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Singing for Peace/Occupella at OccupySF

November 20, 2011
San Francisco, CA
The Interfaith gathering at the main SF occupation site (Justin Herman Plaza in the Embarcadero area), at which I was to help lead singing, spontaneously moved a block down the street. A group had re-occupied a street area they were evicted from the day before, pitching 2 tents in the middle of Market Street.

A large crowd gathered, with media, a bullhorn, and speakers from labor, from the occupation, from the clergy, and from the Council of Elders who had come to support and dialogue with the occupiers.

The Council Of Elders is a newly formed group of long time activists from the Civil Rights, Farmworkers, Sanctuary and other movements. They are fanning out across the country to visit occupation sites, to encourage and support the young activists, and to answer questions from their long experience.

So there we all were: the elders and clergy, the assorted occupiers, folks who came to sing with Singing For Peace/Occupella, and the police. The police were in riot gear, a tight boundary line at one end of the circle of 100 or so people, and many other police further away, milling about.

Amongst the speeches we added songs that all could sing: "We Shall Not be Moved," "This Little Light," "Down By The Riverside," and more, all with new words for the focus of this movement.

“No more corporate wealth, we shall not be moved... We’re the 99% we shall not be moved...We’re standing for the students...Banks should pay their taxes...”

No matter how many times I lead this kind of singing, I am still moved and astonished all over again by the effect it has on a crowd. It has a way of pulling people together, unifying, energizing, calming and focusing, especially when the police were close by and as we circled closer around the tents to protect them, there was a familiar feeling of restless and perhaps nervous energy. But as we sing, we feel the strength of ourselves and each other. We feel the power of the deep roots of these songs, sung through so many movements that changed our society over the last century or more- and there’s a palpable shift in the crowd.