Tag Archives: Vietnam War

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.

Advertisement

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Michael Anderson-Nathe

10 Jul

Those of you who have been reading TSM for the least two years now are clearly aware that this blog is dedicated to issues of social justice and civil rights; since you are reading this, I presume you share similar passions.  Today I was able to visit with my friend Michael Anderson-Nathe, and I have to say I love his voice of social justice, although he will not easily tolerate any accolades, for he is exceedingly humble and somewhat introverted.

Michael grew up in Minnesota: “I come from a Vietnamese mother and mid-west father. They met in Vietnam—my father was in the military.  I am a Vietnamese-American, and it was not easy growing up post Vietnam war being Asian-American; I’m a product of the war.  My siblings were born in Vietnam.  I was born here.” Michael is one of 10 children—the youngest. Four of them passed away.  He discusses his coming out to his family of origin, saying, “I came out when I was 17 and had a rocky period with my parents for two years. We did not talk.  Since then, there have been huge strides – they were at my wedding and love the family I have (my partner and daughter). My parents have come from one end of the spectrum to the other end.”

Do you consider you and your partner political?

We are always political, and now that we have a child everything we do is political whether we want it to be or not.  I also became Jewish, so we are a multiracial, queer, Jewish household.  There are times when it is easy to be political, but at times I just want to be a family—raising my daughter.  We had an open adoption, which means we have an ongoing relationship with our child’s birthmother.  Doing an adoption meant we had the opportunity to have a ton of very intentional conversations prior to adopting about how to raise a child and what will it mean to raise a child.  One of the most frustrating aspects of being a queer family is that people will often look around for someone that presents as female-bodied, and then look to them as though they must be Sophie’s mother regardless of context (despite obvious social cues as to who is parenting Sophie).  One thing I love about our parenting is how we talk about gender, sexuality, and body parts without shame. We make deliberate efforts to raise her in ways that don’t limit her own expression of who she is and that don’t oppress other people (reinforce socially constructed dichotomies)—we raise her with great intentionality—which is a continuously active, intentional process and we are better at it some days than others.

What made you become an activist for people living with HIV?

I stumbled into this accidentally.  When I was 17, I participated in a peer HIV education program and fell in love with working with the community and contributing to making sure people had information so they could make decisions that were right for them.  What I love about working in the field of HIV is that it truly is social justice work—working with the intersections of oppression that continue to fuel HIV. You can’t do this work without addressing issues of social justice.  It feeds a part of who I am.

What should marginalized communities do to have a stronger voice?

The biggest thing is that we need to come together; we need to stop playing into the game of who is more oppressed, which does not serve us.  To realize we are stronger together than divided.  We have a lot we can learn from each other.  I grew up with multiple identities.  I grew up not white enough, or not a person of color enough.  My identities were not integrated, so I went to hang out with the gay community when I wanted to celebrate my sexuality, but then I lost my Vietnamese ties. If I wanted to hang out with the Asian community, then I lost my gay ties.  All of the various intersections of oppression fuel HIV—all of the inequalities, homophobia, racism, transphobia—we have to address all of these if we are going to be successful in stopping HIV.

I don’t like the idea of “look at us! We are just like heterosexual families, so accept us”—we should be accepted regardless.  I don’t want to be considered the model queer family—I don’t think there is a model queer family, just as I don’t believe there is a model heterosexual family—those concepts just further ostracize other people in our community and I don’t want to be a part of that.  I don’t want my personal experience to be deemed acceptable at the expense of others in our community.  Who am I to say what a model family or what a queer person should look like? Doing so only further divides our community—who is the good gay who is the bad gay—and I think that is fucked up.  Ultimately, it is not their acceptance to grant and by doing so we subscribe to a heteronormative power differential.

Marriage Equality:

Is it the issue for the Queer Community?   Personally, it is not my top issue, but just because I don’t think it is the top priority does not mean I’m against it.  I think the whole “you’re either with us or against us mentality” of this movement oversimplifies a highly complex social issue and further divides us.  My main question for the movement is: At what cost does marriage equality come and who within our community is being left behind in our pursuit for marriage equality?

I want to thank Michael for taking the time to visit with me. I am most certain his words will inspire many, as does the way he lives his life.

Women’s History Month 2012: Rita Mae Brown

15 Mar

Today we honor and celebrate the author of a pioneering work of lesbian fiction: poet, writer, and activist Rita Mae Brown. Born in Pennsylvania in 1944, Brown grew up in Florida but moved to New York to finish her undergraduate work, receiving a BA in Classics and English from New York University. (She later received degrees in cinematography and a PhD in literature.) Her early work was poetry with a strong feminist bent.

In 1973, Brown published her first novel, the groundbreaking Rubyfruit Jungle. A strongly feminist novel, it also explores themes of lesbianism and bisexuality with an unusual frankness for its day. She has written a dozen other novels on a variety of themes, often harkening back to the ground she broke with her first book. She also writes a series of cozy mysteries (sharing credit with her cat) and has published 20 of these to great popularity.

