Annie Lennox might be an Oscar and Grammy-winning music icon, but the celebrated singer is human just like all of us. And she admits at times she does get overwhelmed by all the negativity in the world.
” I actually despair sometimes, though I try not to, cause we would love to find global solutions that were effective against these terrible, festering problems that could so well be resolved with good initiatives,” she tells me. “There are resolutions and positive things that could be done quite easily to change.”
She is particularly outraged by what she calls “the invisible war against women.” As I speak to Lennox and Raakhi Shah, the CEO of Lennox’s Circle organization, founded by Lennox in 2008 to help women around the globe, the statistics they read off are horrifying.
According to Shah, the United Nations projects that for every three months of lockdown during the pandemic there will be 15 million additional cases of domestic violence. That is not total during the lockdown, that is every three months. And to back up their claim they point out that in one day the biggest refuge in the U.K. had a 700 percent increase in calls. That is one day.
However, Lennox has the ability to contribute and use the global good will she has earned in the music community to rally some friends together to raise money and help women during these trying times.
To that end, she and Shah have put together an incredible auction featuring private, personalized video performances from Lennox, Sting, Hozier and more, as well as an autographed guitar from Taylor Swift. And what is really cool is that the fundraiser, held on Charity Stars, features both an auction and sweepstakes so everyone has a chance to win these once in a lifetime performances (link below).
For example, if you can’t afford the thousands of dollars it would take to win the personalized performances from Lennox or Sting you can buy a sweepstakes ticket for $10 and all the proceeds go to the Circle and helping women around the globe. The auction ends this Friday (July 10) and the sweepstakes ends July 31.
I spoke at length with Lennox and Shah recently over an impassioned and inspiring hour-long Zoom call about the Circle, how seeing the Amnesty tours, featuring Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and more, inspired Lennox during her Eurythmics days, Swift’s courage in becoming an activist in 2020 and most importantly what can be done to help women around the globe.
Steve Baltin: What was the impetus for the auction.
Annie Lennox: When you’re talking about women and girls in the developing world, they’re already on the margins of existence. It’s what I could call an invisible war of violence against women and girls, mainly women, all around the world. It’s just risen exponentially. [And] you have to remember also that in townships nobody can physically distance, it’s impossible. And when it comes to things like sanitation, hand washing, these kind of things that we’re all trying to do, it’s really hard to do in many places where millions of people can’t get access to clean running water and really safe sanitation. Already that’s a big problem, so it’s just exacerbating the extreme problems that already exist for people on the margins.
Baltin: The statistics are staggering. Is that 15 million more cases per three months?
Raakhi Shah: For every three months, that’s what the U.N. is estimated for every three million globally. So in terms of what the auction is going to be funding, even before we launched the appeal, we made a number of grants. We were able to support a project in Uganda where they did a campaign raising awareness about domestic violence and we’ve supported garment workers in Bangladesh, who’ve lost all their work from fashion companies pulling contracts. We’ve supported a rape-crisis center with its first tech support helpline. So that’s just the start. [And] the music auction is just going to build on that and support more women in a similar vein. So I think 10 dollars is the cost of buying one ticket for the auction, which is going to support one hour of counseling for a woman. If you buy one ticket that’s going to help a survivor with an hour of counseling. It’s a very tangible thing we’re doing. Because we’re quite a small, but mighty organization as Annie and I like to call it, we’re quite nimble at getting the funds out. So we’ve already made quite a few transfers and as soon as the auction is finished we’ll be doing the next ones.
Baltin: I appreciate the fact that you are doing both a sweepstakes and auction so people who can’t afford the auction can still participate and feel like they have a chance to win. How do the video performances work?
Shah: We’ve asked every artist to give a list of five songs that the winners can then pick from so they get some sort of personal say.
Lennox: Yeah, they need to have a personal say. I think that’s really important that whoever wins this could have a choice of song that they really like, something that would be their favorite.
Shah: The beauty of this is that it’s a personalized performance for the winners. So you can bid for your friend’s birthday and they’ll get a performance from Annie that says, “Happy birthday.” Annie always talked about how music brings people together and we want to tell something hopeful amongst this dire situation. And you’re so right. We purposefully picked to have an auction and a sweepstakes for that very reason, to give everybody a chance of winning and entering. And also for the auction there could be a whole host of family or friends that come together and bid if they’ve got someone’s anniversary or special occasion that would be lovely as well, wouldn’t it? If you’ve not seen someone really special for a while.
Lennox: Organizations need money, they need funding and they have to be innovative because after a while , whatever kind of model they’ve had to fundraise, can become repetitious and somewhat outdated. And people tire of these things. And now that we’re in this situation I have to say I’m really impressed that the positive side of technology has enabled us all to communicate with each other, to create content, to be fleet of foot and innovative. So, for the Circle, which, as Raakhi said, is a small organization, but mighty in aspiration, we have to think, “How can we fundraise? How can we get resources? And who specifically is going to benefit?”
