Meditation/Appreciation of “We Are a Gentle, Angry People”

“We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives…” (#170 in UU hymnal Singing the Living Tradition)

When I first wrote this entry on November 3, the previous week had been a rough one for someone who wants to be persuaded that humanity is headed in a productive direction for itself and our planet. The U.S. Congress remained mired in deadlock over major infrastructure and social spending bills. A super-restrictive abortion bill had been enacted in Texas and was being challenged at multiple levels. The existing “minority party” had won several elections for state and local offices. Rhetoric on media channels continued to spew forth venom and misinformation. A global summit on climate change seemed mired in controversy, while our weather continued to get more erratic, our glaciers melting, our oceans rising, our forests burning. It was/is easy to feel angry and helpless. (In the weeks since November 3, some heartening changes have occurred, along with continuing and new challenges.) 

So I turned to music, which so often has had the capacity to heal me, to take me someplace better than where I started.  I began humming to myself a song that has often been used in religious services in support of LGBTQ rights: “We Are a Gentle, Angry People,” by Holly Near. I didn’t know a lot about the artist or about the genesis of the song, so I did a bit of internet research and found this Holly quote, transcribed by a concertgoer at one of Holly’s live performances:

“I wrote this song when Harvey Milk and George Moscone were assassinated (in 1978). We originally sang ‘we are gay and lesbian together’ but then we were surrounded by the support of allies and so I changed it to ‘we are gay and straight together.’ And now we are learning more and more about gender and sexuality and it now requires many more syllables than I can fit into the song, and so let us now sing ‘we are all in this together.’”

A moving rendition of the song can be found on YouTube as /watch?v=JUAoyE0DFBw, including a description of how the song first came to be sung.

I remember marches and demonstrations for a variety of causes during the 1970’s and 1980’s when we sang songs, either in addition to or rather than chanting slogans. Often, we’d close out with the litany “We Shall Overcome.” 

I wonder if somehow the singing had/has a way of bringing us together, both demonstrators and those being demonstrated about. Could/can we find some way to move forward together despite our many differences, some obvious, others subtle? Might/may it be harder to vilify someone you’ve just shared harmony with?

If the ongoing global covid pandemic is teaching us anything, among the insights is surely the realIzation that indeed, as Holly Near reminds us, we are all in this together. May we continue singing (and/or humming) for our lives.  

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