Actress, musician, entertainer, and activist Holly Near spoke and sang about the importance and impact of activism with over 90 students, faculty members, staff, and community members Wednesday night in Sykes Ballroom as part of “Activist Days,” a LUVIM program.Throughout her vocal performances and speech, Near encouraged people to change the world. “Activism is something that vibrates inside of us,” she said.
Near also drew parallels between her generation in the 1960s, activism, and young people today, reaching out to WCU students. “Nothing happened in the ?60s more exciting than what?s happening right now,” she said. “This can be your moment of truth that defines everything you do.”
Near shared stories with the audience of how she became an activist. In 1964, while in high school, she joined a committee to try and change the conservative dress code that existed at her school.
While attending college at UCLA, she joined the peace movement against Vietnam. At first, Near was hesitant to join protestors on campus because people would spit on them, rip up their signs, and treat them with disrespect. However, Near asked herself, “Why aren?t you standing with these people [the protestors]?”
Near put her fears aside, and she joined the protestors on campus. “My body couldn?t accept the toxicity of silence,” she said, acknowledging that people gave her negative responses to her protesting, but she carried on. “People went by and said terrible things, but I didn?t die,” she said.
Once she had joined the anti-war movement while in college, Near furthered her activism. She spoke out against the war in Vietnam with prominent activists of the 1960s, including Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden.
She expanded her activism by being outspoken concerning gay and lesbian rights, a woman?s right to choose, and domestic violence against women. Near continues to write songs advocating for social and political change.
She encouraged people to make activism fun. “Your activism has got to be fun, it has to be lively,” she said.
Besides speaking about activism, Near also performed solo vocal performances of the songs “I Am Willing,” “Change of Heart,” and “Planet CalledHome” to uplift the crowd.
The songs expressed a positive message and hope for change. “Lift me up to the light of change” was part of the chorus in Near?s song “I Am Willing.” “There?s a change of heart anytime you join the choir or be a voice upon the mountain,” she sang to the audience in “Change of Heart.”
Besides singing and speaking about activism, Near addressed certain issues. She said that segregation and racism in this country and on college campuses still exists, but it?s more subtle. She encouraged everyone to associate with people who are different, question racism, and act against it.
She also encouraged doing the same to combat homophobia.
Near also sharply criticized current U.S. foreign policy.
“I don?t feel safe with the U.S. as a world superpower,” she said. “We have a crisis of fear and hate in the world, and our government isn?t helping.”
She went on to list several countries the United States has bombed since World War II.
Near also listed chilling statistics concerning issues within the United States, especially violence against women.
Near stated that every 15 minutes a woman is battered, and females 12-24 are at the greatest risk concerning violence.
Students seemed to have a positive reaction to Near?s musical performance and discussion.
“Instead of being negative, you can turn to peaceful music,” said Beth Foster, a junior at WCU, after seeing Near in person. “I feel it [Near?s music] was very powerful and spoken though emotions to reach all of us.”
Near began her career as an actress. She has appeared in such movies as “Slaughterhouse Five” and on the TV shows “All in the Family” and “The Partridge Family.”
However, Near has used music to raise social and political awareness. In 1972, she founded her own record label, Redwood Records, which promoted, recorded, and supported social and politically conscious music from around the globe.
She has also collaborated with folk artists Ronnie Gilbert, Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Bonnie Raitt. Near has over 20 musical recordings, and her latest album is entitled Edge.