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Joan Baez highlights Innocence Project at Palladium show tonight


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Those who know their folk history know this: Queen mother Joan Baez activism is inseparable from her music, and vice versa. Baez' latest tour is in support of the Innocence Project, a 25-year-old nonprofit that seeks to exonerate the wrongly accused with DNA evidence.

We spoke with Baez on the phone in September to ask why she chose the Innocence Project as a tour partner. For more on the wrongfully convicted in Indiana, read Michael Leppert's latest on Keith Cooper.

Here's Joan:

“I sat down with my manager and said, 'What small thing can we do?' Big things don't really work. But what can I do in a concert tour that will make some kind of difference in people's lives? [So] we got interested in one of the most pressing issues of today, which is the racial injustice and broken justice system. [Because of my work with Amnesty, for me] mass incarceration, prisons, torture, death penalty, all this stuff is all mixed in together. To do it by way of this amazing project which is very positive, and gets positive results, we just thought [it worked]. And it has a branch everywhere, so anywhere we go, there will be people either directly with the project, who could take a project from that area, which is most interesting to people, something they can connect with closely. It was perfect.

“We started talking with different people, and the more we talked, the more it made sense. I first heard of it when I started painting about six years ago. And about three years ago, somebody sent me a book about the Innocence Project, and it had all their faces. So I painted one of the guys. That's how I first knew about it – somebody sent me the book with all of their faces.”

More from Joan: 

NUVO: I find myself often frustrated by my generation's passive attitude toward protest. What can be said to convince people about the crucial need to stand up and assemble? 

Baez: You know, I don't know how you do that except by some kind of example. What you're fighting, really, is an age where empathy is diminishing. I read this, anyway, the empathy center in the brain, wherever it's located, is shrinking. It's not easy, any of it. 

I think right now we don't have a cohesive movement, and that's a frustrating thing for a lot of people. You want to sign on to something with a people of like mind, and it's hard to find that. Now, things are being ruptured by Trump and that mentality is even harder to find, and maybe even more necessary to find. So, I don't know the answer to your question, but there are literally things you can do: places you can go, take your interests.

There are places like the American Friends Service Committee, part of the Quakers, that are always involved in something or another. I think you have to find what it is that really calls you. I don't think you can wait for the right protest march to happen, at this point in history. I think you have to find what it is that really calls you, and then go with an organization that's working with it that you like. 

NUVO: I read through several interviews that you regarding the release of your 75th birthday album, which is a delightful release. I know that you spoke out in support of Bernie Sanders during those interviews [which were before the primaries]. Hillary Clinton is the current nominee, and you've referred to her before as a friend. I wonder what it means to you to see the first female major party nominee. Is that something you thought you would see, or had hoped for? What does it mean to finally see? 

Baez: That has not been a big issue in my life. It never has been. Unfortunately the womanly qualities that I think would be something so attractive to me to somebody in office, I don't think Hillary has those. I am at odds with too many things. She's pro-death penalty; she's pro Israel to the point that I would feel that the diminishing the race of Palestinians is in serious jeopardy, and certainly not even being heard. She's not a nature that calls me, and apparently, according to the polls, it's similar for a lot of other people. It would be helpful if she were [somebody] who really shared the ideals that I have. But I am in this position, that like so many of my friends, I think we would have had better luck with Bernie. I think that he could stimulate excitement about facing Trump. I don't know that she's going to be able to pull this off. I never made that much of a thing about a woman. It's really the qualities of that woman that will be serving. 
Thank you to Annette Magjuka for contributing to this interview. This interview has been condensed and edited.


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