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Yoko Ono & Sean Lennon: Why we became activists

NEED TO KNOW
  • 'My First Time' explores the first time your favorite celebrities did something significant
  • Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon recall their first political statements
  • Lennon: 'She was always radical. She was so radical that we got disowned from the Japanese family for a while!'
Yoko Ono & Sean Lennon: Why we became activists

Sean Lennon & Yoko Ono -- 'Artists Against Fracking'

Sean Lennon & Yoko Ono -- 'Artists Against Fracking'

Editor's note: Every Friday, HLN brings you the "My First Time" series. It explores the first time your favorite celebrities did something significant or memorable (so get your mind out of the gutter!).

In this installment, legendary mother and son Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, who have teamed up to create Artists Against Fracking, open up about their first political statements.

HLN: When was the first time that you were interested in political activism and what prompted that interest?
Yoko Ono: I was interested when the Vietnam War started. I was at a film festival in Belgium and I got into a black bag and said that I’m doing this for world peace. That was the first time that I did something in public, actually.

Sean Lennon: I would argue that your performance of “Cut Piece,” which is a feminist piece, was your first political cause.

YO: Yeah, there were many feminist pieces that I did before that. I started in like 1962 or 1961.

SL: She was always radical. She was so radical that we got disowned from the Japanese family for a while, right?

YO: (laughs) Yeah, that’s true.

SL: She was the wild one.

YO: Then of course, for him it was very difficult.

HLN: Why was it hard for you, Sean?
SL: Well, I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t really been an activist, and I think it had a lot to do with it being hard enough to do music after my parents. To also be an activist would have been too much for one person to take. But I did do work with the Milarepa Fund and the Free Tibet organization in the ‘90s when I was on the Beastie Boys' label. Adam Yauch, who was a good friend of mine who passed away, was really proactive in the Free Tibet movement. So that was kind of the first time that I handed out flyers and did interviews, and sort of did volunteer work for a non-profit.

HLN:  Why was it personally important to you to launch Artists Against Fracking?
SL: First, [Yoko] showed me the film “Gasland” by Josh Fox, which really opened my eyes. And then what happened is the property that I grew up on -- that my mom and dad had before I was born -- which is upstate New York, there’s a pipeline there that’s being proposed to go from Pennsylvania all the way to Susquehanna. That just made me feel compelled to act, because it’s my home -- it’s my drinking water. And that’s the first thing that’s going to be compromised when you’re mixing hundreds of toxic chemicals and exploding them miles under the ground. Fracturing then goes thousands of feet horizontally and explodes more chemicals there. It seeps up into the aquifer and there’s no way of stopping this.

YO: The personal importance, of course, is that it’s for everybody. [Fracking] is a very dangerous thing, so at least people have to know that. And John and I always believed in telling the truth, so I just had to tell the truth. Also, in the beginning, it was just me standing alone, and what am I going to do about it? But now, Sean independently felt that this was very important, and he’s joined me, and it’s just great.

HLN: Advocacy was so important to your husband. What would John say?
YO: John would be very proud. And the thing is… I think that it was all set up in a way. I was suffering by myself and then I thought, “Why don’t I give Josh Fox the LennonOno Grant for Peace?” And he did an incredible job with “Gasland!” So maybe it was John saying, “Hey, do that and that’s going to happen!”

HLN: What kind of role do you think art plays in political activism?
YO: I think art is incredible. Art and music. Because politicians are thinking, “Yeah, let them do what they want to do,” but it’s really not like that. Putin is sending three girls to jail! But the thing is, usually we can get away with it and communicate all the important things to people without being censored. 

SL: I think traditionally art was always political in the beginning, in Egypt and Greece and Rome. Art was used to glorify the rulers or to glorify the gods. So the idea of expressing yourself and not having a political agenda is a pretty modern thing, I would say. Traditionally, art’s supposed to have a message.

HLN: Will there be more music with messages coming from the two of you? You had great success with “Don’t Frack My Mother.”
SL: Well, I didn’t want to be one of those guys going on a comedy show and getting all serious, and saying “Fracking is bad.” It just sounded too boring! So I thought it would be more fun to make a joke out of it, and it turned out really good. I was kind of hesitant about seeing if she would do it. I was, like “Can you stand there and hold a planet, and I’m going to sing, ‘Don’t frack my mother’?” And she said, “Yeah that’s great!” Phewww!

YO: We did all sorts of things like that in the past, so I don’t mind it.

SL: That’s true.

HLN: Did you feel the hand of your father when you thought of that?
SL: The humor -- the spoonful of sugar of humor to say an important message -- [Yoko] definitely taught me that.

YO: Well, he got it from us probably.

SL: I did, actually. I didn’t realize that until you said it, but it’s true.

YO: And I just want to say that I welcome him to become so strong a partner as this.

SL: Thank you, mother!

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