Last Friday, I lead a favorite Green Corps workshop on protest songs. When I first taught the session, years ago, I said that an organizer or campaigner might only be called upon to sing two songs in their career: We Shall Overcome at civil rights gatherings, and Solidarity Forever at labor conferences.
The two experiences are very different. We Shall Overcome pours forth with spirit. Folks hold hands and sway in unison, while Solidarity Forever is generally plodding, the audience still, reading, the lyrics, off a program.
Now it is true that the civil rights anthem is the better song and also easy to remember, but the real explanation for why one experience is deeply moving and the other usually stilted is that We Shall Overcome opens a floodgate of living memory — both bitter and triumphal — while Solidarity Forever is a musty emotional antique.
The challenge of averting climate cataclysm now demands that environmental organizers conceive of social change in ways that go beyond ordinary channels, because our greatest obstacle, in John F. Kennedy’s celebrated words, “is fear itself.”
The fear that we must face first is our own, and it is music and other dormant arts that can uplift our spirits*, where advocating for cap-and-trade, lobbying for appliance efficiency standards, or managing email constituent campaigns are of faint worth.
But environmentalists have no song. So, with the assistance of 2006 and 2007 Green Corps organizers, and the talented voices of this year’s Green Corps class, we offer new stanzas to a powerful song.
“We Shall Overcome”
addtl. lyrics K. Ward and Green Corps classes 2007-09
We shall overcome x3
We shall overcome someday
Mother Earth abides x3
Mother Earth abides today
All things are as one x3
All things are as one today
The whole wide world around x3
The whole wide world today
Our children look to us x3
Our children look to us today
We are not afraid x3
We are not afraid today
We shall overcome x3
We shall overcome today
* Some great efforts include: Gary Braasch’s photography, Robert Shetterly’s American’s Who Tell the Truth, with portraits of Rachel Carlson, Ross Gelbspan, Frances Moore Lapeé, Bill McKibben, John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Nader, Pete Seeger and other environmental heroes; Olafur Eliasson’s ice covered BMW, and for those who are more literal, a website dedicated to artful display of climate change data.