THE BLOG
06/20/2005 03:45 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Speak Truth to Power

I spent several years interviewing human rights defenders around the world about the quality of courage for the book Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World, which has since grown into a theatrical presentation, a touring photographic exhibition, an education and advocacy packet, and an award-winning website composed of powerful interviews and photographs celebrating the courageous actions, lives, and dreams of human rights activists from around the world (www.speaktruth.org).

Speak Truth to Power examines issues of human rights in over forty countries, spanning six continents, with topics as far ranging as political rights, free expression, honor killings, demilitarization, environmental activism, mental health, children’s rights, and national self-determination, to name just a few.

The individuals portrayed include human rights defenders Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, Baltasar Garzon of Spain, Nobel Prize laureates His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Oscar Arias, Rigoberta Mencha, Jose Ramos-Horta, Bobby Muller, and Wangari Maathai, as well as many other lesser known heroes.

Speak Truth to Power encourages governments, NGOs, major foundations and individuals to support human rights, and brings much-needed attention to continuing abuses. But perhaps its most lasting effect will be to demonstrate the capacity of the individual to create change despite overwhelming odds.

On June 11, 2005 Speak Truth to Power proudly presented a multifaceted program on human rights and the strength of the human spirit in Pasadena, CA. Speak Truth to Power and the Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) brought audiences face-to-face with courageous human rights defenders and the challenges they tackle in their work around the world. The events featured a moving photo exhibition, play, booksignings, and an education outreach into regional high schools.

THE EDUCATION OUTREACH
On the morning of June 11th three of the word’s most inspiring and precedent setting human rights activists descended on All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA to share their personal struggles and encourage all present to take up the fight for human rights. Ka Hsaw Wa, Van Jones, and Marina Pisklakova, all of whom are featured in the book and play Speak Truth to Power, spoke to local high school students and other members of the community about their experiences fighting for Human Rights. Ka Hsaw Wa, representing EarthRights International, gave a gripping and impassioned account of his struggle for human rights and democracy in Burma, which is home to one of the most repressive military regimes in our world (www.earthrights.org). Van Jones, representing The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, with headquarters in San Fancisco, CA, spoke about his work challenging human rights abuses within the United States criminal justice system (www.ellabakercenter.org). Marina Pisklakova, Russia’s leading women’s rights activists, spoke about her experience as a pioneer in her mission to end domestic violence in Russia. Amnesty International`s Human Rights Education Director Karen Robinson moderated. It became apparent that these exemplary individuals not only represent their respective countries and organizations, but each and every one of us. All who had the honor of hearing these courageous defenders speak their words of courage and hope were inspired that day. All went home with a wider perspective of our world and with the message that we all have within us the capacity to affect change and fight for human rights.

THE PLAY
That evening of June 11th a benefit performance of the play Speak Truth to Power: Voices from Beyond the Dark was held at All Saints Church. “The West Wing” actor Bradley Whitford directed and performed in a spectacular rendition of Ariel Dorfman’s script, with an award-winning cast including Rocky Carroll, Steven Culp, Hector Elizondo, America Ferrera, Melissa Fitzgerald, Janel Moloney, Martin Sheen, Aaron Sorkin, and Alfre Woodard. Human Rights defenders Ka Hsaw Wa, Van Jones, and Marina Pisklakova joined Nan Richardson and I, and an audience of generous supporters, at the gala performance.

THE BOOK
Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World explores the quality of courage and duty through interviews with individuals dedicated to protecting human rights. With photographs by the Pultizer Prize-winning photographer Eddie Adams, edited by Nan Richardson, and published by Umbrage Editions, the book is now on sale in a new paperback edition ($34.95) wherever books are sold and on the Umbrage Editions website www.umbragebooks.com, alongside a limited number of the out of print signed hardcover edition ($75.00).

THE EXHIBITION
June-July, 2005: The Speak Truth to Power photographic exhibition by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Eddie Adams will be on display to the public daily at the All Saints Church, located in Pasadena, CA at 132 N. Euclid Ave. The exhibition, curated by Nan Richardson, consists of 50 riveting portraits of human rights defenders from thirty-six countries. For more information on the exhibition in Pasadena: call 626-683-9004 or visit www.icujp.org. For booking information, please contact Launa Beuhler, Exhibitions Director at Umbrage Editions: call 212-965-0197 ext 1#, or email launa@umbragebooks.com.

These events are part of an initiative to scale up the Speak Truth to Power message, complementing the U.S. tour of the photo exhibition and the play, a forthcoming Latin American tour, and a new edition of the Speak Truth education packet distributed by Amnesty International. The lasting effects of the project are seen in the continuing work of the defenders, whose efforts to protect human rights in the face of the most adverse circumstances “teach us not how to be saints, but rather how to be more fully human.”

Speak Truth is far more than an educational tool. It is a call to action, and already the project in all its manifestations – book, play, photography exhibition, website, documentary film, public service announcements, and education packet- has helped the defenders portrayed carry forward with their work.

~ In Mexico, where defender Digna Ochoa was brutally murdered a year before, Speak Truth and the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights challenged the courts findings of suicide and brought the attention of international judicial authorities to pressure greater investigation of the murders and other extra judicial murders there.

~ In the Ivory Coast, defender Freedom Neruda, whose office was bombed, received donations of computers to resume publication of his newspaper and assert the principle of free speech.

~ In India, Speak Truth campaigned to help Kailash Satyarthi in his hunger strike on behalf of Nepali children with a write-in campaign.

We have seen many such concrete examples of change when human rights becomes part of the dialogue and its champions are supported to do their work. But the three years we have spent building this effort have brought us to a moment of great possibility and greater need — we now ask for your help to continue this important work.

TO CONTRIBUTE please go to http://www.speaktruth.org/ or by phone call Maribeth Iler at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial 202-463-7575.

And for a very limited time hardcover copies of the book remain! - If you would like to purchase a book I would be happy to sign it - email amy@umbragebooks.com for details.

Speak Truth to Power examines issues of human rights in over forty countries, spanning six continents, with topics as far ranging as political rights, free expression, honor killings, demilitarization, environmental activism, mental health, children’s rights, and national self-determination, to name just a few. It is a call to action, and already the project in all its manifestations – book, play, photography exhibition, website, documentary film, public service announcements, and education packet- has helped the defenders portrayed carry forward with their work.