters or Facebook for updates. His latest book, That Bird Has My Wings is now out in paper, so have a look there for more of his story.

Friday, December 24, 2010

One more time with feeling!

Not done with Pete Seeger yet!  First, here is the lovely group of Readers assembled to celebrate Pete and the season. As always, looking sharp!

Here are a couple of clips from Pete's show Rainbow Quest singing holiday songs with Bessie Jones. This seemed like the most appropriate way to wish you all good cheer on this day. Thanks so much for interest in the blog and our activities! Keep singing into the New Year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

DIGNITY: In Honor of the Rights of Indigenous PeoplesStarting with Human Rights Day (December 10) Amnesty International is launching it's year long celebration of it's fiftieth anniversary. If you missed it, AIUSA Executive Director, Larry Cox was on NPR's Talk of the Nation discussing the history of the organization last week.  If you'd like to celebrate with a book, like a good Rights Reader, check out the beautiful DIGNITY: In Honor of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,

I missed another anniversary back in October-- the blogiversary of Rights Readers in 2005. To celebrate, I've given the blog a little makeover. Let me know what you think!

Our December Book: The Protest Singer by Alec Wilkinson

The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Vintage)This month we read The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger by Alec Wilkinson.  Wilkinson writes regularly for the New Yorker and you can check out some of his other pieces, including his most recent about rhythm and blues singer Bettye LaVette, here.  If you'd like to learn a little about his background, you can listen to this interview.

As for Pete Seeger, here's a vintage (1984) Fresh Air interview. And then just last August, NPR's Talk of the Nation had Pete on to discuss his latest Grammy-nominated album, Tomorrow's Children made with children from his home near Beacon, New York and featuring new songs on environmental themes. After a bit of a slow start the interview really kicks in when Pete can't resist breaking into song and gives a nod to Rights Readers favorite Wangari Maathai ("There should be a song about her.") The Huffington Post also has an interview,
Tomorrow's Children
MR: And might you have any advice to new artists?
PS: Sing in front of as many different kinds of people as you can. Old folks, middle age folks, kids, infants, and sing for people you disagree with too. Learning how to communicate with people we disagree with is something the whole world has to learn.

The New York Times checks in on Pete's current Sunday routine ‘Letters to Answer, and Logs to Split’ while this Atlantic reflection contains some great nuggets,
"In 1910," he said, "John Phillip Sousa wrote, 'What will happen to the American voice, now that the phonograph has been invented?' And it's true—parents don't sing lullabies to their children anymore, they'll put them in front of the TV to fall asleep. Men used to sing together in bars all around the country—now there's a TV or loud music there instead."

Pete Seeger: The Power of SongFrom NPR, Pete Seeger and friends close out the 2009 Newport Folk Festival including Pete's song "Walking Down Death Row", a song I hadn't heard before. 

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour"We've previously mentioned the PBS documentary The Power of Song (view the trailer here) and the Smithsonian-Folkways podcasts. Take note also that the PBS site has bonus interviews and a handy timeline, while the Folkways Seeger profile also comes with a slideshow and video and audio features.  And please do check out the Beacon Sloop Club and the Clearwater. Have you found yourself humming along while reading? Ready to burst into song? Look to Sing Out! for inspiration.

The episode concerning the censorship of Pete's appearance on the Smothers Brothers is described in fascinating detail by David Bianculli in Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour".  He also tells the story in this Fresh Air interview (transcript). Here is the performance of the American War Songs Medley from the show and the censored clip of "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy".  I like this clip of "Wimoweh" and "Where have all the Flowers Gone?" better though, because no Pete Seeger performance is complete without the audience reaction (and who doesn't love Tommy Smothers?).

The episode of Rainbow Quest featuring Roscoe Holcomb mentioned in the book is excerpted here.  There are just too many good Seeger YouTube clips to share in one post so we promise to think of more excuses to post them in the future. By popular request though, here is Pete and Friends performance of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" at the Obama inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Check out this video from the kids at Clearwater who have added some new verses to "This Land is Your Land."

What's your favorite Pete Seeger song?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Empty Chair

This Human Rights Day we pause to honor Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo by acknowledging the empty chair at the Nobel ceremonies. Amnesty International urges you to take action:
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo was charged with "inciting subversion of state power" and given an 11-year prison sentence on December 25, 2009 simply for co-authoring a proposal for political and legal reform in China. On October 7, the Beijing Municipal Higher People's Court upheld Liu Xiaobo's prison sentence. Urge Chinese authorities to release Liu Xiaobo immediately and unconditionally.
And we urge you to slip in a reference to Group 22 Pasadena's Chinese prisoner of conscience case Gao Zhisheng too. Check out the Globe and Mail's profiles of a courageous "Gang of 10" dissidents to watch, including Gao. To learn more about Liu Xiaobo, visit PEN's resource page.  You might also want to check out PEN President Kwame Anthony Appiah's piece on Liu in Foreign Policy: China's Burden of Shame which also mentions Gao. The NYT offers a Liu poem today.

