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Mahatma Gandhi‘s passive resistance was rooted in the idea that the greatest revolutionary act is borne in the quiet of one’s mind. Resistance manifests itself in manifold ways, sometimes with anger and aggression and other times in stillness and silence. What all revolutions have in common is the resolute mindset of each participant: to resist and remain standing. Standing up against tyranny and oppression is a rebellious act, an irreverent, irrepressible act.
While it has become an accepted Truth that ‘The Personal is Political’, the reverse also holds true; ‘The Political is Personal’, and nothing is more personal than the music one chooses to live by, to be inspired by, and be guided by. Music and revolution walk hand in hand, and while each Revolution aspires to its own unique ideals, music is one thing they all have in common. Whether RiotGrrl or RudeBoy, singing “We Shall Overcome” or “Occupy D.C.”, all Revolutions are fueled by words that are poetic, raw, and real – whether they’re scrawled on walls or carefully articulated in Mantras and Manifestos. Throughout history, protesters have marched to songs that speak to their individual as well as collective pain, purpose and philosophy.
In today’s virtual landscape of crowd-sourced revolution, we’ve become used to the images of ‘Revolution’, the ones that typically make the headlines: photos of protesters pressing together en masse, compressed in their fury and urgency. Our collective histories tell the visual tales: The French Revolution, The American Revolution, The Industrial Revolution, The Egyptian Revolution, The New Feminist Revolution – Great throngs that have gathered to stand up against tyranny, oppression, ideology, regime.
On a macro scale, from a bird’s eye perspective, all Revolutions look the same. They move in amorphous waves of people ebbing and flowing, armed with their hand-drawn banners, flags and fists waving, all heading toward and away from some symbolic place: a central square, government building, a scene of terror, tragedy or toppled monument. By virtue of the intense force of their cause and action, people who take part in protests become physically and psychically connected, unified in their resistance, forsaking their uniqueness to assemble and become part of the group of people who’ve gathered in revolt and rebellion.
On a micro scale, when the camera zooms in, the crowd disappears from our view. Close up we are able to glean the emotions on individual faces, their anger, terror and their fury. Revealed is the individual protester: the enraged citizen, the empowered union worker, the marginalized, the victimized, the disaffected, the disenfranchised. This close-up view reminds us that at its root, every Revolution begins as a unique and intensely private experience. It is at this micro level of the individual that the light of every revolution is ignited, when at some moment in time, a person makes that decision to take a leap into the unknown: that great leap which, beautifully or terrifyingly, leaves them no choice.
As Gil Scott Heron poetically and prophetically stated, The Revolution Will Not be Televised: it will, however, be hash tagged, texted and uploaded. The Revolution will be poeticized, memorialized, internalized, personalized, and will forever take its place somewhere hidden in the heart and mind, in a place so private no camera can penetrate and no pundit can analyze.
For my own, personal Revolution, I would choose ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes
I asked friends, fans, and colleagues, those from the fields of Science, the Arts, Technology and Politics, to select one song that would lead their own personal revolution. Along with their words, here are their choices.
Jonathan Bewley, President, SnapShots Foundation
I would choose the first movement of “Don Juan” op. 20 by Richard Strauss, as my song to lead a revolution. The piece is just brilliant. It speaks to the human condition through struggle and the will to triumph and to fight a new day. Strauss had such humanity in his writing; he must have known something of life’s challenges to write such music.
“Don Juan” op. 20 by Richard Strauss | YouTube
Paul Burston, Author
I’ll have to say ‘Talkin’ Bout a Revolution’ by Tracy Chapman. I saw her perform it live at the concert for Mandela at Wembley in 1988, and it captured the mood perfectly. After Live Aid, there was a lot of cynicism about pop and politics. Nobody really wanted to hear Bob Geldof sing ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ again, even if it was for a good cause. And people knew that it would take a lot more than a concert to “feed the world”. But the Mandela concert was different. There was a clear message, embodied in this extraordinary man who stood for a principle everyone could identify with. It wasn’t only about the appalling injustice of apartheid in South Africa, it was also about the right of political prisoners to have a voice, and the responsibility we each have to fight against injustice and oppression. Change was in the air, and when Tracy Chapman sang that song, it felt as if everyone in that stadium was part of it.
‘Talkin’ Bout a Revolution’, Tracy Chapman | YouTube
Greta Byrum, Poet, Thinker
Poly Styrene showed people (girls especially) how to be powerful and smart and scary and yet beautiful, and to have fun while doing it. She was an amazing poet. This video to me shows how the revolution begins: “We presume our power, not our powerlessness.” (as a friend of mine likes to say) http://alliedmedia.org/amc2011/principles-allied-media-projects-network – on every level, starting from deep within. In “Identity/It’s the crisis you can’t see” Poly Styrene is breaking through the mirror. As brash and bright as possible, she is telling us that she isn’t afraid of anyone, not even of herself. And yet her more revolutionary song may be the most literal one of all: “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard./ But I think…/ Oh Bondage Up Yours!”
