What’s Your New Year’s ReVolution?

2 Jan
Freedom Party Next Wednesday Night!

Freedom Party Next Wednesday Night!

Ebenezer Abernathy and The Sound of Freedom are fired up again! And we’re planning a party on January 9th, 7:30pm at Grace Episcopal Church in Syracuse. It’s a freedom party. You need to be there. We want you there. Your voice and your face need to be there so that you can publicly make yourself accountable by answering the question: What’s your New Year’s Revolution?

***

And now… the blog…

The shootings in Newtown roused me from a half-slumber I didn’t even know I was in.

This project, The DFR, started with an eye toward using art as a political organizing tool, much in the same way that El Teatro Campesino in the 60s used its physical, comedic style of people’s theater to support Cesar Chavez’s nascent United Farmworkers Union. In my mind, the DFR was going to use the celebration of Syracuse and of local community to invite people into deeper conversations and actions about, among other things: 1) a new, local, 21st century economy, including a reality check about fossil-fuel dependance; 2) resistance to the privatization of public education; 3) the loss of public spaces where people can build relationships and plan collective action across borders of difference and boundaries of distrust; 4) the assault on workers and families; 5) the increasing militarization and corporatization of our democracy; 6) And More!

Both fear and anger fueled this project. But also a sincere belief in the ability (and desire) of human beings to organize on their own behalf, with the power to disrupt and overturn oppressive systems. Of course, the history of social movements tells us this is true. Drawing from Paulo Freire and his many descendants, I subscribed to a politics of hope. I subscribed to a politics of human agency. I understood that oppressive forces are counting on people being too tired, too divided, and too dispirited to come together in common cause. Further, progressive activists, working on so many discrete fronts, and on so many issues, seem always to compete for the time and attention of their natural allies. Rather than working collectively and planning strategically about when to take action on a given issue, all are working on their separate issues, diluting the potential for impact.

Couldn’t we find a way to bring everyone together — under “the big tent” — in a way that inspired, that educated, and that called people to action?

And when I heard the news from Newtown I realized how the act of creating and performing had cooled some of the fire that was this project’s early fuel. In that moment, I felt the relative impotence of what we were doing, despite our modest local presence and effect. What especially pulled me up short was not the actual killings. (That ,of course, is a tragedy that as a father of two young children is hard to wrap my head around.) What pulled me up was the discussion I heard among friends, and even within my own house, about the danger of public spaces, including schools, movie theaters, and places of worship.

Again, it was this assault on the public and on public spaces, so similar to the assault that was happening in Wisconsin that catalyzed DFR. Like Scott Walker’s campaign to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, this assault was fueled in part by the pathology of capitalism. More outrageously, it was also fueled by the cynical campaign that ties profit derived from the  manufacture and sale of automatic assault weapons to the 2nd Amendment. The old rage stirred in me. The feeling that if DFR was to do anything at all, if it was to mean anything at all and be anything more than a fun show, then it had to bring people together It had to invite people to tell stories together, and to see one another. It had to pull people out of their bunkers! It had to be a celebratory counter assault, on fear. It had to stand up, and invite others to stand up — in public — to the very notion that public spaces and public communion were dangerous. Or rather, to affirm that indeed public spaces and public communion are dangerous — for entrenched systems of oppression!

My wish for this new year is that 2013 be the year that the city of Syracuse claims for this generation its legacy as the birthplace of democracy. That 2013 be the year that we write and sing this city’s 21st century song of freedom, with ALL our voices singing together. In different languages and different sounds, but unified in the harmony of our shared humanity.

My New Year’s Revolution is to sing louder, to preach more passionately, and to think more deeply about our shared fates and futures. I promise to love and celebrate this city and all the people living in it. I vow to remember the words of Rosa Parks who told a young activist seeking commiseration about the grind of activism: “If you ain’t tired, you ain’t working hard enough!” (I also promise to take care of my mind, body, and spirit, and to nurture my family and friends, so that I have the support to do all the rest!)

So, like I said: Ebenezer Abernathy and The Sound of Freedom are fired up again! And we’re planning a party on January 9th. It’s a freedom party. You need to be there. We want you there. Your voice and your face need to be there so that you can publicly make yourself accountable by answering the question: What’s your New Year’s Revolution?

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4 Responses to “What’s Your New Year’s ReVolution?”

  1. Andra January 2, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    That’s right, Ebenezer! Let’s reclaim our public spaces, our right to gather in our public spaces, our right to speak the truth about what matters to us! I am ready for a celebratory counter-assault on fear.

  2. Sheila January 3, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    Yes, we’re seeing what happens when funding goes away for mental health services, and people become more alienated and disenfranchised. If we could take all the power away from the NRA and give it to the mental health organizations, I think we’d be a lot better off!

  3. Michael Messina-Yauchzy January 4, 2013 at 11:36 pm #

    Kevin,
    Thanks for sharing the fire. One of the dilemmas that public and semi-public forums face is that of the “big tent” vs. the organized wedge. If we have a truly open, public forum, then we are not only inviting but attracting and welcoming participants of diverse viewpoints. That may seem to require an air of “neutrality,” a “fair and balanced” approach, if you will. It seeds to preclude beginning with a strong standpoint. The opposite pole is “preaching to the choir,” which may be informative and inspirational, but isn’t building a progressive movement because it’s always the same people there. So, my question is, how do we construct a middle ground, a growing edge that can attract a wider audience without diluting DFR to the point that we have no message? Collaborating with other groups, such as in our current plans, is one way, I think. It would be good to get some members from those various partner groups to attend our New Year’s ReVolution revival. Addressing issues that various members of the public see as their issues could draw new participants. Addressing foreclosure, for example, and unemployment. Your emphasis on making personal invitations is also a great step. If we begin doing monthly revivals, reaching out with a specific theme (and 2 new songs) for each month might attract current ongoing and new participants. Again, thanks for sharing the fire, brother. We will widen the circle as we go.

    • Ebenezer Abernathy January 5, 2013 at 10:59 am #

      I agree, Michael. And this has been the ongoing balancing act, no? To be a big tent and risk playing it so middle of the road that we’re essentially irrelevant; or to cater to the Left and risk preaching to the proverbial choir. What made the Tea Party so energetic? They certainly weren’t trying to reach beyond a narrow base, yet they were able to push the ideological spectrum rightward. Is it possible to preach our progressive values of liberty and justice for all in such a way that shifts people’s perspectives leftward? That’s been my whole hypothesis — that a Left message wrapped in a popular package could mitigate some of the righteous self-seriousness that alienates people who might be natural allies. Aimee always tells me/Ebenezer to “lighten up” after those shows where my own strident righteousness comes through, and she’s right. This show works best when the message is both entertaining and inspiring. I truly hope we can get to our monthly Revival format, bringing the same, and new, people together regularly. DFR was never meant to be the end, only the means of getting people in the door. Ultimately, what’s going to keep people invested, I think, is the testifying. If people feel that when they come to a Revival, something real is going to transpire — real communication, real community, real relationship building toward organizing — I think they’ll come back.

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