Issues of human rights have become increasingly prevalent in today’s political discourse. Yet throughout this ever-fervent election season — one where finger-pointing has a tendency to overshadow more practical approaches to civil liberties — it’s a discussion that often finds itself lost in the bickering and politicking that frequently inhabits the campaign trail.
As Groovefest prepares for its 50th gathering in Norman’s Andrews Park, the world’s longest-running human rights festival seeks to raise awareness in an atmosphere more hospitable for tackling this dilemma: one characterized by music, arts and a healthy dose of positivity.
Aimee Rook, Groovefest coordinator, thinks this welcoming and sensible approach feels right at home in Norman.
“The last five or six years, we’ve tried to balance our focus on the good things: the ways we’re solving human rights issues and shining a light on those issues locally,” Rook said. “Norman in particular has an outstanding ratio of human service opportunities and resources.”
Now in its 27th year, the biannual Groovefest has undergone a drastic evolution since its fledgling beginnings. What started as an assembly of students has grown into a full-fledged exercise in freedom of speech and willful expression between human rights organizations, artists, musicians and, most important, the community.
“It just started out with a desire to share art and music,” Rook said. “But it also began with inspiration from [University of Oklahoma] art students who wanted to share and use their freedom of expression, and help people who have been incarcerated and tortured for their beliefs or creed.”
Along with such established organizations as The Peace House and the Women’s Resource Center, Amnesty International has played a prominent role in Groovefest’s recent successes.
In fact, its OU chapter has long been a driving force behind the event. In 1988, then-leaders Allen Hailey and Tom Decker saw an opportunity to promote human rights issues on both an international and local level. To this day, Amnesty International meets year-round in Norman to discuss human rights and the impact felt both in its own community and beyond.
With more than 3 million members worldwide and no shortage of international issues to address, it’s easy to lose sight of pressing concerns here at home as well. Everything from racism to equal rights for gays and lesbians to the growth of human trafficking in our state are among the hot-button issues on the agenda.
Yet despite the density of the discussion, Groovefest remains a celebration of inclusion and expression.
Through the presence of local musicians and area vendors offering their services, the festival routinely strikes a unique balance between topical discourse and leisurely entertainment.
“The beauty of that theme is bringing peacemakers and musicians together,” Rook said. “We’re trying to shine a light on how we really are working toward the same goal: freedom for all people.”
Groovers and shakers:
Groovefest 50 schedule
noon McMichael’s Musicians
1 p.m. Paseo Streetwalkers
2 p.m. Broke Brothers
3 p.m. Beau Mansfield Trio
3:45 p.m. Byron Jackson, Possibilities Inc.
4 p.m. Regg
4:45 p.m. Bill Bryant, United Nations of OKC
5 p.m. The Dizzy Pickers
5:45 p.m. David Slemmons
6 p.m. Sam and the Stylees
6:45 p.m. Nathaniel Batchelder, The Peace House
7 p.m. The Saucy Gentlemen
7:45 p.m. Lauren Zuniga
8 p.m. Aquarian Exposition: A Woodstock Experience