In response to a devastating famine in Ethiopia that took the lives of close to 1 million people and left 200,000 orphans, the world united to help following the idea of the singer and activist Harry Belafonte, who passed away just a few weeks ago.
His idea was for the world’s greatest stars to record a song that would bring together not only the world’s greatest singers, but the entire planet, to help Ethiopia. “We Are the World” was a resounding success, pushing the world to the aid of Ethiopians. We must admit, though, that it was also the unbearable images of Ethiopian children breathing their last breaths in the arms of mothers who could not let go of them that drove the terrible reality of this famine into our heads.
Today we are facing a collection of severe crises — societal, environmental, military and political — and I believe we are in dire need of a new song like “We Are the World” to finally bring us together to act.
With the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, there was a resurgence of hope and optimism for a world that could finally leave behind antiquated ideologies and focus on bettering the lives of humanity as a whole. This moment also was embodied by a song, “Wind of Change” by Scorpions. It inspired the final overthrow of Communist regimes and represented a new breeze of optimism, a new euphoria that ancient disputes, human stupidity and ignorance may be overcome. The spirit, sadly, was not to last.
Rapidly, new wars and confrontations emerged, and the extent of the environmental destruction we had wreaked on our planet and on ourselves became increasingly evident. Where nature in harmony sings a sweet song, Mother Nature under threat bites. The hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and dwindling resources we see are a daily reminder of the fury of nature, no match for youth deploying a computer in response.
There is justified alarm and dismay at how little we are effectively doing to try to resolve these frightening issues we face in the immediate future, but also in the present. We need not reiterate the many statistics indicating the extent to which we have destroyed our planet’s ecosystems and access to basic resources such as water and arable land that we need to live.
We are losing that battle, just as we seem to be losing the battle of hatred, with new alliances and angry confrontations spreading across the world. War has returned to Europe, yet we act as if this is simply a new reality for us to live with. Peace, stability and sustainability of nature and humanity are goals we must work at tirelessly every day if we are to make any difference.
The unprecedented gathering of stars led by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie for the 1985 song “We Are the World” put the same choice we face today in the simplest words: “We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving, there’s a choice we’re making. We’re saving our own lives, it’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me.”
Today it is not only the coming together of humanity as a whole, but the capacity to be creative, to seek solutions and to work everywhere to achieve them that we need.
There must be groups in every country, in every city, in every neighborhood, whose objective is to seek ways to implement peace, togetherness, and a sustainable way of life for everyone. These citizen groups should be represented at every conference of any importance, ensuring that it is the voices of humanity and not just of politicians that are heard. Politicians will continue to fight between themselves, while humanity alone is able to come together as a united force with clear objectives and no opposing agendas.
Our job is opening new possibilities, spreading education and awareness, launching local projects and finding global solutions.
This is a people’s movement that we are speaking of. With barely a third of people in the West expressing any trust in their governments, it is clear that the people and the street express the needs and interests of humanity better than their embroiled leaders or increasingly unresponsive institutions.
There is so much good that humanity has built, including the laws and institutions of society, but we need to get them functioning in service of humanity’s goals and well-being again, just as we need to halt the destruction of nature that sustains us. We humans have a talent for discovery, for finding solutions and working at them together. It is a talent we must relearn and release.
We must do something meaningful. If we were able to come together in 1985 to help a starving Ethiopia, we must be able to come together to save our planet and unwind the machinery of warfare and hatred. We know that our current situation is not sustainable, but we must shake off our illusion of comfort and embrace thought and action. A true people’s movement embracing all of humanity can make a better day.
Let us sing a new song together in every house, school, and bus, pledging to come together as one humanity caring for each other and our planet. Let our collective smiles bring us together and get us planting instead of destroying. Let us give peace a chance.
• Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked with Saudi petroleum ministers Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani from 1959 to 1967. He led the Saudi Information Ofﬁce in Washington from 1972 to 1981, and served with the Arab League observer delegation to the UN from 1981 to 1983.