The distinctive Amnesty International arched sticker, with a burning candle surrounded by a swoosh of barbed wire, seemed to adorn every college dorm-room door, beat up Honda Accord, and office bulletin board when I started college in the late '80s at Fordham University. Human rights was the "in" cause. So, we all joined Amnesty and watched our heroes including Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Peter Gabriel sing on the "Human Rights Now" tour (brought to you, of course, by Reebok).
As quickly as it took center stage, however, human rights seemed to fall off the map. Somewhere in the mid-90s, something stole our fire and free time, perhaps it was the gold rush years of the Internet or the end of the Cold War. The wild spread of entrepreneurship and capitalism may have carried some democracy along with it. Yet just because people are starting companies and economic markets are opening up doesn't mean that there are fewer tortures, rapes, and murders for political beliefs. (These kinds of false perceptions may stem from giving places like China "Most Favored Nation" status).
Youth inspired by artists created the foundation of Amnesty's success in the '80s, so maybe a vacuum of activist artists is to blame for human rights disappearing from the collective consciousness. Would a homophobic, misogynistic, and violent artist like Eminem ever take a stand for anyone other than himself? Could anyone take him seriously if he did? Britney Spears' fans might not have a problem with her dressing in a thong at the MTV Music Awards but how comfortable would they be if she addressed the issue of the rape, kidnapping, and torture of young women in Sierra Leone?
Of course, you don't have to look around the world to find human-rights abuses. Rodney King and Abner Louima taught us that human rights is an important and pressing issue right in our backyard. (Because of these examples, some narrow-minded individuals may see is as only a race specific issue.) One bright spot in all of this, however, is that the technology that was supposed to create a Big Brother state, like video cameras, is now being used to police Big Brother himself. (Check out witness.org and send them a check — or a video camera — if you have the means.)
Eleanor Roosevelt considered her fight to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights her greatest accomplishment. How ashamed would she be that 50 years has elapsed since her battle, and now, no one seems to care.
JASON McCABE CALACANIS is Editor and Publisher of Silicon Alley Daily; The Digital Coast Weekly, Silicon Alley Reporter and Chairman CEO, Rising Tide Studios.