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Peter Gabriel on human rights

December 20, 2008

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Have you ever wondered if one person’s voice could change the world? I know I have. And I know many of you have as well. Sometimes the world just seems like too big of a place for it to much matter what one person says. And, to an extent, it is too big. There are too many people who lie, too many people who fabricate and too many people who simply keep their mouths shut. But what about video? We’re all more inclined to believe what we see over what we hear. And that’s where Peter Gabriel comes in.

He cofounded a group/initiative called WITNESS. It’s essentially based on two premises: 1) That people believe what they see over what they hear and 2) that now more than ever there is technology that allows us to see just about everything (like this). So WITNESS is pushing to give the whole world video cameras to document everything they see, namely, human rights issues. Because, let’s face it, we hear about human rights atrocities the world over and don’t believe them until they’re shoved in our face. So let’s shove them in everyone’s face.

You can watch Gabriel’s video on TEDTalks here and below (and here in high-res). Forewarning, he sits and talks for the whole thing. There are videos, but he’s not exactly grasping for your attention. Anyway, he directly and indirectly touches on some points that I’d like to write about…so here ya go.

1) I hear fairly often something along these lines: “Who are these celebrities/rock stars/random famous people to try to get involved in important things like human rights/elections/things that actually affect the world?” And I flat disagree. They have opinions too. They just have a much easier avenue to broadcast their opinions and affect a broad array of people. Let’s just go ahead and admit the fact that, while every voice does matter, some voices are louder than others. And if you already have a megaphone, why not use it? That’s what it’s there for, right? It’s democracy and free speech, people.

2) There are two basic instincts in people from my viewpoint, and they battle each other every day. Everyone wants to be a hero, but everyone can become a villain more easily. These video cameras are meant for the former crowd to expose the latter. Because pictures are more believable than simple words, one hero’s pictures can expose a thousand villains’ actions and words. And the heroes here are protecting the fundamental principle that we are people. We are all humans. And the things we often do to each other are atrocious. Citizen journalism is a step in the direction of a global Golden Rule. One step at a time, people.

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