Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Full Circle

A few weeks ago I sang at Amnesty International Canada's Annual General Meeting. I performed my song "The Streets of Burma," which is being used by Amnesty as part of a campaign to help free one of the monks imprisoned in Myanmar.

In a way, my performance at the AGM was completing a circle. "The Streets of Burma" was born last fall, when I was invited to perform at a benefit for an Amnesty International chapter in Thornbury, Ontario. I had been thinking about writing a song about the "Saffron Revolution" in Burma/Myanmar, and I had jotted down some initial ideas, when I realized that the upcoming Amnesty event would be the perfect place to sing such a song. Deadlines are always helpful for me, so I worked away at the song, and sang the first draft for Amnesty International Canada Group 82 on November 7, 2007.

It was gratifying to sing the song in that context, but I worried that writing a song just wasn't enough. I wanted it to do more than just help people remember what had happened in Myanmar, I wanted it to help spur listeners to action.

Shortly after that, on a whim, I contacted Amnesty Canada's national office to see whether they might be interested in using the song somehow. To my surprise they responded right away, and the result has been a postcard campaign urging the Myanmar government to release U Gambira. Over the last six months I have sung all over Ontario, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, and everywhere I've gone, audience members have enthusiastically signed postcards to help free U Gambira. I've personally mailed in hundreds and hundreds of postcards, and I know that Amnesty members have also been circulating and mailing the postcards from all across Canada. I never dreamed that my song could have such an immediate, concrete impact, and I'm thrilled to be associated with a respected group like Amnesty International.

So, on June 14th, I got up in front of a room of Amnesty International members, activists from all across Canada, and I sang "The Streets of Burma." It was the very beginning of their weekend meeting, and I knew that the hundreds of delegates there had a lot of hard work in front of them. My song, in the large scheme of things, wasn't the most important thing for Amnesty International Canada that weekend. But in that moment, I felt the synergy of a simple song bringing exactly the right spirit and energy to a particular group of people, and for me, the circle was completed.

Over the course of that afternoon, I heard about Amnesty Canada's activities over the last year. I saw a special tribute to Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty Canada, who recently received the Order of Canada. And I watched democracy in action as the meeting began and members rose to make points or suggestions. I met dozens of Amnesty members from big and small communities. One had been distributing the postcards in the Kitchener-Waterloo school system. Another asked if her chapter could use my song at their event this August. Many took more postcards to distribute in their communities. It was an honour to perform for and meet these hardworking people who are doing so much for human rights.

Thank you, Amnesty International Canada for inspiring me to write "The Streets of Burma,"and for keeping the flame of human rights burning bright around the world. It is a privilege to be a small part of your work.

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Location: Toronto, ON, Canada

I'm a musician and songwriter based in Toronto.

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