By Kerry Hennigan

The tragic events that gave rise to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement saw Michael Jackson’s music taking the stage (again) as a voice for the hopes, fears and frustrations of the oppressed.

I wrote those words and the bulk of this essay in November 2015.  Sadly, in mid 2016 in the wake of what President Barack Obama described as a “painful” week in the United States of America, it remains equally relevant.

On Sunday 10 July 2016, Reuters reported that at a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, the out-going US President had urged Americans “not to view the United States as being riven into opposing groups, seeking to soothe raw emotions after a former U.S. soldier killed five policemen in Dallas and high-profile police shootings of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana.”

Subsequent to those tragic events, protesters at a rally in Central London were filmed singing “They Don’t Care About Us”.[1]

Following the Baltimore riots in April 2015, Alan Binder reported in the New York Times that “Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror’ could be heard playing, and a member of the National Guard tapped his right foot to the beat as the music echoed around the block.”[2]

Billboard also reported that in the streets of riot-torn Baltimore: “Amid chants of ‘No justice, no peace’ and ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ Michael Jackson provided the soundtrack as people took to the streets of Baltimore to protest police brutality following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody.” [3]

This video was shared liberally through social media: “Moonwalk for Peace: Meet the Man Who Wants to Save Baltimore with Power of Michael Jackson” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UycrlDMdUFg

For Michael Jackson fans these incidents are testimony to the powerful messages Michael embedded in his art.

“Michael Jackson was never afraid to put himself out there for the truth as he saw it. We could always count on Jackson to be the global leader of the band, to give voice to everything we were feeling. His adult catalogue is a trove of social activism. Starvation. AIDS. War. Gang violence. Race relations. The environment. It was Jackson who put on concerts for war-torn Sarajevo. It was Jackson who put together a group charity song and concert after 9/11. It was Jackson who used every ounce of his global celebrity to make a difference. He was there.” (Extract) [4]

This statement, from an article by D.B. Anderson, queries the lack of activism among today’s celebrities and also reminds us of what Michael suffered for singing and speaking out about major issues.

“Beat me, hit me, you can never kill me…”

He once said: “I don’t understand racism. We are all the same and I have the perfect hypothesis to prove it. I play to all those countries and they cry in all the same places in my show. They laugh in the same places. They become hysterical in the same places. They faint in the same places and that’s the perfect hypothesis. There is a commonality that we are all the same.”[5]

Although he could obviously identify intimately with some of the inequalities he sang about, racism certainly being one of them, Michael Jackson’s artistic activism was not restricted to a single issue, but rather to those that beset humanity generally, regardless of race, creed or colour.

We were/are ALL his audience.  He spoke and sang to the world at large – a world he had personally travelled on his international tours.  Despite the pressures on him physically and emotionally, Michael truly took his message around the globe.

It’s not surprising then that Michael Jackson’s music has also been used to convey the feelings of people who share little in common with the “Black Lives Matter” movement, with one big exception – they feel injured by life and circumstances beyond their control.  They want healing, peace and a “fair go”.

In places as far apart as the US, Paris, Tunisia and Sydney, Australia, people have played Michael’s music to remind everyone that we are all on this planet together; we all suffer from acts of terrorism, discrimination and violence fuelled by hatred.

“We are the World… we are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving…”

MJJC Legacy Project @MJJCLegacyTeam shared the following on Twitter about the rally for peace and solidarity in Paris following the January 2015 terrorist attacks:

12189104_10205456447745765_6257347922690288237_n“All Singing WeAreTheWorld in Paris Streets #IamCharlie JesusisCharlie Jem’appelleCharlieainsi”

Someone held up a “Heal the World” MJ t-shirt. Another fan made the very astute comment that “People are slowly going to realize just who we lost on June 25, 2009. Not a cartoon character but a man of peace.”[6]

In the scariest of situations, people have poured oil on troubled waters by playing Michael’s prayerful plea:

“Heal the world, make it a better place…”

