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The Activists

Hollywood is known for throwing big glitzy events and even bigger, glitzier checks at politicians on their California campaign stops. But a portion of Hollywood’s industry figures go above and beyond the call of duty to fight for their beliefs and causes, often leading the march to Washington D.C. to address the issues where they matter most. Profiled here are eight activists spanning the Hollywood industry, who have used their Hollywood connections to not only raise money, but to change bills and legislature in favor of their causes. Read about their impact, challenges and experiences as they took the long road to D.C. to fight on behalf of their causes.

The Pied Piper

Name: Tim Sexton
Current Role: Founder/CEO of The Sexton Company
Affiliations: Bob Geldof, Live 8, American Idol

Name: Tim Sexton

Age: 61

Current Role: Founder/CEO of The Sexton Company

Affiliations: Bob Geldof, Live 8, American Idol


The name Tim Sexton may not immediately ring any bells in Hollywood, but behind the scenes, this man has been making waves for years when it comes to harnessing music and philanthropy. 

Sexton has what he describes as an “arcane little talent to produce these big events,” a talent that made him the perfect choice to executive-produce the Live 8 concerts in 2005. Timed to precede a conference of the G8 nations (the world's leading industrial countries) in Scotland, Live 8 was a series of simultaneous rock concerts held on July 2, 2005, spanning nine cities across the world. The goal was to put pressure on the leaders of these powerful nations to reduce world poverty.  

“My personal offset is to try and give back in whatever way I can, using the expertise and relationships that I have to try to help folks understand there’s a bigger picture and a bigger opportunity for change than they think,” says Sexton.

Sexton won an Emmy for his efforts on Live 8 and since then has been recruited to produce the “American Idol: Idol Gives Back” program and gone on to win more Emmy Awards.  

The industry veteran has worked as a creative executive and consultant for Columbia/Tri-Star Pictures, Fox, Warner Brothers, Universal, MGM, Disney and Intermedia, not to mention his affiliation with such Grammy-winning artists as Madonna, Aerosmith and Elton John. Sexton has also been actively involved in various timely issues over the years, whether it be the environment, nuclear arms, refugees, human rights or poverty. But perhaps Sexton’s biggest success stems from a global philanthropy campaign that kicked off in 1985 in the U.K. 

In 1984, musician Bob Geldof had been moved by a BBC report on the famine in Ethiopia and decided to find a way to raise money and awareness of the situation. Using his connections in the music world, Geldof created Band Aid with some of the most popular recording artists of the time, including Bono, George Michael and Sting, and they produced a song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” which became the top-selling single for over a decade. Band Aid inspired Live Aid, a concert held on July 13, 1985, across the U.K. and the U.S. simultaneously. The event raised more than $150 million for the cause.

Despite the event’s success, Sexton had consciously made the decision to not be involved in Live Aid.

“Anytime you make the goal about raising money, your success is judged differently and there’s not enough money that can be raised privately, I don’t think, to change the outcome in Africa, and not just Africa, but all parts of the world where people are suffering from the crippling effects of extreme poverty,” Sexton says.

Two decades later, Geldof wanted to harness the power of live music once again to bring attention to the still pertinent issue of poverty in Africa. This time, he called on Sexton, who was making an impact as a leading distributor of music in movies and television, to plan a series of consecutive concerts to precede the G8 conference being held July 6-8, 2005. 

The result was broadcast for the world to see on July 2. Nine concerts were held across four continents, with 3 billion viewers watching. This time, though, the goal was not about raising funds but about changing the issue at the core. Live 8 registered the largest simultaneous rock concert attendance to date with 1 million people and became the biggest event to be broadcast globally. It was also an early example of the power of social media, as one of the biggest Internet-streaming and text-messaging events to that point.  

“Government and policy and the international banking systems and big international corporate behavior can make a difference,” says Sexton. “The idea was to highlight the effect of extreme poverty on the world, galvanize public attention and awareness and orchestrate that in such a way so that it would fall square in the lap of the leaders of the G8 nations as they were meeting to make decisions about what they were going to do with respect to debt of nations in the developing world.”

Through Geldof and Sexton’s connections, 1,500 artists came together to perform, including Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, The Who, Motley Crue and Elton John. Not stopping at just the musicians, Sexton and Geldof then recruited presenters and speakers such as George Clooney, Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates and Brad Pitt to lend further star power.

