I started thinking about writing this song while reading Micah White’s book The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution, which explores tactics of resistance historically, and breaks down all these different theories of change, with emphasis on a pretty simple question: What actually works? What tactics of protest are more nostalgic than effective?
On January 27th, Executive Order 13769, otherwise titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” (The Immigrant Ban) was signed by the executive branch. People in Seattle, and so many other places flooded to protest overnight at the airports. They carried a simple message: This is wrong. We can’t let this happen. We can do better as a society. There is another way forward.
Historian and political scientist Erica Chenoweth has said that system change can happen when 3.5% of a population is taking sustained nonviolent resistance. That’s a lot of people…but also a number that we can wrap our head around. So…what are we trying to change?
I wasn’t able to go that night, but I watched friends’ live streams and Facebook posts, and picked up my guitar. It was powerful to see that so many people’s gut response to the injustice of that act was direct action and nonviolent resistance. Almost immediately, lawyers got to work challenging the legality of the case. People organized to create safety networks and phone trees to protect their community from ICE raids. The forms of resistance were many, and they fed off of each other.
This song was my attempt to look at the emotional landscape of how we fight, what gifts we each bring, and the complexity of searching for leverage points within our systems to bring about change.
— Erika Lundahl
Jack be Nimble
V1. Don’t fight the way they want you to
Color in the lines won’t get your due
Got to go to the far out edge
Lean in to the love, lean in to the dread
They got paddy wagons at the court house
Where they are counting on you to be
So, occupy them airports, start praying
in the Wells Fargo Lobby
Ch.Jack be Nimble, Jill be quick
We’ll jump over the candle stick
The flame is higher than it’s ever been
If we don’t give it a go, the fire might win
V2. There’s no one coming to save us, but ourselves
So, tighten up those bootstraps
Pull the history books off the shelvesa
We got a new play book, a new playbook
But first we got to play
Won’t do no good spinning circles
to bring down a God that’s got no name
V3. Where the wind whips and the sun is red
spent days just hanging my head
Want to tear down this door
everything that ever came before
won’t do no good, fire and rain
enlisting in the army of a hurricane
“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” – Bertolt Brecht.
My birthday was on Thursday, and it was a good chance to reflect on what I’m trying to create and build right now. For those of you who know me, you know I’ve been wracking my brain for awhile on a pretty simple question: How do I make more music for cultural transformation, and also be good to myself?
How do I create and share art in alignment with my values? How do we all make more room for art and culture creation, when the problems we are facing—climate change, rampant racial discrimination and the straight-up fascist hanky-panky in D.C.— are just so damn big. Where does art fit, when there are so many important movements to phone bank for, protests to go to, and causes to give your dollar-dollar bills to? Where does my music fit?
As I’ve struggled with these questions, I came upon Patreon—a platform that allows an artist’s community to support them month to month—kind of like a garden CSA—Community Supported Agriculture, but this is for Community Supported Artists. People can support me at $1 a month or more, get access to all the my new art and music, and be part of a community conversation.
So…want to join my CSA community?
I know not everyone has dollars to spare for art, and I respect that. But I also know that I’m on this big blue earth to make music, and the best answer I’ve come up with for the question of “where does art fit?” is simply, everywhere. Bertolt Brecht says, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” Art doesn’t just fit. Art creates its own energy, it’s own transformation. It brings people of different backgrounds and politics together, and we could use that kind of bridge building more than ever right now.
Quite honestly, it’s really scary to ask for your support. I’ve been putting off sending this email for months. But I also know that you are my community. I’m responsible to you, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly! Apart from my own music, I’ve also been co-organizing a collaborative album project over the last 6-months called Protect What You Love, recording and collecting music from artists with important messages to share, and planning and playing benefit concerts all over the region.
If you want to know about some of the projects I’m currently working on, head over to my Patreon site and take a look! If you can’t support financially, but want to share it on your social media, that would be great too!
*Proceeds from this song will go to the 5 Valve Turners – Ken Ward, Michael Foster, Emily Johnston, Leonard Higgins and Annette Klapstein of the #ShutItDown act of civil disobedience, who face massive, mounting legal fees.*
This song was written for the water protectors, the valve turners, and all for those who put their bodies on the line to fight the continued extraction and transportation of tar sands and other extreme fossil fuels. The words were inspired by the testimonies and interviews with the 5 valve turners that in October 2016 shut down all tar sands entering the United States via pipeline, with the help of their support crew. They now face federal charges and massive legal fees.
As of Feb 1st, the trial for valve turner Ken Ward resulted in a hung jury. Ken shut down the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, which runs from Edmonton, AB to Anacortes, Washington, and is in the process of being expanded.