Baltin: Talk about the importance of artists stepping up and using their voice in this void.
Shah: Having watched Taylor Swift’s documentary and seeing her journey to activism it was quite interesting to see how she got enlightened along the way, then got angry and then took action. And I think ultimately, everyone regardless if you’re a musician, athlete, worker, you’re a citizen of the world and people are getting more fired up about whatever their issue is. Organizations like the Circle and others are there to help guide and steer. If you’ve got an interest in something come to us, come together, let’s mobilize. For the Circle in particular Annie’s vision has always been about women coming together and getting active and being inclusive for all. And it’s been amazing to see even in lockdown how much wonderful stuff they’ve done together. So I think, for me, music is another form of bringing people together and channeling whatever emotion you’ve got about the world.
Lennox: Yes, absolutely, music galvanizes people and you know what music is a kind of interesting space because it can be a safe space, a beautiful space where people of all kinds of divergent backgrounds can come and in a harmonious, peaceful way simply enjoy the benefit of the music that they’re listening to. Of course music can be used in many different ways. But this is the thing, it’s about music being used to galvanize and also to amplify situations. For example, many years ago I started getting interested in Amnesty International and organizations like Greenpeace. There was Live Aid, Band Aid, Comic Relief. Music has been the force for good; music has been the force that created the awareness of situations that were invisible. The artists themselves have represented the situations, they’ve been spokespeople and they’ve galvanized resources. And sometimes they’ve been ridiculed. My issue was really representing HIV as it affected women and girls for years and it felt as if I was shouting into the void forever because nobody really wanted to take it seriously in any way, shape or form. I have to say that. But I found myself attacked by trolling. And it’s hard to live with, I can tell you that, when you get attacked online. Taylor Swift, as you said, Raakhi, she was very courageous and she had to deal with so much attack. And I think that was extremely brave of her and dignified because she made a decision, “Okay, I’m gonna stand for this. I have something to say.” And that is the real waking up, whatever you’re representing, whether it be Black Lives Matter, MeToo, climate change, if you get off the couch and say, “I’m no longer just a passive participant in the world, I’m an active participant,” that’s the difference, you are an activist. The words and the language are very important.
Baltin: Music takes on so many roles, whether it’s activism or comforting people. So what were you looking for in the people you got to contribute to this auction?
Lennox: I can knock on the door. My name means that people will read the email and they may want to do it or not. I don’t want to ever railroad anybody into doing something they don’t want to do. But all the artists that have stepped up to the plate and agreed to do this — Hozier, Sting, Emeli Sande — we have some magnificent artists. And Taylor Swift giving us that guitar is just so generous and brilliant and it makes a huge difference to a small organization like us, but mighty. It makes a big difference. And it’s that willingness to give up their time and say, “Yeah, this is something I would be proud to be part of, that’s very important.” For me, I’m just doing this kind of stuff all the time. I was before and it’s just multiplied now. I was trying to get away, I was trying to have a bit of a sabbatical when I came to Los Angeles. And I’ve ramped up all my activities. I took part in Project Angel Food twice. This is a wonderful local organization here in Los Angeles, a feeding program, amazing what they do. It was very important to me to be a part of this because I feel paralyzed if I don’t do anything. This world is so beautiful and it is riddled with problems, but there are solutions and organizations out there that represent the possibility of solutions.
Baltin: If you were to bring back the Amnesty tours who would be your dream artists to go on the shows?
Lennox: I’d bring out the oldies, anybody that’s alive and standing and still prepared to play a guitar and sing and play whatever they play. I’d bring them all out if they could do it. It would be amazing. Can you imagine Bob Dylan, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, all of them, the good ones. I’d have people that really walk the walk. Bring Tracy Chapman, right, center and foreground. And oh my god if Bob Marley was still alive. He is. Bob Marley physically died, but his songs, of all the songs that have ever been written that have anything to do with the global issues, with human rights, this is with justice or injustice, Bob Marley’s songs are the best anthems of all. And they live on.
Baltin: What are the biggest lessons you want people to take from the Circle and the auction?
Lennox: When you consider that hundreds of millions of women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered to be criminal, so now we have a parallel war going on in people’s homes where women are being impacted by domestic violence. It’s invisible, you don’t see it. And living in countries where they can’t even go to court over this. So beyond MeToo, which has been a phenomenal victory in so many ways, and we’ve seen the [Harvey] Weinstein case come through and A-list celebrities have spoken up and the world is interested because media comes to that. How about media speaks about the global situation for women? Which is absolutely appalling. That’s my message.
Shah: I want people to, whatever their entry point to this issue, whether it’s the Circle, the music auction, whatever is happening in the world, I’d love them just to find an entry point that works for them to come and learn more and come on this journey with the whole Circle family of women, men and young people. And that’s what we’re talking about, this family of people who want to do more in whatever way they can. And become a global feminist.
Lennox: That’s a nice way to put it. Global feminism is a term we encourage people to use because it’s inclusive of everybody. Everybody can be a feminist.