Tag Archives: Peace

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Singer, Peace Activist, Holly Near

21 Aug

Those of you that follow TSM already know what a huge fan I am of Holly Near, and what an inspiration she is to so many who work to make the world a better place for all.  I was fortunate enough to visit with Holly about her life and about the debut of her new album, Peace Becomes You, which is available today.

Your new album, Peace Becomes You, debuts on August 21, did you approach this album differently?  

I did inasmuch that I just took a two-year sabbatical. When I came back from that there was so much stored up in that, things I needed to write but also songs I wanted to use from other people. I set up four public rehearsals to hear the new material, so that I could feel their feedback, and what they were leaning into. Of course the band was a bit startled.  I wanted to allow people to feel the music.  Then I went straight into the studio.  While my voice is still so strong, I needed to do a double CD as one album.  It felt that this maybe the last time I do a project this big.

How did you decide on the title of the album?

I looked at all of the titles of the songs and Crazy just did not seem appropriate.  I have the song to John Fromer who is struggling with cancer right now and he wrote the melody for Peace Becomes You.  We made a bumper sticker reading “Peace Becomes You,” which you can only get at concerts.

How did you pick songs that might be considered canonical to go along with new, original songs?  

Over the last five years I did a lot of camping and listened to a lot of music. For example I listened to Johnny Mathis performing 99 Miles from LA, so it was that type of process, the music kind of found me.  In hindsight, one of the things I would have done differently, there was a song I worked so hard on but it did not make it to the CD and I am very sad about that.  I also wish I had spent more time writing to social activists and asking them to send me their material.  In the future I would like to highlight songs of social activism that are not getting the airplay they should be getting.

You work with another one of my absolute “sheroes” Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon.  How did you select a song from her catalogue? 

I have sung quite a few of her songs and I’ve known Dr. Reagon since 1979; we have been friends over thirty, forty years.  I always feel so grateful.  I listen to her writing a lot.  There are a lot of songs that I don’t feel have any right coming out of my mouth, which narrows it down quite a bit’ it is really personal what one sings.  My friend Bonnie Raitt  has to sing what is true to herself, which I love and appreciate.  We all have to understand our own history and cultural backgrounds. Nothing is just a song or just a dance, which I’m learning more and more as I take on the role of teacher.

I love how you are dedicated to issues of social justice and civil rights. Are there some areas in which you would encourage us all to focus our energies specifically? 

At one of the festivals I was just performing at, I saw this big burly man wearing a shirt that said no planet no party — I wanted that shirt.  I think one of the main focuses should be sustaining the planet, which is hard to do, but just because it is hard, does not mean we can’t do it.  We need some planet consciousness which is being modeled by poorer communities who are being dumped upon.

I know your upcoming tour will be your first tour in quite some time with a full band; how did you make that decision? 

Every moment we are alive, we are making choices, and as humans we hold the potential to be either amazing or horrific.  I can’t get into a conversation of what issue is worst and needs the most attention. We need to be vigilant and look at our choices.  Some people will just scoop up what others have made for them and others will be brick layers making things possible and building the road on which we will walk.  I walk on roads that people have paved all the time — there is an invisibility of “women’s music,” of women that do not get heard. There is always an invisible corridor that creates necessary bridges.  A company like Lady Slipper is cellurlarly embedded in the next generation of music, even if they are just living it.

I know you are wrapping up a tour of Folk Festivals.  What has the energy been like this year as opposed to years past?

It has been awhile since I have done festivals. I was invited to many of these festivals because it was on the heels of the Occupy Movement and so there was some intent to raise awareness of activism.  I did overhear that people were surprised and saddened that there was so little political music performed.  Now I think people really do want to hear music about what is going on.  I think there is a real desire to connect while simultaneously trying to escape.  It is always hard to write about torture, gay teen suicide, women being tortured, but I work very hard at it and I reflect back and think I’ve gotten better at it.  There is room for music about smash the state and for songs for striking nurses and for anti-war songs.

You have become an Elder-States woman and steward of music of social protest.  How does it feel to wear that mantle? 

I used to joke that I was an elder in training and now I think that time is up.  I have moved into that generation of elders.  Odetta is gone and Belafonte is not doing concerts anymore.  When I travel I am being treated as an elder and it is very nice.  I learned as I was an elder in training that I can be at peace at not being the center of attention and just happy to be of use.   My generation took everything out of the box and named it; it did not all get solved, but it can be talked about.   The line in the song We’re Still Here — we are here and present and here to be of use.

What or how do you see the future of protest music?  What advice might you have for artists that look at life through a social justice lens as you do?

I think people need to get better. I think people need to practice activism, whether they are artists, teachers, religious people — the more we practice the better we get.  I encourage people to become good writers.  What do people need locally to help support them to do the hard work?  It is not just about picking up a guitar and playing three chords and now who will book me?  There is no shortage of ideas. What I see is that there is a shortage of skills to bring those ideas together. There is a lot of great hard work involved.  Invite us to make us become our better selves.  Bring a friend to a concert—expose people to music about social justice—open the circle.

You can purchase Holly’s new album through CDBaby or at Amazon.com; it should be available through iTunes shortly.

To my loyal TSM readers, I will confess that I truly did try to be objective during this interview, but it is exceedingly impossible not to just fall in love with Holly!  The new album is tremendous (as this review will attest), and she is such an inspiration.  Holly, thank you for taking the time to visit with me.

Star Wars, 35th Anniversary: How Did I Get This Old?

27 May

35th Anniversary

This weekend marks the 35th Anniversary of the premiere of Star Wars.  I was relaying this fact to some friends at my internship and realized that none of them were even alive when the movie was released.  Oy!  A moment in time that does not seem too distant suddenly made me feel ready for the old Jedi home–I think I’m starting to look like Yoda.