This song honors their brave act of love, made in solidarity with Standing Rock. We must all use our bodies to raise up the severity of the climate crisis, and the colonialism and racism that underpins it. Only in vulnerability, and in community, may we come to a deeper place of truth with the grave, and inequitable situation we are facing for life on this planet.
Read more about their trials at www.shutitdown.today
“Act of Love” Lyrics
This is my hand uncovered
For you and me, and everyone we seeThis is my gift
This is my body, I turn the valve
I turn the key,
Reveal the sorcery
The systems as they be
The systems as they be..This is fragility
What we’ve built our gospel on
God is not a paragon,
a pentagon, a president, an oil baronGod is you and me
God is everything you see
I am grateful, grateful for
your actionsTo keep this place, to keep this place
Breathing, breathing, breathing,Breath out, breath in, breath out in,
breath out, breath in, the work we’re in,
the ancient hymn, breath inThis is my act of love,
This is my hand uncovered
For you and me and everyone we seeThis is my gift
this is my one body
I wrote a #NODAPL version of “Keep on the Sunny Side of Life” last week, to support the actions taking place at banks across the country that continue to financially support the Dakota Access pipeline.
It was fun to take a song that everyone already knows, and change the lyrics to fit a contemporary issue (Indigenous Land Sovereignty & Climate Change). It’s very folk, to change the lyrics of a song to fit a new social issue.
Even more “folk” was that just days after writing it, we put the song into action at Seattle’s Mass Action to Defund DAPL – a targeted action at Wells Fargo, one of the biggest funders of the Dakota Access pipeline. We had 20 folks singing as the opening act to folks closing down their accounts at the big downtown Seattle Branch location, while several hundred people marched outside the building. Indigenous leaders, including climate justice activist & musician Paul Cheoketen Wagner led song and prayer, and dance for the water protectors of Standing Rock, and for water protectors everywhere inside the lobby of the bank.
Here are the lyrics, and a recording of me singing the song, in case any of you want to use it at actions you are taking across the country to support the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in their #NoDapl fight. I hope you use them to help for up for Indigenous land sovereignty & climate justice!
In solidarity & love,
Keep on the Sunny Side (#NODAPL)CHORDS: DGD-/--A-/D-G--/DAD- V1 There’s a dark and troubled side of life Where big banks still invest in oil pipelines Indigenous folk are right, Water is Life So let’s keep on the sunny side of life CHORUS Keep on the Sunny Side, Always on the Sunny Side Keep on the Sunny Side of Life It will help us every day, it will Brighten all the Way If we Keep on the Sunny Side of Life V2 The Storm and its fury broke today Climate Change is here and here to stay Money Can’t fix this mess, But we have fire in our chests Solidarity and Love will lead the Way V3 Let us Greet with the Song of Hope Each Day Shout Dakota Access Pipeline Go Away!(chorus shouts: GO AWAY) Coal, Oil, Gas - None of these shall pass So let's keep on the sunny side of Life
I started writing a poem several weeks ago while we were on the tour, while reading too much election news in the car on the drive from show to show, and reeling in the collective anxiety of a nation in crisis. This country, folks, is BIG. And it’s filled with so many different realities. It’s hard to process how we can really even be one country, a fact that was illustrated in spades with this most recent election.
We passed by trucks hauling the mammoth wings of wind mills about to be erected in Iowa, and drove past literally hundreds of fracking fields in Wyoming. The water tasted like chemicals for a hundred miles. We went to Standing Rock, our car heavy with donations and witnessed the most incredible Indigenous resistance movement of our generation. We heard the stories of dozens of Indigenous and non-indigenous people who had come: a Palestinian family from the deserts of New Mexico and a line-cook from Southern California. At the time we were there, over 250 different Indiginous nations from North America were present, in solidarity with the Sioux Nation, fighting the North Dakota Access Pipeline – and they are still fighting now (If you would like to support Standing Rock, you can do so here). A few states over, we also spoke with people who worked for energy companies, who thought the protests would pass and that everything would go back to “normal” soon.
We stayed with some friends in a beautiful, queer neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, and played a show at an adorable vegetarian restaurant. Two days later, we were in a gas station in rural Nebraska, where the brutal violence on the bumper stickers being sold made me afraid and sick to my stomach as a female-identifying human:
“I still miss my ex, but my aim is getting better“
“Monica Lewinsky’s ex-boyfriend’s wife for president”
“FBI: Female Body Inspector”
That kind of bold-faced violence towards women’s bodies in the form of legally-sold merchandise was absolutely terrifying. How do you even begin to bridge the gap with someone, when the merchandise they carry displays such contempt for women’s safety? How do you explain how that kind of language effects your ability to sleep at night, or your ability to feel safe getting gas and a cup of coffee at any given random stop along the roadside? Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you pay for your coffee and drive away feeling scared and heart sick.