As she completed her undergraduate work and began writing in the late 60s, Brown turned her attention to politics. She became active in the American Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the Gay Liberation movement and the feminist movement. She took an administrative position with the fledgling National Organization for Women, but angrily resigned over Betty Friedan’s anti-gay remarks and NOW’s attempts to distance itself from lesbian organizations. She played a leading role in the “Lavender Menace” zap of the Second Congress to Unite Women on May 1, 1970, which protested about Friedan’s remarks and the exclusion of lesbians from the women’s movement. In the early 1970s, she became a founding member of The Furies Collective, a lesbian feminist newspaper collective which held that heterosexuality was the root of all oppression. Brown is a firm believer in the broad spectrum of human sexuality, going so far as to say, “I don’t believe in straight or gay. I really don’t. I think we’re all degrees of bisexual.”

Women’s History Month 2012: Urvashi Vaid

12 Mar

Today we honor and celebrate a community organizer, writer and attorney who has been a leader in the LGBT and social justice movements for nearly three decades. Vaid was born in New Delhi, and moved to the United States at age eight with her family. At age 11, she participated in the anti-Vietnam war movement. She attended Vassar College and received a law degree from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. While at Northeastern, she founded the Boston Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, a non-partisan political organization that interviews and endorses candidates for political office and advocates for Boston’s gay community.

Throughout her career, Vaid has worked with a number of LGBT and social justice organizations, including the Gill Foundation, the Arcus Foundation, the Governance and Civil Society Unit of the Ford Foundation, the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),  and Engaging Tradition Project at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School. She is perhaps most associated with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the oldest national LGBT civil rights organization; she has worked as its media director (7/86-7/89), then as executive director (8/89-12/92), and as director of its Policy Institute Think-tank  (1/97-1/01).

Vaid fully understands the intersections of oppression. While working at the NGLTF she received some pushback from the LGBT community for engaging with other communities, including anti-war and pro-choice work. She persevered despite this criticism, believing that engaging with allies on their issues is a critical part of the success of any movement. She believes that true liberation of lesbians and gays from injustice will only occur when the larger institutions of society and the family are transformed through lesbians and gays working within mainstream groups for inclusion and change.

In recent years, she has focused on her own Vaid Group, a consulting practice that advises individuals and organizations working to achieve social justice in a wide range of fields. She lives in Manhattan with her partner, comedian and author Kate Clinton.

Black History Month 2012: Eartha Kitt

15 Feb

Today we honor and celebrate a unique voice in 20th Century American entertainment, Eartha Kitt. She was born in South Carolina in 1927 to a mother of African-American and Cherokee heritage and a poor farmer father of northern European extraction. Facing double discrimination in the South because of her mixed ancestry, she was sent to New York City at a young age.

Kitt began singing with the Katherine Dunham Company at 16 and launched a long, illustrious career. Performing across Europe and North America, she also appeared in numerous films and television programs. She also worked frequently on stage and recorded many albums and singles. Kitt was fluent in four languages and able to sing in seven different languages. She is best known musically for the perennial Christmas classic Santa Baby and her Top 10 hit from 1953, C’est Si Bon. One of her most enduring roles is as Catwoman on the late 1960s Batman TV series, a role she assumed when Julie Newmar was no longer available and quickly made her own.

All too familiar with injustice and discrimination, Kitt was an outspoken activist throughout her career. She suffered significant setbacks in the U.S. when she spoke out against the Vietnam War at a White House luncheon. Responding to a question from First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, she said, “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” The backlash hurt her career for over a decade.

In her later years, Kitt was something of a cult figure and appeared in many movies and TV shows again. She also acknowledged her large gay following and became a vocal supporter of equal rights for the LGBT community. Asked about marriage equality, she said:

I support it because we’re asking for the same thing. If I have a partner and something happens to me, I want that partner to enjoy the benefits of what we have reaped together. It’s a civil-rights thing, isn’t it?

Brava, Eartha Kitt! This amazing woman died on Christmas, 2008 at the age of 81, leaving behind a powerful legacy of entertainment and civil rights. I only wish I could maker her signature Growl sound.

Women’s History: February 18

18 Feb

Audre Lorde

Happy Birthday, Audre Lorde. The self-described Lorde was a “black-lesbian feminist mother lover poet.”Lorde co-founded Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher for women of color. While working hard as a feminist for women’s rights, Lorde was also a great critic of the feminist movement for not being more inclusive of and aware of the issue of race. Lorde was one of the first to acknowledge and point to how connected racism, sexism, and homophobia are linked–an idea that was not well received initially. Lorde’s activism did not contain itself to just feminism and gay rights advocacy, but she was also a vocal opponent to the Vietnam War. I think you will find this video of Lorde powerful and inspirational. The first part of the video is shortly before she died.

Happy Birthday, Helen Gurley Brown. Brown is probably best known for her best selling book: Sex and the Single Girl and for being the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine for 31 years.

Happy Birthday, Toni Morrison. Morrison is the author of two of my favorite novels: The Bluest Eye and Beloved. Neither novel is an easy read, but I love how Morrison addresses the issues of race, class, and gender. Morrison is an extraordinary gift to literature.

Quote of the day:

    What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?–Toni Morrison

 

%d bloggers like this: