I’ve been writing these Future Hope columns for 20 years, and several times I’ve quoted James Connolly, Irish labor, socialist and independence leader over a hundred years ago, on the importance of singing:
“No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses they will seek a vent in song for the aspirations, the fears and the hopes, the loves and the hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant, singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement, it is the dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude.”
This profoundly important insight of Connolly’s was published in Dublin, Ireland in1907 in an introduction to “Revolutionary Songs.”
I have no idea if Bernie Sanders has much of a singing voice. My guess is probably not. But his speaking voice, his words, his speeches, as well as his heart and soul and passion for justice, have inspired some creative, moving, powerful songs already, and I am sure there are more to come.
Here are links to five of them: https://youtu.be/LyzSAHCE88I, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD3xY4zCP7E, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BX216znrtP0, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5W3fbfHYgg, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOCz9ytXbwY.
I remember the anti-war movement during the Vietnam war, and I’ve learned about the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s, and I know that music and song were part of both of them. For the civil rights movement in particular, though, my understanding of history is that singing was an essential ingredient of the major victories won by the movement in 1964 and 1965 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, passed because of the irresistible force of a powerful, massive, singing, broadly-based, morally-driven movement.
Bruce Hartford, deeply involved as a young person in the civil rights movement in Mississippi and Alabama in 1965 and 1966, said this about the importance of singing in his valuable book, “Troublemaker:”
“Sometimes I’m asked, how did we endure? And what kept us going? My answer is — freedom songs and freedom singing. Freedom songs and freedom singing were our most effective nonviolent weapon, and the songs and the singing were the psychic threads that bound us into a tapestry of purpose, solidarity, courage, and hope. The songs spread our message. The songs bonded us together. The songs elevated our courage. The songs shielded us from hate. The songs forged our discipline. The songs protected us from danger. And it was the songs that kept us sane. . .
“Song was one of our most powerful and effective organizing tools. All human communities are riven with divisions – personal, social, religious, cultural, class, gender, age, sexual-orientation and of course race. Building unity across these many divides is hard. Really hard. Rich and poor, elite and ‘no account,’ don’t mingle easily. Individuals might be at odds with other individuals. Someone from one race or culture may feel unwelcome or out of place in settings dominated by a different race or culture. Singing our songs helped break those barriers down.”
Over the last year I’ve become part of the Solidarity Singers, a group sponsored by the NJ Industrial Union Council made up of grassroots people who sing all over New Jersey at rallies and demonstrations and events. The music of most of our songs comes from the civil rights movement, while the words are updated to be relevant for the present. Without question, I have seen how this singing, these songs, have done some of the things which Bruce Hartford wrote of in Troublemaker.
I haven’t really looked, but my guess is that there’s no other Presidential campaign that has inspired what the Bernie campaign is inspiring song-wise. In addition to all of the many other reasons why this campaign is surging, this may end up being one of the most important. Let’s sing, sisters and brothers, let’s sing!
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist, organizer and writer since 1968. Past writing and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.