Bianca Jagger made an unforgettable impression at the launch reception for Amnesty's Circle of Conscience. And surprisingly, not because of her star-studded jet-setting past as a 70s actress & model, former Studio 54 regular (counting Andy Warhol and Truman Capote among her many A-list friends). Nor for being Mick Jagger's first wife. Not even because as a great-grandmother (her daughter Jade became a grandmother this May) this award-winning social and human rights activist is still a stunningly beautiful woman. No. What demanded everybody's attention far more at this launch event in Kensington's Bulgari Hotel... what in fact brought an entire room full of Amnesty supporters to a humbled silence ... was Bianca's explanation of where her campaigning heart comes from, in her speech as the Circle's new Patron: "My passion for activism didn't come from books, or reading about the wrongs of the world, but from my own personal experience"
Bianca shared with us how she grew up under a corrupt and oppressive regime in Nicaragua in the 1960s. She left in 1970 with a scholarship to study political science at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. But in 1972 she returned, to look for her parents after the devastating earthquake which destroyed the capital Managua, claimed 10,000 lives and rendered many more numbers homeless. In 1979 she returned again, this time with the International Red Cross, and was shocked to see how the country had devolved in the intervening years. "I was horrified to see how the corrupt Somoza regime had taken advantage of the natural disaster and exploited the people of Nicaragua instead of helping them, profiting obscenely from the tragedy. It inspired me to fight for those suffering from discrimination, injustice and violence. In the years that have followed, I have visited individuals and communities across the world, from central America, across Europe to South Asia, visiting refugee camps, war zones, remote rainforests, and prisoners on death row. By witnessing injustice and the denial of human rights first hand, I have become even more determined to use my knowledge, skills, influence and time to become a force for change and a voice for the most vulnerable."
In public Bianca has spoken often about her personal epiphany: in 1981 she was stationed at a UN refugee camp in Honduras, part of a visiting US congressional delegation. At one point in the official visit she and her colleagues witnessed 40 captured refugees being marched off at gunpoint by a death squad. Horrified, Bianca and her co-workers followed the group to see where they were being taken, realising summary executions were about to take place. Armed only with cameras (so at least they could document the raid) Bianca and her team took brave action: once within earshot of the death squad they shouted "You will have to kill us all!" This stopped the squad in its tracks and forced a reappraisal of the situation: the prisoners were released. In many interviews since, Bianca has pinpointed this as a turning point in her life as she realised positive action can absolutely make a difference.
In private, at the Amnesty Circle of Conscience reception the Kysen team attended, Bianca let us in on another turning point in her life: "after campaigning tirelessly for one particular death row prisoner we came to a very harrowing end of the road when we realised there would be no reprieve and all appeals routes had been exhausted. On a very emotional day we were finally informed of the date for his execution. Not long after, I was stunned to receive a request from the prisoner that I personally attend the execution. I wasn't expecting that. But of course I had to go. I will spare you the details of what it was like, seeing a man you believe to be innocent being put to death by the authorities, right in front of your eyes. You can imagine for yourselves the profound effect it had on me." So when she says her heart for social and human rights action comes from experience rather than books, you can absolutely trust what she says.
"I have always believed in the power of ordinary people to change the world if they work together and I am so proud to be part of the global movement of more than 7 million people brought together by Amnesty International who are actively campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all... but we need to do more! With greater help and support, from more people, we can focus on increasing the impact that Amnesty can make helping people to fight for their human rights and live in dignity."
Well, that's a Call to Action if ever I heard one!
You will find links here about Amnesty's new Circle of Conscience and other aspects of the charity's work. You can click here for information on the Bianca Jagger Foundation. Do you feel inspired to get more involved? I know I do!
We always look forward to reading Edward Fennell's diary column in Times Law and last week's was particularly classic: I just loved the story of UKIP's Christmas card catastrophe, using a cartoonist's work without their permission. Pilsbury's Paul Harris observes drily in the column that "clearly, the IP in UKIP does not stand for intellectual property". Quite. He continues: "Now it's just a matter of destroying the cards. Pulp fiction, perhaps?" When it comes to UKIP (and please do excuse me, I usually try to avoid party politics) I couldn't agree more!
Take advantage of this Friday's Christmas Jumper Day to clothe yourself in the Christmas Spirit. It's time we all got into the the festive mood. On 12 December Save the Children is encouraging us all to "make the world better with a sweater" (love it!) wearing our woollies to work and donating £2 to the charity.
And if you're worried a Christmas sweater could cause offence in the workplace considering we are all of so many different cultural and religious persuasions, here's the solution: the mixed-faith pullover "for those wanting to celebrate the festive season as the multicultural nation we are." As the Independent on Sunday put it: Oh come all ye multi-faithful! Perfect!!