“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Desmond Tutu
This morning I woke up after with the most joy in my heart as I’ve had for a while. The winter Solstice concerts that I shared over the weekend with Kim and our friends Magpie, (Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino) put me in the right frame of mind to face both this time of lessening light and increased global concern. It has been clearly evident, on every front, that we find ourselves in a time of division and mistrust in America, with all sides firmly in a battle to claim their stake in the framing of this cultural narrative.
We are, apparently, not doing a good job of sharing light in this dark and disordered house.
After 8 years of wrestling with the reality of having our first Black President, we now find ourselves in somewhat of a hangover. Our nation embraced, and then, forfeited the chance to move in a decisive forward direction towards healing our great national dilemma and our deep national shame. We have still not paid that debt that was pointed out to us in the great “I Have a Dream” speech that brother Martin laid out some 5o plus years ago. The dream lies in storage, unpaid.
With that and more recent events as background, I took a trip, last October, with my friend and brother Greg Greenway, (https://c9tuning.wordpress.com) to the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana. (whitneyplantation.com). There, we were confronted with the reality that the last 8 years, as with the first 250, have been a quandary for America. A country that still labors to discuss race and oppression, at the most simplistic level, has tried and mostly failed to take on the job of rising into its diversity. As President Obama said early and often, “This is not about ME, it is about US!”
And we, nationally, leaders and populace alike, answered, “No, it’s about YOU! We’re not ready!”
Standing on land where slaves were denied freedom and yet, through their labor and sacrifice, made that dream of wealth and access possible for others and for the country to grow and prosper, Greg and I felt deeply that our music was bonding us deeper, as Black and White descendants of that storied past. Each of our families have come forward in this narrative, through the lens of slavery and struggle, to reach this very presently divided America. And yet, the narrative of our own personal histories and the fact that music unites us so powerfully, has made our journey together a window of opportunity to frame something that is deeper than the skin.
On that base, we have pledged ourselves to embrace this mission; to find out what this new dream, rooted in the American dream, can truly become. Together, we are now reacting to history and to the election of one of the most divisive figures to ever run for president with purpose. And it will be with music, story and dialogue that we go forward to explore, expose and lift truth out of the profit driven malaise that has landed us in a place that Dr. Martin Luther King, Howard Thurman, Pete Seeger, Eleanor Roosevelt and, yes, Abraham Lincoln saw and tried to warn us away from making our own.
As John Adams warned, “Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
We are inflicting wounds on our national body and psyche at an unimaginable rate. And yet, warnings can only be heeded by those who see and hear with open ears and hearts!
It’s never been more clear to me that music has always been and will be be one of the critical ingredients to bringing some reason to the dialogue we are trying to have in this nation. While it is true that reaching out to dialogue with all parties is important, building a cohesive and solidified front with those who have already proven that they have a sense of what a diverse community perspective (in terms of facing our global issues with reasoned and shared collaborative effort) will be the only antidote in dealing with those who seem bent on winning at all costs.
It’s been a real chore to hold a hopeful stance while listening to the chorus of negativity that has been sung so loudly. And yet, as I listen to and read the words of one of our great leaders, Rev. William C. Barber, minister, theologian and President of the North Carolina NAACP, I see and feel a power that can help us all to form coalitions in what is now, the New Fusion Political movement. It is a movement that recognizes the important fact that, as the great poet Maya Angelou once said, “We have all been bought and sold!” Knowing this, it is incumbant on all of us to remember that, if we stand united, our collective and our individual interests become more able to be served with a sense of inclusion and progressive intention.
In our annual December concert at the 8th Step Coffehouse at Proctors (http://8thstep.org/8thstep.org/Home.html) on Sunday night, we closed the show with the Peter Yarrow song, “Light One Candle. The song articulates the importance of staying in the fight with a positive attitude. Our resolve in the midst of struggle for justice must be one that honors the past while seeking to be proactive in vision and action.
One of the most important lines in the song, occurs in the third verse and typifies this important aspect of a committed approach. Peter wrote, ” We have come this far, always believing that justice will somehow prevail!” His use of the word, “somehow ” is a critical acknowledgment that justice is not easily won and is the result of long years of diligent and persistent work centered on hope. That there will be resistance to our claiming our rights is a given. But the legacy of hope is only secured by commitment to the mission that was begun long ago by others on whose shoulders we stand.
The election weeks ago was a reality check. Mr Trump managed to win, in some remarkable and also mysterious ways, by using the message of anger and dissatisfaction of those who are not seeing their interests included, to his own advantage. It was and is a cynical message, underlined by his solutions which, at every point, seem to serve his interests more than the country at large. Yet, he rallied millions to his cause and will try to control the narrative.
Fortunately, over 4,000,000 people (and more who did not vote) recognized this sham of leadership and we can now fire up our “fusion movement” to take on the forces of retro -brain just as they are doing now in North Carolina.
As a musician, I see the parallels to this challenge in the songs that have carried the hope and dreams of those from Underground Railroad to the present day movements of freedom, climate change, (which Trump dismisses) equity and to movements of justice the world over. “Keep Your eyes on the Prize”, “We Shall Overcome” and “Wade in the Water” are joining more modern anthems in the mouths of protestor of all races, ages, genders and backgrounds.
We sing the songs that lift hearts and call new people to action. The melody and lyrics of a new America are being written everyday in the minds of a rising tide of thinkers, activists and story crafters.
At a time of crisis in the past, when I was despairing the lack of leadership and possibility, Pete Seeger said this, “Reggie, when things get tough and there is no visible way forward, that is the best time to sing!” So sing we must, as our cause, it is just!
Teach your children and tell your neighbors. The revolution is still on!