October 22, 2012 / REMEMBER PEOPLE CHANGE THE WORLD, NOT GOVERNMENTS
October 22, 2012
New thinking, original ideas, and artistic expression are the essence of creativity. The ways that others see the world makes us change how we think, comprehend, behave, communicate, and act. And while not all change is produced by creativity, creativity produces change.
Throughout its history, popular music has contributed to change. Today, musicians and artists provide a palate of new creative and technological platforms through which personal ideas and ideologies that can positively influence the entire world.
There are a handful of basic, yet vital principles required to yield positive impact through change—primarily the simplicity of the message, the clarity of the ways in which anyone can participate, and the setting and common understanding of clear and realistic goals. In other words, the classic rules behind any marketing initiative. Rarely supported by governments, musicians have applied such principles to many causes, whether political, social, or environmental, each with their own level of success.
In some cases, music does not raise awareness or support causes without the support of the authorities—it actively protests government actions. From the father of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti in 1970s Nigeria, to folk artist Billy Bragg’s protest songs targeting Margaret Thatcher’s crushing of the unions in 1980s Britain, musicians have been forceful in their views and inspired millions to act, even when in danger of their lives.
The most recent example is Pussy Riot, the all-girl Russian punk band that’s been sentenced to two years in prison for its anti-Putin stance and dancing to a “profane punk prayer” in a Russian Orthodox Church. At the heart of their message is the lack of personal freedom afforded to Russians and ongoing acute social injustices prevalent in the country under the Putin government.
The government’s heavy-handed response to the lyrics and stunts of Pussy Riot clearly illustrates its fear of music’s power to spread messages of dissatisfaction. Its response has already backfired—recent polls show that President Putin’s popularity has fallen 12% since his return in May. While other polls indicate that more Russians oppose Pussy Riot’s actions than approve of them, a huge number of that opposition believes that the Russian government has clearly gone too far in its response. As a result, dissatisfaction with the reaction of the government is coming from its supporters as well as its opposition, to a degree not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Looking back, the power of music has been effective in making significant changes to society, without government intervention or in direct opposition to its actions, in many ways for decades. Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan peacefully used the power of their art to support the Civil Rights Movement, highlight social inequalities, and protest the Vietnam War back in the ‘60s. Whether conscious or subconscious, by applying the basic principles of marketing to their own passionate causes, each of these artists influenced and inspired millions to protest in their own ways, and in turn, end wars, eliminate segregation, and promote social equality for minorities.
True innovators in music and culture led the utopian dream of the post-folk activist hippie counter culture, from the Grateful Dead to Allen Ginsberg. But while gaining the attention of the world, they were unable to achieve their vision. While its message of change was clear, it ignored the principle of setting a clear goal.
The “failure” of the ‘60s to make huge change inspired a more politically motivated musician-led protest movement in the ‘70s. John Lennon used his power peacefully, yet somewhat provocatively to protest global injustice. Like Pussy Riot, he believed in the right to “tell it like it is,” leverage the media as his greatest asset, and protest peacefully but always with a sense of disruption. And, like the Russian punk band in Putin’s backyard, he came to be perceived as a significant threat to the American government who, without reservation or success, became intent on removing him from its shores. However, by that time his views were in every newspaper across the world, motivating millions to stand up for their beliefs for the good of their common man.
Fellow former Beatle, George Harrison, instinctively understood the importance of the principles of change through artistry. Even though his personal beliefs were inspired by Eastern mysticism, he understood the need for simple ways for Westerners to participate in the change process and consequently set extremely clear goals.
Using these principles, George conceived and staged “The Concert For Bangladesh.” Through his fame as an artist, he generated concern and action for the devastation of Bangladesh caused by a life-shattering cyclone and ongoing civil war, which was receiving almost no government aid. By bringing together the stellar line-up of Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Ringo Starr, Badfinger and more, the youth of the world became aware of the plight of Bangladesh. Over $250,000 was raised through two live shows at Madison Square Garden, the release of the triple live album, and the movie of the event. George inspired millions to contribute in whatever way they could, and in the process, made significant changes to Bangladesh without any government actions.
Harrison’s concert became the blueprint for countless other musicians to create change through live benefit shows, from the Amnesty International Tours driven by artists including Sting and Annie Lennox, to Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s incredible Live Aid.
The incredibly socially aware Peter Gabriel is another example of an artist who has consciously turned his creative powers into positive social action by understanding the required principles. His frustrations with government have never let him waver in his personal commitment for positive change.
Peter’s passion for technology combined with his way of taking complex issues and turning them into simple and solvable propositions, has broken many molds and inspired millions.
His creation, witness.org, brings criminals responsible for war crimes and social atrocities to justice at the International Criminal Court, independent of individual governments. By recognizing that there are billions of video cameras and cell phones on the planet, he has empowered witnesses to simply record what they see, and send the images to the Witness website. It’s that simple. And it continues to work, and gather more speed as cell phone ownership grows, especially in poorer nations. Anyone, irrespective of location, language, education or wealth can stop horrific treatment of people on every continent, just by sending content to a website.
Witness.org has been active for twenty years because it is an excellent example of a non-government initiative that has adopted the required principles for success. The issues are easy to understand, ways of participation aren’t just obvious—they have so far crossed boundaries and languages in 88 countries without requiring detailed instruction. And the goal of bringing criminals to justice is as simple as it gets. On top of all this, Peter Gabriel has leveraged today’s social networks and digital marketing opportunities to the fullest extent.
Change through creativity rather than government action is in every artist’s reach. And after learning from past actions, the message for the future is clear. Use your creativity to support specific issues to its fullest extent, but don’t forget the basic principles of uncommon sense to generate success:
•Set clear goals right from the start
•Keep the idea simple
•Capture attention spans by condensing the cause simply into one short and repeatable sentence
•Develop a crystal clear way for people to take action
•Involve other artists—just as musical collaborations help to sell music, they can also amplify causes
•Use community involvement and fan sourcing to constantly improve the concept, keep the messaging fresh, increase virility, and maximize the impact
•Leverage the power of technology platforms and media channels
•Ensure that the results are transparent, accessible, easily understandable, and in real time