Music is powerful. It can move hearts. It can change minds. Music has the power to bring people together because it lays bare our humanity. This is why I think it is so important to create music in times of turmoil.
Unless you have been living under a rock, if you live in the US I am sure you are acutely aware of the atmosphere of chaos that we have been living in over the course of the past year. Twitter storms, threats of nuclear war, neo-nazis marching in the streets, infringement of civil liberties, crazy hurricanes, and other bad news have dominated the headlines and our mental and emotional energy. With so much going on, why should we care about making music?
Creating art in any form is an act of revolution. When those in positions of power seek to silence dissent, it is almost always the artists, the writers, and the music-makers that they seek out first. Music is one of the most powerful tools of persuasion and unification. Even those on opposing sides of the bitterest conflicts must stop to recognize the humanity of the other person when they play music together. Protest music has been and continues to be an important part of the political landscape of the US for this very reason.
Last week, I was at a protest at the University of Minnesota with my husband. We were there in response to the presence of a white-supremacist activist named Lauren Southern, who was at the university to spread her ideology of hate under the “kosher” stamp of a right-wing student group and the university administration. While she gave her speech, a group of about 100 people gathered outside of the building to denounce her and the toxicity she was advocating. The crowd included students, alumni, faculty, and folks from the Minneapolis community, some of them parents and their children. When my husband and I arrived at the rally, fat-tire bikes spinning, we were greeted by the sound of a small marching band playing music in time with the chants from the crowd. I found myself instantly drawn to them and wanting to participate in the music they were making. I began to ring my bicycle bell in rhythm with the music, and they invited me to join their jam circle.
I looked up and away from my temporary band-mates from time to time as more UMPD officers and squad cars, paid for with student fees and debt, began to appear in the courtyard between the university buildings where we were rallying. White-supremacist and neo-Nazi trolls gathered around the outside edges of the protest and began heckling people and purposely attempting to start fights. They worked together to try to divide and instigate the crowd. Trolls rushed at people with their fists flying and their mouths spewing the most hateful words. UMPD police officers surrounded the small crowd with riot shields, tear gassed the entire rally, and even tried to confuse the crowd with loud speakers. There must have been at least 40 squad cars surrounding the west bank of the campus, and who knows how many officers were hiding in the shadows, waiting for a signal from the group of officers that were in sight. In spite of all of the threats and danger of violence we faced from the trolls and the police, the marching band continued to play until Lauren Southern had left the campus. As long as we were playing, the crowd remained calm, unified, and focused.
I have been reflecting a lot on that experience in the last few days. Seeing the powerful effect that the marching band had on that crowd reminded me why I music. The determination those musicians had to continue to play no matter what happened was compelling and brave. Seriously, who ever thought of that is brilliant. It is easy to become overwhelmed in this political climate of rage, which is why processing and responding through the creation of music is so critical. My music is my weapon, and I vow to rise up singing.