Following a deadly siege in Sydney, Australia, in December 2014, Australian Associated Press published a story that a Sydney man was playing the music of Michael Jackson’s “Heal The World” at the site of the cafe siege in the CBD. “The man, identified on Twitter as ‘Josh from Parramatta’ brought a small sound system to the area outside the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place on Wednesday. He played the song at the site where flowers were being placed as a memorial to the two people who were killed in Tuesday’s siege.”[7]

In Tunisia following the beach massacre at Sousse in June 2015, British tourists and Tunisian residents joined together to sing Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” in a poignant tribute to the dead. [8]

1171426-singer-michael-jackson-performs-during-950x0-1.jpgFollowing the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida in June 2016, 400 people gathered at Hong Lim Park in Singapore and sang “Heal the World” at a candelight vigil for the victims.[9]

This same tragedy prompted dozens of Broadway stars to join together to record a new version of the 1965 classic “What the World Needs Now Is Love” inspired by the 1985 “We Are The World” USA for Africa benefit recording which Michael co-wrote with Lionel Richie.[10]

These incidents are powerful reminders not just of Michael’s international appeal, but the depths to which his legacy is infused with his humanitarian ideology.  We, the fans, have seen it and heard it, and whenever the situation calls for it, we remind the rest of the world about it.

“What about us?”

Michael’s message encompasses all of us – NO-ONE is excluded.  Picture his greatest live performance piece, “Earth Song” with the superstar standing symbolically before a tank, arms outstretched.  The tank stops and an armed soldier emerges, pointing his gun at the singer.  Michael faces down the man and his weapon, peacefully disarming the situation until the soldier is crouched and crying.  He then embraces the soldier, who is presented with a flower by a little girl who has come onto the stage, dressed as a war waif.

Michael’s point is that even when we are looking at the machineries of war, it is human beings who drive them.  There is a person at the controls of the tank, an individual behind the gun aimed at other individuals.

Similarly, with respect to “Earth Song’s” environmental message, there is someone driving the bulldozer destroying the rainforest.

Instead of alienating the driver of the tank or the bulldozer as “the enemy” isn’t it better to open up a dialogue with them, talk to them, embrace them as our brothers and sisters?  After all, we are all members of the same human race, and we all share our planetary home.

Michael’s intention was to “change the world”; to get us all to look at “the man in the mirror” and ‘make that change’ – and he wasn’t content to sing just for his fans (i.e. preach to the converted).

My personal belief is that Michael believed in what, in the early years of the Greenpeace movement, we called ‘mind-bombing’.  Where an activist group might employ non-violent confrontational protest to bombard the public via the media with images of environmental wrongs (e.g. whaling or toxic waste dumping) Michael Jackson later used his multi-dimensional talents as an entertainer to ‘mind-bomb’ us with messages of peace, healing and hope for a better world for all.

“Do we give a damn?” 

Michael may be gone, but the music – and the message – carry on informing and inspiring.  How we respond is up to us as individuals.  But one thing is certain, regardless of who we are, what we are, or where we come from, we cannot claim it’s not about us.

11209342_10205456440545585_3632581253854572185_n.jpg

Article written by Kerry Hennigan, 4 November 2015 and updated 11 July 2016 with the aid of the sources as quoted above and provided in the Footnotes (below).

[1] https://twitter.com/MJJLegion/status/751596873832693760

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/live/confrontation-in-baltimore/outside-city-hall-t-shirts-reporters-and-michael-jackson/

[3] : http://www.billboard.com/…/michael-jackson-impersonator-bal…?

[4] http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-messenger-king-20141209-story.html

[5] http://www.truemichaeljackson.com/on-racism-and-equality/

[6] To see the tweets reproduced in the MJJCommunity forum visit:http://www.mjjcommunity.com/…/threa…/134861-March-with-Paris [With special thanks to MJJC Legacy Project and Clems tikitaka @ClemsDjib who tweeted the photo – Kerry]

[7] https://au.news.yahoo.com/entertainment/a/25796592/michael-jackson-song-played-at-siege-site/

[8] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/tunisia-attack-watch-holidaymakers-tunisians-5967265

[9] http://www.mjvibe.com/400-people-sing-heal-the-world-for-orlando-victims/

[10] http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2016/06/15/broadway-stars-record-iconic-song-benefit-orlando-victims/85941668/

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