Thursday, May 22, 2008

Live Aid for humanity

This post is at least a week overdue. I haven't known what to say about it, and I confess I'm still at a loss to articulate the impact of that event on me.

On May 10 2008 I attended a gathering of the first Pangea Day. Pangea Day is the dream-child of Jehane Noujaim, who wrote and directed "Control Room," a movie about how news coverage shaped perception during the lead-up to and directly following the attack on Baghdad, focusing on Al-Jazeera and Cent-Com (US Central Command and their propaganda machine). Noujaim won a prize in 2006 from TED for "Control Room" and was asked to name her dream, and awarded $100,000 dollars to help make it a reality. She wished for a day when the world would come together to share their common humanity through film. High-profile presenters, speakers and entertainers stood on stages in six different locations -- Cairo, Kigali, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro -- and broadcast to anyone with an internet connection, in short, millions of people sharing the planet.

With one intent, to help us see the world through each other's eyes, to lower the barriers caused by otherness by letting us see how similar we all are, presenters shared their visions. "Human universals," as they are called by anthropologist Donald Brown, such as love, fear, happiness and anger, were used as launching boards for 22 filmakers to illustrate how our humanity binds us together. Gilberto Gil sang in French from Rio. Christiane Amanpour mediated a conversation between a Christian and a Muslim from Lebanon who talked about their initial hatred of each other based on misunderstanding, and their eventual reconciliation and efforts to spread their words of peace to their countrymen. A Jewish mother whose lost son was killed by a Palestinian fighter and a Palestinian man whose brother was killed by an Israeli soldier walked onto the stage holding hands, illustrating how forgiveness is a weapon against violence. Dr. Padan Kataria, founder of Laughter clubs throughout India, led us in the first global laugh. It was infectious, of course, and forcing a laugh made us laugh harder, for real.

One of the speakers was a man who created a website that harvests feelings from blogs. The website has captured several million feelings since 2005, such as "I feel confident again and had a super fun time," and "I feel inexplicably sad tonight." One film showed an on-going "walleyball" game, a cross-cultural form of beach volleyball, which uses the US-Mexico border wall as a net.

There were so many loving and thoughtful ideas that were revolutionary in their simplicity. My friend Cat, who organized the event I attended in Minneapolis and who is an enlightened and compassionate soul, had to release a long-held assumption that Middle-eastern women are entirely repressed, including in their relationships. That realization came earlier via one film that merely presented a Moroccan couple speaking about their relationship, how whenever there's a misunderstanding they have to stop whatever they are doing and sit down and get to the root of the misunderstanding. That film was presented by the Pangea Day creator herself.

The four-hour event ended in a global drum circle, in which the millions of us participating across the globe beat drums and shouted and clapped in celebration of our shared humanity. What a day.

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