The efforts paid off. Unable to ignore the huge global pressure being placed on them, the G8 leaders pledged a number of measures to help impoverished nations by 2010. The specific impact of Live 8 on G8 could be measured by the achievement of three major goals:

  • G8 decided to forgive the debt in 19 of the poorest countries of the world.
  • G8 decided to provide $50 billion in untethered aid to 23 of the poorest countries in the world.
  • G8 decided to provide universal HIV and malaria care for all children in the developing world.

Six years later, records released by the Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa organization (DATA) show that the pledges were not fulfilled by the G8 by their 2010 deadline. DATA revealed that the G8 had only delivered 61 percent of their promised increases in development assistance, leaving a $7 billion shortfall. However, the aid that was delivered had positive outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.

  • More than 46 million more children in sub-Saharan African started going to primary school.
  • Nearly 4 million people received anti-retroviral treatment for AIDS.
  • Agricultural production in 17 sub-Saharan nations had increased by 50 percent.

More than 750,000 children had been saved through increasing malaria interventions in nations where malaria is endemic. 

On the basis of the global impact that Live 8 had in changing policy, it can be regarded as Sexton’s biggest success. As the executive producer of the concerts that made history, Sexton won an Emmy for his efforts and was next recruited to produce the “American Idol: Idol Gives Back” segments. 

“Idol Gives Back” began in 2007, during the sixth season of the immensely popular “American Idol” show, in an attempt to raise awareness and funds for poverty in Africa and America. The choice to focus on America’s poverty was key, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s not that people are reluctant to get involved or aren’t paying attention to it. They do, they care very deeply. It’s just that story is generally not very well told in America,” says Sexton of America’s awareness of its own national poverty issues. 

Part of the success of “Idol Gives Back” comes down to the A-list names in the entertainment industry who come together for one night to raise money in a telethon of sorts. This can be attributed to Sexton’s ability to gather the top names in the entertainment field, and the show has seen icons such as Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan and Elton John perform, while actors such as Jack Black, Ben Stiller and Jennifer Garner have all appeared on air to lend their support and ask for donations. 

“This is my community, the legacy of work that I’ve been involved with is in Hollywood with Hollywood people,” explains Sexton. 

The “Idol Gives Back” events were deemed a success, raising approximately $80 million in the first year and about $50 million each year thereafter (with the exception of 2009, when the segment was canceled due to the deep recession in America). 

The money is halved between charities providing aid to both African and American poverty victims, but Sexton understands that the money raised has different value in each nation.

“Five bucks goes a lot further in Kenya than it does in Kentucky, so the money that we’ve raised to help in those situations, the resources just don’t go as far in doing things in America,” says Sexton. 

Twenty-five years after Live Aid, Sexton still places more importance on changing policy than raising funds.

“I think people just see that ultimately you have to change policy to affect the long-term change that’s going to be required, and Washington is where policy is codified, so if you care about things, you have to go there,” he says. 

And harnessing the power of celebrity is an effective strategy to getting heard on Capitol Hill, where it counts, as Sexton well knows. He points to musician Lady Gaga, who has been very outspoken on gay rights, as a prime example.

“What she’s doing is getting attention by doing things which are big and bold and sometimes outrageous, but people are paying attention,” explains Sexton. “They’re not paying attention to the CEO of Koch Industries in the same way — those guys have to pay lobbyists millions to get their agenda across. Lady Gaga can show up and speak about an issue and she gets more attention and delivers more impact.”

He credits Gaga’s attention to her huge presence in the social-media world, where she has more followers and fans than President Obama.

“Remember the story of the Pied Piper from your childhood?” asks Sexton. “Pop culture figures are the pied pipers of this era.”

While Sexton believes the stars are the ones with the impact, in Hollywood, Sexton himself can be regarded as a pied piper behind the scenes, as he brings together big names in the entertainment world in support of philanthropic causes. Along with his consulting company, Sexton Co., he focuses on advising clients on environmental sustainability and social responsibility. 

“We all need to do our part to contribute to the well-being of others,” Sexton says. “It’s a finite little marble we’re floating on here, and there’s more and more people and fewer and fewer resources to care for those people, so we have to be mindful of our role in all of that, and our ability to either contribute positively or negatively.”

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