Two years ago, jazz bassist, composer and singer Esperanza Spalding shocked the music world by besting pop sensation Justin Bieber in the battle for top new artist at the Grammy awards. Today, she is taking on a different kind of battle, one to try and inspire Americans to take part in a campaign to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
As the US Senate prepares to debate legislation this week that may help close Guantanamo Bay detention facility, Spalding has released a song and video today aimed at supporting efforts to close the prison. In the video, Spalding performs the song “We Are America,” against a backdrop of singers as words like “dignity” and “justice” written on human bodies get zipped up behind orange jumpsuits. Other stars, including Stevie Wonder, Janelle Monáe, Harry Belafonte and Savion Glover make cameo appearances in the video.
Spalding was inspired to create the song and video after hearing about a mass hunger strike at Guantanamo while on tour in Europe this summer. “I was appalled and embarrassed about what was happening,” she said in a Q&A about the project.
As Spalding pointed out in an op-ed, the Guantanamo facility has been in operation for nearly 12 years and 779 men have passed through it. Only seven have ever been convicted of any charges, and two of those convictions have been overturned on appeal. Of the 164 men who remain detained at Guantanamo, only six currently face any charges, and the chief prosecutor has indicated he only intends to prosecute another seven detainees. That means that approximately 150 of the men still being held there face no charges and, unless something changes, likely never will.
Spalding wants to convey a simple message to those Americans who are shocked and dismayed by Guantanamo but feel unable to do anything about it: What is happening in Guantanamo is wrong, and there is something they can do. They should call on their representatives in Congress to help close Guantanamo. They have the capacity to influence the fate of those still held there and make clear that they care about US commitments to human rights and the rule of law.