“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.”
-James Connolly, Irish Republican and socialist, leader of the 1916 Easter uprising in Dublin
Yes, it was great that the upwards-of-2000 people who marched and rallied on a Monday in Albany, NY two days ago were a multi-cultural mix, one of the stronger mixes of cultures that I’ve seen at climate actions.
Yes, it was very good that the coalition which organized the action, cuomowalkthetalk.org, found a way to organize both a permitted march and rally and a significant nonviolent civil disobedience action. The cd action disrupted business-as-usual in the Governor’s office building, the Statehouse, for several hours and led to 56 arrests.
Yes, it was positive that Cuomo challenger Cynthia Nixon was there with the rest of us, lending her fast-growing, Bernie-like campaign energy to the cuomowalkthetalk demands: stop all fracking infrastructure, move to 100% renewable energy and make corporate polluters pay.
And yes, it was encouraging to see the inter-generational mix, from very young kids up to grey-haired grandmothers and grandfathers.
But what I really liked the most, and which is very important going forward, was the joyous, loud, beautiful-sounding singing during the civil disobedience action, as we gathered in a big circle in a room, “The War Room,” on the same floor as the Governor’s office, and then as we sat in a nearby hallway in a very big oval-like circle, lifting our voices as if the future depended upon it.
Some of the singing was spontaneous, but a lot of it was led by Luke Nephew of the Peace Poets, throwing his body and soul into his song-leading as he moved rhythmically up and down within our oval.
There were new songs created specifically for this event, short on words and relatively simple in melody to make it easier for everyone to join in.
Some of the lyrics: The sun is setting on fossil fuels, the sun is rising on renewables, and it feels like dawn, it feels like dawn, it feels like dawn in New York. And: Hey, yo, Cuomo, walk the talk, the power of the people cannot be stopped. Hey, yo, Cuomo, walk the talk, the wisdom of the rivers cannot be bought.
Other songs we also sang: People gonna rise like the water, gonna face this crisis now, I hear the voice of my great granddaughter saying shut the pipelines down. And: It’s bigger than a pipeline, it’s bigger than a job, if you don’t respect our momma, we won’t respect your laws.
Many of us taking part in the sit-in had learned these songs the day before in an all-day training and community-building convergence in a small town about 40 miles south of Albany.
The church-based civil rights movement in the South in the 1950’s and 60’s was singing-full. If it hadn’t been, as I understand that history, it is unlikely that it would have had the powerful political impact and won the victories which it did.
My understanding is that song, and prayer, was plentiful and pervasive at Standing Rock, ND, over the months in the late summer and fall of 2016 when it became such an historic, visible manifestation of people power, even in the belly of the beast, all around the world.
And there is a rich repertoire of labor songs going back many decades, emerging out of workers joining together in action to demand their rights, dignity on the job and a living wage.
As the climate/climate justice movement, and our broader people’s power and justice movement, moves forward at this urgent, critical, disturbing yet hopeful time, let us never forget the words of James Connelly. Let’s grow our movement’s positive energy and numbers by becoming known, more and more, as we build our power, as a people’s movement that loves to sing.