While the story of good v. evil is eternal, Star Wars provided a futuristic back drop the likes of which we had never seen before.  Space creatures, “light speed”, and Darth Vader were so incredibly captivating and seemed so real.

This was a time when movies used to stay at theaters for months at a time, even in some cases years.  Star Wars was one of those movies that stayed in the theater for well over a year and my brothers and I probably saw it at least 30 times, when movies cost .75 to see.

Looking back 35 years ago, I also reflect that “Gee, I think I must have been gay,” for I had a kind of crush on Mark Hamill and was fascinated by Princess Leia with the bagels attached to her head.  I also reflect back and think about Star Wars as somewhat of a feminist film.  Princess Leia was a strong and independent woman who controlled her own destiny.

Star Wars also changed the world of special effects forever more, much as the world we live in has changed so dramatically since the Carter administration.  Star Wars was made toward the end of the Second Wave Women’s Movement and when American politicians were working toward peace, such as President Carter working with Prime Minister Menahem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to sign a Peace Accord.

The 35th Anniversary of the premiere of Star Wars has also made me reflect on politics and how far backward we seem to have gone in many ways.  The Reagan/Bush years coupled with the W.Bush years have been far more damaging than most of us would like to think.

I shall conclude this post with an encouragement to review history and learn from our mistakes, especially as we move closer to election time.  Do we want a person that takes a strong stand for civil rights and has earned the respect of global leaders to lead the United States, or do we want someone from a dynasty of wealth and power that explicitly says he will work against civil rights and has a tarnished reputation around the world?

Wednesday Word of the Week, May 4

4 May

An eye for an eye and we all go blind.

Today’s word is: RETRIBUTION.

the dispensing or receiving of reward or punishment especially in the hereafter – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

So Osama bin Laden is dead. That is a simple fact and the complex culmination of thirty years of terrorist activity, initially funded by the Reagan administration as part of the Cold War opposition to Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

The reactions are mixed, ranging from the jubilant to the regretful. In all cases, however, there is a strong theme of “he had it coming.” Is this the tone we want to set as a nation?

The September 11 attacks were horrific acts of terrorism against this country. They were, in all likelihood, at least partly planned by bin Laden. That being the case, his apprehension, trial, and appropriate punishment was a desirable goal. A certain inarticulate rage at the man as a symbol of the attacks also makes sense, as an individual or collective response. It does not make sense as a matter of policy.

Military action has many viable justifications; it is also often messy and uncertain. But as the capture of Saddam Hussein proved, it can result in the capture – rather than the death – of a target. This action resulted (perhaps necessarily, perhaps not) in the death of the quarry, forever ending the opportunity to even attempt to resolve any open questions about the organization he led. Sadly, the death has resulted in President Obama practicing his “Mission Accomplished” moment, however more articulate he may have been.

The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history…

This is our aspiration as a nation? The death of one man, however notorious? The villain is dead, and we have exacted our VENGEANCE.

punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

For one day, perhaps one week, many in our nation will celebrate this vengeance, feeling justified. Ding dong, the terrorist is dead. Let there be a joyous celebration!

But we exacted our vengeance on Saddam Hussein and are still embroiled in Iraq. There is no reason to believe that this death will expedite our extrication from Afghanistan. And what of Libya? Perhaps we can host a tailgater when Gaddafi goes the way of the other miscreants, but what else will we gain?

The terrorists despise us more for killing their leaders. The military is spread just as thin, fighting what is now an even more ambiguous war. We’ve satisfied our blood lust and expiated a bit of unresolved national sorrow and rage. What of the greatness that we aspire to? How have we demonstrated that?

A quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. has permeated the Internet since Sunday:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

It is often paired (frequently without attribution) with an introduction supposedly tweeted by Jessica Dovey:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.

These are aspirations. These are noble sentiments. Death, especially violent death, is not a cause for celebration. A truly noble people may thirst for vengeance, but collectively, with the wisdom of history and combined conscience, they will seek instead,

the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action; conformity to this principle or ideal – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary


P.S. – For an excellent overview of the killing, our national reaction, and the misleading media narrative, I recommend Glenn Greenwald’s excellent pieces at Salon.com. As always, he asks hard questions and only provides answers of which he can be certain.

Gunning for a good search…

20 Feb

This is not a Gun "site"

I am truly enjoying this whole blogging experience and hope that in my small way I am contributing to society–that I am making people think, or reflect, or take action. A strange learning experience for me along this journey of blogging is how the internet works, or does not work. I have to say  I love that my blog reaches people all over the world. I love that I get comments from people in India, Bulgaria, and Australia. I love that I get messages from parents trying to understand their gay or lesbian child. I love that people come to my blog for stories on civil rights, Women’s History, Black History, and LGBT issues. With that being said, I have been bemused by the mind-boggling number of search engine terms that bring people to my blog. For those of you that are regular followers, it does not come as a surprise that I am a pacifist, and social activist for civil rights. How ironic then that one of the largest search engine terms that brings people to my blog is “guns.”  Yes, over 13% of all of my search engine terms that direct people to The Solipsistic Me (TSM) is the word gun or guns. I can only imagine how sad the reader must be when they see the story it brings them to, usually Gun Crazy Nation. Of course, I am sad that more people search the word gun than Coretta Scott King, or women’s rights, or Marriage Equality. Now I am left to ponder the implications of a gun obsessed culture–a culture that privileges violence over peace, violence over equality, violence over political party. Who are these angry violent voices? Sadly, they are usually the voices of “christians.

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