Right now, in this point in history, there are people naming that the movements organizing for change are different than they were during the Civil Rights years or in the height of the Anti-Apartheid Struggle. The Black Lives Matters Movement describes themselves to be a “leader—full” movement and the students organizing through Fees Must Fall are organized in a similar fashion. There is something about this type of organization that speaks to a hope for decentralized power, for more voices at the table, for a multiplication of message. If these movements sustain themselves in this fashion, we will be witnessing the birth of something very new in the world.
There is always the need sometimes for one—one voice—one message—one call—that leads a people towards “the good” even if it is a nestled voice in the midst of many.
This one that I speak of must have space to rise in the midst of the many to be heard. Tracing through human history, the voices that rose to be heard were the voices of the marginalized. From the depths of the crucibles of their lives wisdom rose and was known in the world. The great struggle songs were born in the trials of life where people were formed and shaped in communities that knew what it was like to share life together, no matter the challenges before them, and they knew what it was like to have a song alive inside of them.
“We Shall Overcome” was a slave song. They would sing it in the fields as they worked. The first use in a political nature is traced to 1945 in Charleston, South Carolina in a strike against the American Tobacco Company. The workers were fighting for higher wages. They were being paid only 45 cents an hour. Some of the leaders from Charleston went to meet with leaders in Tennessee at a center called Highlander. The philosophy of Highlander was that “the people who have the problems are the ones who have the answers.” They organized groups to listen across lines of division and they would always sing together. It was at Highlander that “We Shall Overcome” was birthed into a Movement Song.
One of the young people at the Justice Conference sang an amended version of a South African Hymn that some of the students are using when they organize. They have changed it to make it their own. This young woman was hesitant to sing the song when asked by the group, but when she stood and lifted her voice, the pain she was relaying, the struggle for air, for space, for freedom was evident. Movement songs have this quality about them, in that they are born in the journey of life and wrestled into being.
We gather in worship on Palm Sunday morning to sing “Hosanna.” Do we know what it means when we sing praises to the one who leads us in the crucible way? Do we know what we say when we name we will follow? There are songs that bind us together in the Christian Faith, but let us always remember that God is always giving rise to new songs. May our ears always be listening for the new God is giving birth to in the world and our spirits be open for the change it will require in us.
With you on the journey,