Just ahead of the Republican National Convention, a liberal organization of actors and musicians will gather in New York this week to pay tribute to what it calls "unconventional heroes" -- a group that includes librarians from Santa Cruz, Calif., and the father of an American contractor who was beheaded in Iraq earlier this year.
The Artists Network of Refuse & Resist! will present "Unconventional Heroes: An Evening of Performance to Honor Courageous Resisters" Thursday at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. The organization said the event is intended to recognize "everyday heroes who put their reputations, their jobs and even their lives on the line to preserve their freedoms and voices."
Among those being honored is Michael Berg, who -- after the world saw video of his son Nick being beheaded in Iraq -- responded by calling for an end to violence everywhere. The event will also honor Aaron McGruder, the creator of "The Boondocks" comic strip.
Librarians in Santa Cruz are being recognized for opposing the USA Patriot Act, a post-Sept. 11 law that supporters said would give federal investigators stronger enforcement tools against terrorism. Anne Turner, director of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries, told United Press International that other libraries around the country followed her system's lead in opposing a provision of the Patriot Act that empowers the federal government to obtain court orders to see library and bookstore records.
"The court does not require that the FBI show reasonable cause for looking at those records," said Turner. "It's a secret court, and basically it gives the FBI the power to go fishing -- to say, 'There might be somebody planning a terrorist act in Santa Cruz, so let's go look.'"
Santa Cruz libraries posted signs on their circulation desks notifying patrons that the system could no longer ensure their privacy. The libraries also began more thoroughly to shred daily documentation on who was signing up to use its Internet facilities and which Web sites they visited.
The lineup of artists scheduled to perform or present awards at the event includes actress Blair Brown, singer-songwriter Steve Earle, Tony-nominated playwright Reg E. Gaines and legendary folk-blues singer Odetta.
The event is one of many scheduled in New York between now and the end of the Republican National Convention intended to draw attention to protest of President George W. Bush's policies.
The New York International Fringe Festival, running through Aug. 29, offers several theater pieces that touch on politics associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Wrong Barbarians" examines the idea that the media and the government have set up a culture of fear in America after Sept. 11. "John Walker, the Musical," looks at the case of John Walker Lindh, who was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans and aiding the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Brown will be participating in several convention-related events, including the Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues & Ideas, a Planned Parenthood march across the Brooklyn Bridge and a public reading of the Constitution at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.
The actress, who starred in the TV series "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" and played Jacqueline Kennedy in the 1983 miniseries "Kennedy," told UPI she is aware that many Americans don't put much stock in the political opinions of artists, but she said she is participating in these events as a citizen.
"I don't think it matters that we're artists," she said. "We have a right to an opinion, and beliefs, and convictions."
Steve Earle, who was poised to become a country-music star in the 1980s before drug abuse led to prison and rehab, has a particular emphasis on opposition to capital punishment. However, he told UPI that over the past year he has broadened his agenda to include a wider range of issues on which he differs with Bush.
"I've had to shift, like a lot of people are, over every issue that comes into this election," said Earle, "because it's time to drop everything until we get this guy out of office."
Earle is preparing to launch a tour to promote his new CD, "The Revolution Starts Now." He is not one of the recording artists who recently announced plans to tour in electoral battleground states to promote the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
"We talked about it," he said, "but I'm playing in some of those places anyway."
Earle said his tour dates will concentrate on swing-state venues through Election Day, with stops in Chicago and New York. Illinois and New York are widely regarded as leaning towards Kerry, but Earle said economics necessitated scheduling dates there.
"A good chunk of the records I sell are in Chicago and New York," he said.
On the day before the Republican convention, Earle plans to take part in a march with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, an organization of welfare recipients in what he described as the poorest section of Philadelphia.
As police and political observers prepare for the possibility that some demonstrators will become violent in New York next week, Earle guaranteed that he will be non-violent.
"I'm just non-violent," he said. "Also, I've had all the jail I can stand."
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