Not even an hour after we visited that gas station, the news broke that the 5 pipelines that brought tar sands into the United States had been shut down by individuals at valve stations in 4 different states.
“This is my act of love” wrote Annettte Klapstein, one of the #Shutitdown valve turners. Annette is grandmother who truly believes this kind of direct action is the only way to insure a future for her grand children and combat the climate crisis we are facing. Annette and the other valve turners are facing federal charges because they acted on their moral conscience. They did the exact opposite from driving away from the problem: they are facing it head-on, and facing great personal risk doing so.
It can be confounding to try and hold the diversity of the American experience. Reckoning with our diversity as a nation is the work of a lifetime, and we shouldn’t be OK with the parts of the American experience that terrify us and make us feel unsafe. We must find ways to build our power, and find ways to confront those forms of violence, whether they target the earth, or ourselves and the people in our communities.
On Wednesday, November 9th, we went to the Seattle anti-Trump rally in Westlake, and gave our voices to the anger, the injustice, and the rallying cries for an intersectional, big-hearted movement toward justice. Amongst the cries of “Not My President” were other cries; “Stand with Standing Rock” “Black Lives Matter” “Water is Life” “We are the 99%.” All our movements are in conversation with each other, always. All our movements toward justice need to support each other, and be in solidarity with one another. Marching against all the things a Trump presidency stands for is, in many ways, a reflection of this basic truth.
After the protest, we filled our bodies with some food, and headed to an organizing meeting. That was the protest that felt the most real. It’s the work we do now that will keep us grounded, along with our community, participating in creating beauty and art.
On Thursday, November 11th I got up the courage to play music with Doug and with our violinist, Julie. It felt more than cathartic: It felt essential. We’ve lots to do, and there are so many hands to do it. We need song and art and community and love and humility. We need to listen and learn and look hard at this country, both for what it is and what it can be.
In love and in prayer, we will calm this crisis down. We will rise.
Here we are, older now and ready to sing
By Erika Lundahl
The women measured him
scaled the stones of his throne
found him wanting in the usual way
a barrage of bold come-ons and violent entrées,
but behind fresh pressed suits of providence
the Blitzkriegs of business intended to separate
the haves and have-nots:
the good ol’ boys bravado
is a frail and sickly tyrant exposing
the bullshit of generations of power unopposed
and it bleeds a foul smell
that hangs angry in the air around
like rotting meat, turned
a burning acid permeates
the precipitation in the air here
leaves a thick yellow film
on the truck windows, on the seats of our chairs
on the ocean’s edge, as we troll
for our supper in this sea of despair
…and every woman wonders to her sister,
wanders through her secret soul
asking, how? How? How? How is it
that we are still here, still stuck with the grinding task
of confronting the bluntness of contempt for any gender
not purely masculine, not purely born in
to the principles of power and accumulation.
And I know I know that oppression has many faces,
many aces of diamonds mined, and I must own
that so much oppression looks kindred to privilege of mine.
It’s October 19th, 2016 and I watch the talk show
pundit after the debate, white, blond and preened,
a perfectly made-up airlines hostess
in first class, a lady in waiting,
she offers him a warm towel,
adjusts his seat as she fights his corner,
excusing his language of assault,
laughing off jabs at her intelligence,
brushing off his unwanted touches,
undermining of her experience
with words he gave to her:
boys will be boys, the lines she tried
and tried to swallow for years with her tears,
before she learned she could
grow the fire in her belly to a roar and began
to spit flames, honing the tools
her mother gave her into a finely tuned instrument,
ready to ready to bring
So here she is, older now and eager to sing,
so impatient with the suffering,
impatient with the erasure that made her,
slowly, instance by instance,
that systematic lowering of her insistence for a reckoning
time is a tricky tool, an untamed flame
that will curse as soon as caress, it’s true
but she is too restless to rest now,
too awake to play at being helpless
oh just arrest me with the agitators,
that is my tribe, we who are through with being
pleasing and supine
It only takes a handful of humans to resurrect the resistance,
take the reins, stand firm and make seen
the invisible vines that squeeze the breathe
from this tree of life supreme
It only takes a handful of humans
to make the violence that runs like acid
through history’s veins seen
We are honing the tools of our mothers into finely tuned instruments,
ready to ready to bring
So here we are, older now and ready to sing.