Music in Actions by Charlie King

Role of Music in Actions and Organizing 

by Charlie King

Grass roots movements create culture.  How else do we get the story out?  How else do we feed our hearts and souls for the long haul?  When I went to my first Clamshell rally (Autumn ’76) there was music – Pat DeCou and Tex LaMountain singing with beauty and passion about the promise and the threat.  Soon I was singing and making up Clam songs.  When we gathered for the ’77 occupation we sang in the camp, we sang on the march and we sang on the site.  When I was arrested the only thing I took with me were the clothes on my back and a beat up guitar. 

In the armories singing was a way of celebrating, keeping the spirit up and staying connected with the outside.  Manchester armory had talent shows.  In Concord armory we had a contra dance and a daily song circle.  In the circle people would share news from home, from the media and each announcement would be followed by a chorus of a song Pete Seeger taught us: “Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened, ask and it shall be given, when the love comes tumbling down.”  Outside Pete was learning our songs and singing them to the world.

Lasting musical connections were made.  The Peoples Music Network shares a 30th anniversary with the Occupation because much of the organizing, energy and music for the first PMN gathering came from the Occupation and the Armories.  New songs made the connections between nuclear power, nuclear weapons and the almighty dollar, between safe energy and decentralized community control.  A group of singers from the armories formed the musical troupe Bright Morning Star which toured throughout the US and Canada for 12 years with the No Nukes message, recording 4 albums along the way.  The songs of Seabrook carried the message around the country and as new anti-nuclear alliances sprang up, new songs rang out.  Benefit concerts raised spirits, the issues and much needed funds.

When we came together for occupations, demonstrations and congresses singing gave us a chance to breathe together – the root meaning of conspiracy.  We would listen to a speaker and then sing back:  No Nukes; Acres of Clams; Give Me the Warm Power of the Sun; We Say the Nukes Have Got to Go; Bright Morning Star Arisin’.  By singing together we made audible our deeply held beliefs in participatory democracy and consensus.  As we reclaimed our political power we were reclaiming our cultural power.  Music was not a commodity or a spectator sport.  We made our own.  Like the Labor, Civil Rights and Peace Movements before us we breathed life into everyday struggle and left a history in song that will keep the story of our struggle alive for decades to come.

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