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Justin Dillon on Activism for Better Living

Justin Dillon on Activism for Better Living

What's your mission?

Using inspiration to "create" activation. I love how a song or a film can make me feel. Artists have a range of reactions they hope to solicit from their audiences. Of all the reactions possible, I believe the greatest reaction an audience can offer an artist is to be inspired. Inspiration is the soul's endorphin. And when inspiration has a platform to operate from, then the world has a shot at becoming a little better.

What are you most proud of?

A song I wrote called "Wait Up for Me," my film Call+Response, the love of my wife and the pure joy of my little boy.

How did you become involved in stopping child slavery?

I met girls in Eastern Europe who were telling me of these bizarre opportunities to come to the West to work in service-industry jobs. It sounded like an article I read on the modern-day slave trade. I started asking some questions and realized that they were being duped. I always wondered what would have happened if I had not spoken to them. That feeling never left.

How did you get started with your film?

At first I just wanted to find a way to connect the music community to the issue in a unique way. Not a Public Service Announcement. Not a benefit concert. Something that had not been done before. I wanted the power of message to be woven with the power of music. I really had no money or connections. I just started telling people about the issue and asked if they would contribute, both in front and behind the cameras. I had never made a film, but was sure of what I wanted people to feel. I wanted them to feel like I do and I wanted the music to serve as a companion in the audiences journey into a very difficult and tragic issue. I wanted the musical performances to give the audience courage. Now, there are bands like Radiohead, The Killers, and many others leveraging their voice for those without one.

How do you describe yourself?

Non-linear. Curious. Dreamer. Hustler. A penchant for social disruption. Never believing the welcoming easy path is either welcome or easy.

Give us some background about the problem of slavery still going on today?

Over 27 million live in slavery today. More than at any other time in history. 80% are women and children. It rivals arms trading in profitability. We have slavery still here in United States. To my knowledge, there has never been a world power that was not built, in some way, with slave labor. History is bound to repeat itself unless caring and committed individuals push for something different. And still, so few people know about it, or worse, know what to do about it.

Share with us a story that will inspire us to action.

When I was halfway through making the film, I still did not have an idea what to call it. As a musician, I had always known about Call and Response, but never really studied it. The idea of Call and Response came out of the music that was created in the American slave fields. A Call is someone sharing his oppression, a Response is someone saying I hear you, and together we will overcome. It turns out that Verse and Chorus, the building blocks of nearly all popular music, never existed before the Call and Response. So, popular music has Activism and Redemption in its DNA. We were made for this.

What drives you to take action and to keep working as hard as you do?

When I realized that being an activist was not a professional gig. Being an activist is not something that anyone can claim to be an expert at. Real systemic world change has always come from unprofessional people like me who believe things in the world should be different, and find a way—their own way—to respond.

What's been the most difficult part of the journey for you?

The lack of well worn path. From the production to the distribution of this film, everything my team and I did was unprecedented. And I say that with humility, because if we could have found a well-trodden path, we would have taken it. But our ambition was to release the film theatrically, while giving the audience the opportunity to respond to the issue right from their theater seat. I did not want to lose one beat of inspiration that may come from viewing the film. That meant working on pacing out the potential course a viewer would take from inspiration to activation by connecting with them in the theater, online, and on the street. That was, and is, exhausting. But very, very exciting.

What advice do you have for people who want to take on a big problem they see in the world?

Instead of doing one huge thing, plan on doing several small things. And celebrate every accomplishment, not matter how small. And, do not forget about those close to you as you fight for those you do not know.

How can people help and support this idea?

There are several ways for people to leverage their time, resources and consumption—the most deft activist tool we have—at www.callandresponse.com. The site features platforms, which use consumer choice as a way to put pressure on goods made with forced labor. This site is our way to inform, inspire, and engage the 21st century Abolitionist movement.

Posted: 7/17/09

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