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05 juin 2006

It Was 20 Years Ago Today: Remembering the Conspiracy of Hope Tour

Former Amnesty International USA Executive Director Jack Healey shares his memories (and photos) with @U2

Don't be surprised if a few years from now you find the Universal Declaration of Human Rights printed in your passport. That's Jack Healey's latest project, and what Healey wants -- at least when it comes to human rights efforts -- he often gets. Or, more accurately, he makes happen.

In 1981, Healey set out to organize a concert tour on behalf of Amnesty International. Five years later, and 20 years ago today, the "Conspiracy of Hope" tour began; two weeks later, it was a stunning success. With performers such as U2, Sting and The Police, Peter Gabriel, Joan Baez and others on board, the tour visited six cities between June 4 and June 15, 1986. Talk about making things happen: In the immediate aftermath of the tour, four of the six prisoners of conscience the artists had adopted were released, Amnesty's membership nearly tripled within a matter of weeks, and the concerts raised $3 million -- an amount equal to Amnesty's U.S. section's annual budget. (...)

With U2 on board, Healey set out to get more artists to join the tour.

"I had lunch with Sting at his apartment in New York. It was really neat," Healey remembers. "I said to him, 'Would you reunite The Police?' And he said that would be difficult to do, but he was very like ... you know ... he was very cool. He told me, 'If you keep it a secret, Jack, I'll try and do that and I think I'll be able to. I'm not positive, but I think I'll be able to.'"

Sting was the second artist on the Conspiracy of Hope tour roster, and others soon followed. Graham's recruits included Lou Reed, Joan Baez, and the Neville Brothers. Bono brought Peter Gabriel on board. They had the artists, they had the tour itinerary, and perhaps most importantly, they convinced MTV to give them 11 hours of programming for the final show at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, as well as the revenue from all the advertising Amnesty could sell.

Putting the tour together was only half the battle. No one involved in the effort had any idea if the Conspiracy of Hope tour would succeed. How would the artists get along? Would everyone -- artists and audience -- understand the message Amnesty was pitching? Healey admits to being nervous before the opening night show, but all his fears soon disappeared.

"I was a bit terrified in San Francisco at the opening, and what happened was -- I had never heard the song 'Biko' before," Healey recalls, referring to the Peter Gabriel song about Stephen Biko, a black leader who died in 1977 from brain injuries suffered while in the custody of South African police. "I was not knowledgeable about Peter Gabriel at all. It wasn't Peter's fault, it was my fault. But when he sang 'Biko' that night, I knew the show was gonna work." (...)

And once the air was cleared, the rest of the tour ran smoothly. Except for the flight from Chicago to New York, that is.

The artists and crew were in a great mood. Days earlier in Atlanta they had celebrated with an impromptu jam session at the hotel lounge, everybody getting on stage and playing together into the early morning hours (until they were stopped -- no kidding -- by a bartender who wanted to close up and go home). Healey says everyone felt the tour was working; the audiences were responding to their message.

Spirits were so high that the flight from Chicago to New York was "one big pillow fight," Healey says. And then, a near disaster: When the plane landed in New York, it blew two tires.

"I probably was one of the only ones that knew it," Healey says. "When it hit, it bounced too high, coming back down. It went 'boomp' [makes a sound effect] and up. I thought, 'Holy shit, we're in trouble.' All that talent was almost lost." (...)

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