Miyoko Brunner- WITNESS is co-founded with Peter Gabriel. He went on tour with Amnesty International’s Human Rights Tour in 1988 and took the Sony 8mm Handycam with him. He filmed people he met all over the world, many of whom had suffered human rights abuses, and had them tell their stories. He found it so amazing that these people were experiencing these abuses and not only were they not being heard, but their stories were being denied. He realized that something as simple as a video camera could bring these stories to the eyes of so many people. WITNESS started with the simple idea that ‘seeing is believing’ in order to help empower people to create change for themselves and those around them. In 1991, the Rodney King incident occurred, which was further motivation for Peter to move forward with his plan for WITNESS. By 1992 WITNESS was formed with Peter, the Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights and a seed grant from the Reebok Human Rights Foundation. In 1993 we sent our first 25 video cameras to local human rights groups around the world. Since then we have continued to partner with grassroots organizations in order to advocate for human rights.
L+W- What are some of the areas WITNESS is working in today?
MB- The main way in which we are able to make this system work is by partnering with organizations all over the world. We have partnered with grassroots organizations in such places as Brazil, India, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Zimbabwe and Cambodia. We create relationships where we work with them for one to three years to find out what their focus is, who their audience is and how we can incorporate video into their plan for change. We also just started working with coalitions, which is one of our new strategic visions. As technology evolves, we realize that cell phones are quickly taking the place of video cameras, and technology is evolving in new and exciting ways, so we are working with media outlets such as YouTube and Twitter in order to ensure we stay current in manning how video is best used to make human rights stories visible to the world.
L+W- What is the most moving moment you’ve had so far with WITNESS?
MB- I think that change- real, sustainable change- can take such a long time, so when I see a campaign really get started and watch as a partner and think it through, and then actually see success, that is really moving. I’ve been with WITNESS for three years now working with events and individuals mainly on support. We have one partner that works with child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s such a hard issue and so hard to watch these children talk about their experiences. Also just meeting some of our partners, and having them thank us for instilling the aspect of video into their causes, which enables them to take the stories of the people they work with and turn them into tools for social justice is really moving as well. Because after we leave them, they have the ability to continue using video to further their causes.
L+W- How can people get involved with WITNESS?
MB- We’re working on creating a Video Advocacy Planning Toolkit where we walk through each step of how to get started with using video as a tool for advocating for social justice. That will be available soon for people to use and we hope it will be a way to increase awareness and perpetuate the ability to take action.
L+W- Is there anything else we should know about WITNESS?
MB- The main idea is that change is possible, and that anyone can be involved in creating change. Stories are so powerful, and that is the essence of why WITNESS was created. A lot of high school students these days are so much more adept at video than most adults, so finding ways to empower young people now with the ability to use these tools to foster change is a key component to our mission.
Visit WITNESS site: http://www.witness.org/