Some of music and Hollywood’s most outspoken advocates for peace and justice assembled at the Beacon Theater in New York City on December 14 for a special event. They gathered with the same common goal: To free Leonard Peltier. The powerhouse lineup included Harry Belafonte, Peter Coyote, Michael Moore, Jackson Browne, Pete Seeger, Bruce Cockburn, Common, Mos Def, Bill Miller, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, and Jennifer Kreisberg. The three-and-a-half hour concert was a wonderful combination of music, spoken word performances, inspiring speeches and film.
I was not sure I would be able to cover the event as I was in the middle of packing to return to my other home on the west side of Oahu, Hawaii. To my amazement as I went for my morning run on December 14, I noticed the “Free Peltier” bus cruising up Ft. Hamilton Parkway through my neighborhood in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. It was a sign that no matter what, I needed to attend this event. I quickly worked some New Yorker-type magic, got myself a backstage press-pass, and was off with my camera over my shoulder. I zoomed through NYC traffic on my Harley V-Rod, arriving at the press check-in 5 minutes too late–the public relations director had already accompanied all 18 other press members into the theater. The security guard said, “Sorry dude, you will have to wait till she [the public relations director] comes back.”
I stood outside for 15 minutes, already 10 minutes into the scheduled start time of the show. The stress was mounting but all of that was about to change: A black SUV pulled up to the stage entrance with superstar rapper and film actor, Common. He walked up to all the staff standing in the back alley and started shaking hands and giving hugs. When he reached me I said, “Hi” and told him I was doing a story for Indian Country Today Media Network. I asked him how he’d gotten involved with Leonard’s struggle.
“I got a call from a dear friend and mentor, Mr. Harry Belafonte, who schooled me on Leonard’s situation and asked for my help. I just had to be a part of this fight for justice.”
He mentioned that working with the Native actors on the television show Hell on Wheels gave him a respect for American Indians. Common then paused for a moment, looked down, and noticed my motorcycle riding-vest, which says “First Nations” across the top. Then he said “Yeah, first nations. I’ve learned a lot about the culture and a respect for the first nations people.”
Later on that evening, when Common rocked the crowd along with his surprise guest artist Mos Def, he said, “I’m here to support Leonard and fight against the injustices to first nations people.”
As Common and I spoke off the record about various things, Michael Moore walked in past us. Common said, “Hey, that’s Michael Moore. Yo, Mike, how you doing?” Not sure if he knew who Common was, but Moore said hello.
Now was my moment to get a one-on-one with Michael Moore. I started by asking him how and why he was involved in this project. Michael said, “I have been following Leonard’s case for a long time, and I must lend my voice and support to this American travesty of injustice.” Later on in the evening Michael would speak not only about the Peltier case but also gun violence in America, and how earlier in the day a madman walked into a school in Connecticut and killed 26 people, including 20 children.
Finally, making my way inside the press area of the theater, I was truly inspired by the packed house of supporters for Leonard and the wonderful energy that filled the air of the Beacon. The event was hosted by two long-time advocates for Peltier: Belafonte and Coyote. Also lending his voice to the program was actor Danny Glover. Folk artist, Pete Seeger shared his years of wisdom with the audience and how he’d become a part of the movement’s foundation with songs of peace and unity.
The presence of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter brought an understanding to the audience that yes, there is injustice within our judicial systems. As a young boxer in my youth I remember seeing Rubin fight. I also remember his case and even well into his incarceration how Ring boxing magazine would still have him ranked as one of the top middleweight contenders in the world. Rubin would later have his conviction over-turned after spending more than 15 years behind bars.
As each of the evening’s artists and guest speakers took the stage, the call for President Obama to grant Leonard Peltier clemency become louder and louder. It was great to see so many people showed up to support this cause despite the many struggles New Yorkers have been through in the last few months. They found time not only to support Leonard Peltier’s fight for justice, but also to raise their voices to urge it.