Speaker sensing danger

By Lee Shearer, Athens Banner-Herald

Humanity seems bent on destroying itself, according to David Swanson, the featured speaker for this year’s 33rd annual Athens Human Rights Festival.

“I think our country and our world are headed in very dangerous directions,” said blogger, author and anti-war activist David Swanson – growing ill-will, resentment and antagonism among peoples, continuing proliferation of deadly weapons, and humanity’s seeming march toward extinction through environmental destruction.

“These are recipes for disaster,” said Swanson, who is scheduled to address the crowd several times during the weekend festival – at 1:45, 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. Saturday, and again at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, a couple of hours before the Michael Guthrie Band’s music closes out the two-day event.

But Swanson sees hopeful signs for the future as well, he said in a Wednesday interview.

Polls show the American people solidly oppose the three wars the country is fighting, if not their elected leaders, he said.

And Swanson sees more events springing up around the country like the Human Rights Festival and more people getting involved in the struggle for human rights.

“I don’t think we should be dependent on optimism. We should simply do what we morally must do. That being said, there is growing activism in this country you would have no idea about if you depended only on television for news, or even newspapers,” said Swanson, who’s become well-known around the world for his antiwar work in recent years. “People are moving in the right direction.”

Swanson, press secretary for Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 presidential campaign, is the author of “War Is a Lie,” published last year, and “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.”

Swanson also played a key role in making public the so-called Downing Street memos – documents written after British intelligence officials learned from their American counterparts that former President George W. Bush planned to invade Iraq to unseat Saddam Hussein, not because of the supposed threat of weapons of mass destruction.

In fact, the United States is one of the world’s biggest human rights violators – “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” according to Swanson. “Human Rights advocates sort of ignore U.S. wars.”

The organizers of the Athens Human Rights Festival don’t ignore U.S. human rights violations, however – and that sets the Athens event apart, Swanson said.

“Here, in stark contrasts, the Human Rights Festival is opposed to immoral wars launched by the United States,” he said. “I wish my town and every town had a similar festival.”

The festival not only focuses on important human rights issues, but makes political engagement fun, mixing music with its human rights advocacy, Swanson said.

Begun in 1978 as a kind of memorial for protesting Kent State University students shot and killed by National Guardsmen in 1970, the festival as usual will alternate musical performances with speakers.

This year’s festival begins at 10 a.m. Saturday in College Square with a youth program featuring music and performances that will appeal to children, such as Dancing Flowers for Peace.

Ralph Roddenberry, the Michael Guthrie Band and other well-known Athens performers will return to the College Square stage this weekend. But the lineup also features new groups, including two winners of the festival’s yearly battle of the bands – Blind by Sight, which plays Christian rock, and The Fact, a political punk band from Mexico.

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