15 November 2008

"This singing together, this was our power."

A few months ago, I protested the lack of good modern protest songs that people can sing together at actual protests. I am pleased to report that I found them! Some of them. Sort of. These are not your grandfather's protest songs.

The Classics: We Shall Overcome

Here is a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., that explains and demonstrates how a song can strengthen a movement. "Know I join hands often with students and others behind jail bars singing it ... Sometimes we've had tears in our eyes when we joined together to sing it, but we still decided to sing it..."

Here is "We Shall Overcome" from a Jerusalem Gay & Lesbian Pride demonstration. ("The video was taken shortly before the crowd was dispersed by snap arrests of peace protesters.")

Old Warhorse Protest: Neil Young

Neil Young always has something to say about oppression, abuse of authority, and war, so it's no surprise that he has a few things to say about President Bush and Iraq. He has built a website on the subject, Living With War. Here is one of his songs urging action, "Let's Impeach the President for Lying".

It's not a song for mass singing, but the chorus works for that and makes a point. This site also has (as of today) nearly 3000 user-submitted songs about the war.

New Dudes: Rage Against the Machine

RATMs name pretty much tells you where they stand on oppression, abuse of authority, and war. They signed up for peace concerts at both the Democrat and Republican conventions in 2008. The concert at the DNC went off smoothly, but police proactively shut down the concert at the RNC. RATM didn't walk away quietly. Instead, they did a 2-song acapella concert with a bullhorn ("Bulls on Parade" and "Killing in the Name of").

Again, these don't really seem like folk songs, but people find powerful bits to sing along with. "Fuck you! I won't do what you tell me!" isn't quite the same as "This land is your land, this land is my land", but it works.

The Singing Revolution: Estonia

The power of folk music is to connect us to each other and to connect the present to the past. It talks about our common history, our common experiences, our common dreams. Estonia, a Baltic nation occupied first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets, used this power to save their nation and eventually to regain independence. Their culture is big on folk songs and they have an old national tradition of the laulupidu.

A laulupidu is a festival with choruses of 20 to 30,000 people singing folk songs. The Estonians were able to use these to save their culture and (as things progressed) spread the idea of revolution among the people, by careful choice of songs. (As I have observed, the power of music to galvanize a revolution comes from the establishment. The more they forbid it, the more energy it has.) There is a new documentary on this. You can see a trailer and get more information at The Singing Revolution website. "If 20,000 people start to sing one song, then you can't shut them up. It's impossible."

The laulupidu tradition didn't die with the departure of the Soviets. Recently, there was a Punk Laulupidu. It makes sense for 20,000 people to stand together to sing "I wanna be anarchy" if you remember that "This singing together, this was our power".

No comments: