Solidarity Sing Along—This Is What Democracy Sounds Like
It was just supposed to be a protest.
In February of 2011, a historic series of protests began against Governor Scott Walker, his Republican allies, and their assaults on unions, teachers, the middle and lower classes, education, voting rights, the environment, and the arts. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets. The Wisconsin State Capitol was occupied for three weeks. Fourteen State Senators left the state to block a vote on Walker’s union-busting bill.
Scott Walker’s union-busting bill passed, but the protests continued. However, as the occupation and the large rallies ended, many people were looking for a way to continue the spirit of the occupation, to keep the momentum going, to keep the energy alive as we began to work toward longer-term solutions, toward the recalls, toward stopping the extreme agenda being foisted upon our beloved state.
On March 11, Steve Burns printed up some song books and led the first Solidarity Sing Along in the Capitol. The idea was very simple. Stand in a circle. Sing for an hour. Leave. Come back the next day and do it again.
Since then, we have held a sing along at the Capitol every single weekday from noon to one o’clock—over 350 of them, at the time of this recording’s release. (I took over as song leader and organizer at the end of the first full week, when Steve returned to teaching at the end of spring break.)
During those first few weeks, we’d be lucky to get 15 people in the circle. We’d stand there, staring nervously at each other, and we’d sing. Our voices might have been shaking, but we sang. We sang out our frustration; we sang out our anger. While there were no longer 100,000 people in the streets, we wanted to make sure the legislators in the Capitol knew that the citizens of Wisconsin had not gone away. That we had not forgotten. That we were still here. That this was all far from over. That we would continue to fight for the Wisconsin we believe in.
We sang every day. A dozen of us. Then two dozen. Then, all of a sudden, we were getting a hundred people every day.
And slowly, without anyone really noticing, some remarkable things started to happen.
A community developed. Friendships formed. We supported each other. We cried together on the bad days and hugged each other on the good days.
We found that, although the main point of the sing along was still the petitioning of our government, a secondary purpose had developed. The sing along was strengthening us. The power of singing together was unmistakable. We left stronger than we arrived. We might arrive in despair, shocked at some new atrocity the Walker administration was attempting to foist upon our state, but we could leave strengthened and ready to get back to the important work of participatory democracy.
Perhaps most remarkably, we started—on occasion—to sound good. I suppose it should have been no big surprise. If you do anything for an hour 300 times, you will improve, but it still came as a surprise to us.
After all, it was just supposed to be a protest.
Some people who attend the sing along are professional-level musicians and singers. Some never even considered singing in public before the sing along began. Yet we all blend together into a harmonious whole.
Once or twice a week, we sing outside. Over the course of several months, as musicians began to bring instruments, an ad-hoc band formed. They have been dubbed The Learning Curve, due to the ever-changing nature of who they are and what they are asked to do. They’re never the same group of people, but they are always amazing. (On one recent cold and snowy day, The Learning Curve consisted of a harmonica, a kazoo, two drums, and a maraca. Even then, they were pretty damn good.)
Eventually, through the goodwill of some very generous people (in particular: Steve Gotcher, Audio For The Arts and Sally de Broux) we were asked to do a recording. And here we are.
What you hold in your hands documents a remarkable time in Wisconsin and a remarkable time for democracy.
It may not be the most polished recording ever made, but the passion of these citizens of Wisconsin, who make their way into the Capitol every single weekday to sing for what they believe in, is unmistakable.
We have never thought of what we do as a performance. One of the central ideas of Solidarity Sing Along is that anyone can participate. If you show up, you stand with us. If you show up, you sing.
So, please, as you listen to this document of a remarkable time—
--Organizer and Song Leader, Solidarity Sing Along