So, what does world peace have to do with you? How can an hour or two with a peace activist affect the world or you? How does music bring people together?
Holly Near has actively sought answers to these questions all of her life. She has been a world peace activist for the past 30 years and will be hosting a lecture and concert at Colorado College today and tomorrow.
Near has never been shy of the public eye. She's been a performer since she was 8 years old. Coming from politically active parents who were ranchers and supporters of culture in the rural community of Ukiah, Calif., Near began picking songs with a folk group when she was in high school and claims she became a "professional" activist when she was 20.
Early on, Near pursued acting as a career with performances in such films and television shows as Slaughterhouse Five, Minnie and Moskowitz, All in the Family, The Mod Squad, and The Partridge Family. She even appeared in Hair on Broadway. Soon music took the front seat and Near never looked back, having performed with the likes of Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Bonnie Raitt. Now 52, Near has over 30 years of experience as a peace activist and just released her 20th recording, Edge, on her own Calico Tracks Music label.
Steering away from being defined by one faction or another, Near describes what has kept her going all of these years as an "absolute fascination of who we are and how we relate to each other." She has worked for all sorts of groups and causes including the ACLU, NOW, The United Farm Workers, gay and lesbian awareness groups, musical promotion for artists in numerous countries, and the list goes on. But despite her participation under all of these umbrellas in support of basic freedoms and rights, she still adheres to a world peace agenda.
"I came out of a family interested in worldview ideas and peace," said Near in a recent telephone interview. "Feminism, lesbianism, racism, sexism, violence -- these are all paths or obstacles to world peace. I believe in integration. I opened up this tool box when I was a kid, and I went around the world using my tools to learn things to give back to people."
Near will perform with John Bucchino, a pianist she's been working with for the past 16 years. She describes her performances as "very live and spontaneous." She doesn't adhere to a set list because Bucchino can keep up with her changes in direction without hesitation.
Her purpose seems so simple. She doesn't complicate her perspective by attributing her views to some sort of calling. "My job is to stay current and present," she said.
"A cultural event is a great way to create community," Near added. "And especially when it's free of charge, people can take a chance to see a person they may not know too much about. A lot of people have a narrow picture of what a political concert or a feminist lecture may be. I just hope to provide a place for people to sit together and observe that there is a kind of common sense in the room." When was the last time you sat in the same room with 30 members of your community and tried to get to know them?
A radical what?
In her lecture, Near will address how feminism has changed over the last 30 years. "Feminism parallels racism and sexism. Movements came along to address blatant discrimination so that integration, fairness and equality became legalized. My generation did the job of confronting. I think young people today have a problem realizing what went on 30 years ago. Today, changing from the inside out is the next level -- taking the idea of diversity and really trying to figure out who they want to be. I think people are looking at gender in a different way, too. There's a lot to talk on this subject."
With all the changes our country is anticipating in the coming years, Near is excited about touring the United States right now. "I find the new president startling. I believe very basic rights are going to be challenged. But I believe these times will give young activists a chance. The very tragic can offer an opportunity to clarify where we stand."
And I guess that's the whole point of listening to anyone -- to clarify your own belief system. It's all about who you hang out with -- and people who are doing heartfelt humanitarian work are usually very interesting, challenging people.