On an industrial lane in Burlingame, California, radical songsters from across the planet spent three January days at the Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival raising a tuneful ruckus.
In California and D.C., radical songsters have been singing forward the century-old radical music tradition of the Industrial Workers of the World, fused with more recent peace, Black liberation and feminist movements for nearly four decades. This was my first year attending, as a member of the Twin Cities Labor Chorus . It was heady stuff, singing at the same conference with troubadours of fame like Pam Parker, Charlie King, Avotcja, Anne Feeny, Francisco Herrera, Dave Lippman, and Robb Johnson. It was just as thrilling to meet and hear other labor choirs from D.C., Vancouver, San Francisco.
New songs told stories of pipelines overcome, Black Lives that Mattered, and Trumping dirty politicians. Old tunes retold struggles for bread… and roses too. For three days we sang our fists at the militaristic, capitalistic, racist, sexist, inhumane noise that surrounds us. The tunes made our spirits soar and lodged words in memory. The words changed our brains – giving us reason to hold our heads high and the strength to rise up and speak out.
Maybe you think I’m being a little too schmaltzy here. Guilty. But in my defense, I ask you to imagine Sound of Music part 11. After the Von Trapp family escapes fascism, they meet the Freedom Singers, wobblies, and other occupelistas from across the world to build that other world that is possible — in seven-part harmony.
Wouldn’t you be a little emotional too?
Organizers had figured this was to be their last gathering, as too many of them were dying or getting too old to travel. There were many tunes offered up to the memory of those who have passed. But on the last day a small cadre of labor organizers in their 20s announced their intention to start planning for next year, to continue the tradition of– being reasonable and demanding the impossible, now.