Last night, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to the 20th anniversary of WITNESS.

First off, any non-profit that sustains at all, let alone for 20 years is a feat in itself and should be applauded.

Though moreover, what I felt last night was special. The collective soul spirit in this space was palpable.

WITNESS ‘is an international nonprofit organization that has been using the power of video and storytelling for 20 years to open the eyes of the world to human rights abuses. WITNESS empowers human rights defenders to use video to fight injustice, and to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools that can pressure those in power or with power to act. By bringing often unseen images and seldom heard stories to the attention of key decision makers, the media, and the public–WITNESS catalyzes grassroots activism, political engagement, and lasting change.’

I have had a hard time swallowing this new reality. The fear and real truth that everywhere we turn, someone could take a video or picture of any moment of your life if they desire and so proceed, even without you knowing. I know many have actually chosen this as a ‘profession’ and not only love but aspire to live in this world of infamy, but it has never been for me.

It’s no secret I value and protect privacy fiercely.

Except when it’s a cover for abuse.

And breaking it can be an agent of change.

The impetus for WITNESS was the Rodney King, Jr. incident, where a bystander captured ­­­­­evidence of police brutality on his handheld video camera.

WITNESS ‘bridges the worlds of human rights, media and technology by incorporating cutting-edge innovations into traditional approaches to advocacy.’

VIDEO ADVOCACY.  ‘The use of video as an integrated tool in human rights campaigns. Throughout much of the world a new generation is emerging – confident, connected, and open to possibility.  A world with ‘cameras everywhere’ now gives us millions of potential witnesses to the Rodney King incidents of our time.’

WITNESS is an admirable model of how to take this ever growing world of technology and no real privacy, and capitalize on the best outcome possible. I know this isn’t necessarily a new realization, but definitely a worthwhile re-look, re-imagining, and at the very least, reminder, of where our energy could be placed.

From Peter Gabriel, one of the co-founders:

Kudos to them and to us to keep doing our part.

–Sheetal Sheth

11 Comments

  • Gaitre Ramkissoon says:

    Video media is indeed such a powerful tool, so Awesome that is being used to exact a positive difference/change in the world…thank you for sharing WITNESS….

  • Michael Landau says:

    I can see that this is very useful, and can accomplish many good things, but I also wonder about the price we have to pay for this. So we now live in a world where we have no privacy? Is this really the kind of world we want to live in? Are the benefits worth the price?

  • Gaitre Ramkissoon says:

    Admittedly there are times when I wondered the same Michael Landau, but have yet to see anything in this world that doesn't have a "price"…and since we are already in this age with no 'rewind' button, I'm hoping, making a conscious decision as a society, as people to Demand the good and use our tools to achieve such is a great start…

  • Maricelia Serrano says:

    Most definitely a worth reminder of the ugly truth. However it’s also an incredible opportuniy for this powerhouse organization, they now have more tools to share the voice of the unheard, unloved and unwanted truth. The price to pay may be high and risky but well worth results all for the greater good of the cause. Once again you to be down! You are the essence of achievement and foundation of courage and progress. Thank you for sharing your acquired wealth and integrity. You hold the ability effect those around you “world wide” positively. Star dust follows out of you, it’s no wonder your are born to shine! Much respect. <3 Mari

  • Vanja Savic says:

    Happy anniversary, WITNESS!

    I must say that privacy, as well as freedom, means a lot to me and I am a fierce advocate of the same. Except, as Sheetal said, in cases when it's a cover for abuse or violence. I believe all those who threaten the other and commit violence against anyone – have absolutely no right to privacy. Such things must be seen, must be compromised by media and legally sanctioned.

    Any privacy stop when violence starts.
    Otherwise, we'll be infected with blindness.

    All this reminds me of the book Blindness by Saramago (if you did not read it, I recommend you do). In an unnamed city of unnamed country, a man suddenly blinded in a car waiting to the traffic light to change. Soon after, the virus caused an epidemic of blindness which is transmitted from human to human. The novel is a kind of 'research study' on a human dimensions, humanity and the animal in man. Depicts the metamorphosis of the human spirit in the most primitive forms, which does not run by any noble philanthropic vision and inspiration but pure instinct for survive.

    J'adore la technologie. At the same time, all that – click, click, click, wherever you are – annoys me sometimes. But. I'm optimist and believe that must be a solution with all that applications (i.e. for blurring people's faces in photos and videos) and other things (laws), which will re-establish privacy in a culture of growing use of all combinations of technology.

    Thank you Sheetal for great topic.

    Con affetto

  • Maricelia Serrano says:

    *Once again you put it down!* that’s what it should say in my last post, sorry.. 🙂

  • Michelle Minchala says:

    Happy anniversary WITNESS and congratulations to those who have been part of it and have succeed in the accomplishment of its purpose.

    I, like you, protect my privacy like I am famous, rich person (which I am not) but certainly I have started accepting the fact that Video, if it is rightly used, could be a powerful and beneficial tool in many ways. Many third world country for example, have started using this tool to reduce crime, to me this is an excellent example of positive use. The problem is that no everyone decides to use it in the right way.

    Thanks for expressing your opinion and introducing this organization that many of us ignored existed. You, as a recognized person in the media, can bring a positive outcome or influence on others at least to analyze our actions with the cameras. Expressing your point of view can wake up many of us who may have had the same thought but decided to stay quiet about.

    Well said lady,

    Very respectfully,

    Karen M. Minchala

  • Teresa says:

    While reading your blog, there were so many visuals flashing in my head. The videos and news clippings of race riots in the South where so many people were being beaten and hosed by police, of children standing in front of tanks in Vietnam and China, of Gay men being beaten and arrested at Stonewall, and just recently, a young girl shot just for trying to get an education, a right many in America take for granted. There are so many more and so much more to be done to ensure human rights for everyone. We must not be hearers or viewers only but doers.

  • I agree with your opinion on Witness.The advantage and disadvantage of Video media.In most instances it can identify the culprit and a perfect investigative tool.But on the other side it can be intrusive.

  • Anónimo says:

    This reminded me of the story of Amanda Todd. She committed suicide six days ago after reporting on youtube that she was suffering bullying.
    People are capable of the best and the worst.

    http://abcnews.go.com/International/video/bullied-canadian-teen-found-dead-home-17466390

  • Tracy White says:

    It is so scary to think about how people are watching you everywhere you go. I can only imagine how difficult this must be for a celebrity because you get almost no room for error. We, the fans, hold you, the celebrity, up to a higher standard….but is that really fair? That's like saying you aren't allowed to be human. I like to see the 'behind the scenes' stuff with people. It reminds me of a song, 'Who Are You When I'm Not Looking" by Blake Shelton. Every single one of us are actors. We put on a brave face when, sometimes, we just need to express exactly what we are feeling. It's healthy. It's real. Sometimes it's not pretty and that is ok, as long as it's not hurting anyone else. I feel like this is the key in what is wrong with our world today. People aren't 'allowed' to express themselves because they are afraid of what someone will think or if someone else is watching. If you don't express it, how will anyone else know what it is you are feeling? How can anyone help you when you need help the most? It exposes our souls. And that can be a good thing. We can get the people the help that they so desperately need. I admire you Sheetal. I know I don't know you face to face, and probably never will. I do see who you are and what you stand for by watching your movies, listening to podcasts/radio interviews, and watching your interviews. You are consistent, true, and honest. I have never known anyone who bares their soul every time they talk. I feel your passion. I feel that you are genuine. When someone is being the best person they can be and really trying to make this world better, like you, they shouldn't be afraid of who is watching. Peace and love always, Tracy.

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