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Fans Form an Army of True Believers

Who goes to a show like “Human Rights Now!” and why?

In the three years since modern rock ‘n’ roll and social causes merged in the first Live Aid concerts, hundreds of thousands of fans around the world have flocked to rock extravaganzas devoted to scores of issues. Farm Aid. Amnesty’s 1986 tour. This summer’s Nelson Mandela birthday celebration.

But why do the crowds go? Just for the music? Has the rock audience’s consciousness been raised since the advent of these mega-events? Are the shows tapping some deep-rooted and otherwise underfulfilled human needs to help the downtrodden? Or are they some 1980s variation on the same rock-driven social activism that goes back as least as far as the 1960s?

An informal survey of about four dozen of Wednesday night’s concert-goers found a variety of age groups among the 56,394 at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum and a remarkable unanimity of opinion.

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Most of those interviewed maintained that all-star benefit concerts really do raise their awareness about social issues. And virtually all claimed some degree of awareness of and interest in the cause, if many lacked faith in the dedication of other attendees.

Surprisingly, no one said the concert lacked political value, although some questioned how clearly the message can get across in a stadium as large as the Coliseum.

“What’s $35 (the ticket price) when someone’s in jail for life unfairly? It’s incomparable,” said Jeff Klubeck, 16, of West Hills, buying a $20 Amnesty T-shirt. “We’re here for the music and to maybe get a little more involved in Amnesty.”

Added Klubeck’s brother, Dave, 19: “If they get maybe two (political prisoners) out of jail early, then the cause is worthy.”

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Tim O’Connor of Studio City, who described himself as “a longtime fan of Sean McBride,” one of Amnesty’s Irish founders, said, “I think it really does, actually, what it sets out to do--make the general public more aware.

“Maybe two-thirds of the high school kids coming here will forget about Amnesty tomorrow, but even if a handful of them pull this out"--he pointed to the reprint of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights being distributed--"that makes this worthwhile, because these kids are the future for the years beyond George Bush.”

Of those interviewed, the vast majority said they are aware that Amnesty supports freedom of belief in all countries, that it petitions governments to release political prisoners and that the “Human Rights Now!” tour is intended to increase public awareness of human rights issues and not to raise funds for the London-based organization.

“I think there’s a lot of potential power in the performers and the people they draw, but it seems empty to me here,” said Laura Daniel of Hermosa Beach, sitting with friends in the sparsely populated upper deck.

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“I don’t think the people here are in tune with what the performers are trying to do. I was looking forward to (Peter Gabriel’s) ‘Biko,’ and I was shocked at the reaction. People didn’t seem to feel what that was about.”

If many fans seemed to feel that most of the other fans were there only to hear their favorite performers, fewer were willing to confess that as their own motivation for coming.

“I’m here because I like Bruce Springsteen!” exclaimed a candid Kathy Hamlin, who had driven up from San Diego with her husband and another couple. “I’m very patriotic, and I like ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ . . . We need symbols.”

Fellow San Diegan Jerry Gradisher had a different reason for coming: “I’m here because I got 25 tickets and I’m stuck with ‘em. I got ‘em for the whole office because I thought everybody would want to be here.”

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