Rights Readers authors have commented on Liu Xiaobo's plight and it's implications for the future of Chinese democracy.  Here's Orville Schell (Mandate Of Heaven) on PBS Newshour.  And Ma Jian (The Noodle Maker) writes in the Scotsman,
Though now better off than they have ever been in material terms, the Chinese people are denied any real opportunity to retain and refine their own dignity beyond the quest for wealth and luxury goods.   Liu's prize is a rebuke to the regime, because it rejects the dogma that nothing but the pursuit of economic interest matters.

Death in the Andes: A Novel We wouldn't want to overlook the Nobel Literature Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa.  Many years we enjoyed reading Death in the Andes.  Rights Readers author Daniel Alarcon (Lost City Radio) reacts to the news of his award on WNYC and offers up a bit of fan worship in the Paris Review.  Vargas-Llosa's Nobel speech is well worth the read for this thoughts on reading, exile, and human rights, not missing the chance to acknowledge the empty chair himself,
...a dictatorship represents absolute evil for a country, a source of brutality and corruption and profound wounds that take a long time to close, poison the nation’s future, and create pernicious habits and practices that endure for generations and delay democratic reconstruction. This is why dictatorships must be fought without hesitation, with all the means at our disposal, including economic sanctions. It is regrettable that democratic governments, instead of setting an example by making common cause with those, like the Damas de Blanco in Cuba, the Venezuelan opposition, or Aung San Suu Kyi and Liu Xiaobo, who courageously confront the dictatorships they endure, often show themselves complaisant not with them but with their tormenters. Those valiant people, struggling for their freedom, are also struggling for ours.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Listening to the Protest Singer

The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Vintage)This month we are reading The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger by Alec Wilkinson.  This is a book you need to listen to with a soundtrack. Now, if your old Pete Seeger records are unplayable due to the fact that you no longer own a turntable to play them on, you can go to the Smithsonian-Folkways website and click on the "radio" button and chances are Pete will show up sooner or later and you'll discover some other unique musicians on your way there.

I'm sure many of our Loyal Readers have already seen the Pete Seeger PBS American Masters documentary The Power of Song, but take note that Smithsonian-Folkways offers three podcast series combining musical selections and interviews and each one has a special Pete Seeger episode available. You can listen online or search iTunes to download. 

The "Folkways Collection" series explores the history of Folkways records and an overview of the record label's vast holdings. Episode 12 is dedicated to Pete Seeger, but several of the others, such as those on music of the labor and civil rights movements and the episode on children's music also feature our friend Pete.  Well worth a listen.

Episode 20 "Pete Did That?" of the Sounds to Grow On series also explores the many sides of Pete Seeger's music. Loyal Readers may also be interested in some of the other programs in this series, for example "Songs of Struggle and Protest" or "Sacco and Vanzetti."

Finally, the Sound Sessions series also has a Pete Seeger episode in addition to features on Seeger friends Woody Guthrie and Paul Robeson. Happy listening!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Write for Rights 2010 Global Writeathon

At the recent Amnesty International USA Western Regional conference, Group 22 Pasadena was thrilled to receive the "Local Group of the Year" award. Behold Loyal Readers and coordinators Lucas Kamp and Kathy Hansen accepting the award from Western Region Field Organizer  Kalaya'an Mendoza. The group followed this up with a bit of publicity in the Pasadena Weekly.  And we are not resting on our laurels by any means!  Next up is the annual Write for Rights Global Writeathon--your chance to send greetings to human rights defenders around the world who need a word of encouragement and to write a few letters to their governments urging them to take a stand for human rights. The Group 22 event will be at Cafe Culture (1359 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena) on December 11. Drop by anytime between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. If you can't make that, additional events are being held around the country in conjunction with International Human Rights Day (December 10). Check the Amnesty International USA Write for Rights site for a writeathon near you or find materials to do your writing from your own home.  For a bit of inspiration, here is Bu Dongwei's testimony about the power of your letters. Group 22 followed Bu's case closely and recently welcomed him to a monthly meeting. 

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Listen to the Banned

The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Vintage)This month we are reading The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger by Alec Wilkinson. We will have more Seeger resources to explore in an upcoming post, but among other themes, the book explores Seeger's experiences as a blacklisted musician in the 1950s and with censorship of his performance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the 1960s. Freemuse, the independent international organization which advocates freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide, awarded Seeger their Freemuse Award in 2009 for his commitment to musicians' freedom of expression.  You can hear his grandson's acceptance speech here
 Listen to the Banned
This year, Freemuse has an album out (for the music lover on your holiday gift list?) called Listen to the Banned, a collection of songs from artists around the world who have faced censorship or had their music banned. Artists from Afghanistan to Zimbawe are featured and you can learn more about their music and struggles to be heard at the website for the projectHere's a glimpse of one of them, Mahsa Vahdat of Iran, the Freemuse Award Winner for 2010.  Women in Iran can practice various musical forms but cannot sing in public for mixed audiences. They can participate in women-only concerts, but Mahsa Vahdat refuses to perform for women only. Here she is explaining her commitment to freedom of musical expression:

Here's a sample live performance:

Try here and here for more.
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