‘x ray spex identity’, Poly Styrene | YouTube
Neil Charney, General Manager, PGSI at Microsoft
At first the phrase “personal revolution” sounds like an oxymoron. But given that every revolution starts with a movement, and every movement starts with an individual who does something that may first appear entirely irrational –almost non-sensical –going against the norms, the expectations, the status quo, the question makes perfect sense and the answer can be somewhat surprising. If you want to lead a movement, consider what makes people dance. Dancing always struck me as an amazingly dissonant thing to see –spontaneous, irrational, unlike so much of everything else in our day to day lives. A vestige of some “primitive” past? Consider that first moment when the music comes on and the dance floor is empty or perhaps filled by 1 or 2 brave souls. The first thought may be to judge, dismiss, laugh. Somehow 4 hours later you’re covered in sweat, euphorically holding your hands in the air, moving against a hundred souls equally ecstatic and lost in their dance –the movement. Tomorrow they’ll all be back behind the desk, pushing the paper, the broom, the electrons but tonight they’re dancing like some tribal, communal ritual. There’s an energy and a passion that comes from such collective experiences –a celebration and expression of the human spirit. And that’s what revolutions can be –a yearning and expression of the human spirit –a cry against the norm where the norm somehow diminishes or denies that which we can truly be.
‘Can’t Hold Us’, Macklemore | YouTube
Bruno Galindo, Poet, Performer
“Nothing’s gonna change my world”. Can’t think of anything stronger, more beautiful and powerful than that Lennon/McCartney line. Well, maybe the music. That one always made me cry. And always will.
‘Across the Universe’, The Beatles | You Tube
Collin Kelley, Novelist, Poet, Playwright
In the summer of 1995, I was in London and Paris for the first time. My head was filled with new sights and sounds, but the sound that kept repeating was Bjork’s “Army of Me.” The song seemed to be playing in every cab, on every sound system and even in the shopping arcade under the Louvre. I was undergoing a personal transformation and this trip would revolutionize my writing. A book of poetry and two novels had their genesis in 1995 and every time I think about that summer, I hear Bjork singing “self-sufficient, please, and get to work.” It’s still my mantra.
‘Army of Me’, Bjork | YouTube
John Marsh, Vocalist & Founder, The Beloved
As an unreconstructed believer in the power of love and mutual respect my revolutionary anthem has to be one that espouses those ideals …
Many songs fit the bill but this is one I especially love.
Garnett Silk ‘Love Is The Answer’
A simple message, beautifully expressed by an incredible voice
“I will always do the good I can for an hatred I can’t stand
And I hope you feel the same way too
The goodness of your works will carry you through
Do good unto others and Jah will do the same for you
Give it a try my friend and you will prove what I m saying is true”
personally I don’t feel the need to allign my moral compass with Jah, or any other god, but the values are universal and will hopefully spur on a Velvet Revolution….
‘Love Is The Answer’, Garnett Silk | YouTube
Donna Masini, Poet, Novelist
When I heard your question the first thing I thought of was John Lennon’s “Imagine” and then, as Blake’s words from “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” came to me — “What is now proved was once only imagined.” – I knew why I’d chosen that song. Because of John Lennon of course. But also because it’s through an act of imagination – being able to imagine the other, a new life, a new way of being — that we truly change.
‘Imagine’, John Lennon | YouTube
Thomas Leo McGrath, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Database/Web Developer
The song in question is The Dog Days are Over by Florence and the Machine. A line in this song that spoke to me was:
And I never wanted anything from you
Except everything you had
And what was left after that too. oh.
It sounds somewhat negative doesn’t it? Yet it relates to what I need. I drive myself hard, and I need a lot from the people who are close to me. I need passion, intensity, drive and joy around me. I need to push myself to exhaustion, and push again when I wake up.
In this life, you are either growing or you are diminishing. If you are growing, then part of what gives you your drive is your hunger, your thirst, your aching to be more than what you are. When you act on those appetites in a positive way, it creates in you greater needs and longings. The challenge is to answer these passions in a positive way and share what you have. It also is a question of recognizing that you are never a “complete” person and that this is a good thing. Once you start moving towards the answering of your hunger, then eventually you will come to realize that the Dog Days are truly over, and that the days that will follow will be filled with wonder, power and joy.
‘Dog Days Are Over’, Florence and the Machine | YouTube
John Siddique, Poet, Author
There is only one revolution worth having, that is a revolution of the self. To be radically honest about our own greed, hatred and delusion. Be honest about what really moves us, what we find to be beautiful, to say that we don’t know something when we don’t instead of spin doctoring. To not wear the anger, justification and false pride of the victim, deciding by a process of practical radical honesty with oneself to find ways to make small steps each day. We need to stop being seen to do the right thing and learn to do them, anything else leaves both ourselves and the world shallow, empty and governed by mediocrity.
The track I have chosen to accompany my personal revolution is The Carpet Crawlers by Genesis from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway record. This was the tune that first woke me up to a need for personal responsibility when I was young. We do not have to move with the mass, our lives can be beautiful and worth something, and yes there is a cost in that, there is risk and uncomfortableness often. Perhaps we can train ourselves a little bit each day with a small amount of risk so that we can do something radical like love someone else, or bake some bread, or read a poem and not defend our own lies by spinning them into law.
‘the Carpet Crawlers live’, Genesis | YouTube
Josh Warner, president and founder of Feed Company
“The Call-Up” by the Clash is a great theme song for my personal revolution. It came out in 1980 and starts with a US Marines marching chant. The song has a dark, ominous groove that makes it danceable but is a cautionary tale against blind patriotism. It’s an anti-war song seeped in the colors and contradictions of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. The lyrics, by Joe Strummer, are a specific plea :”It’s up to you not to heed the call-up. You must not act the way you were brought up.” But the song is wistfully ambiguous at the same time: “There is a rose that I want to live for. Although, God knows, I may not have met her.” It matched the mood of the country. Ronald Reagan just got elected, John Lennon was killed, and the US failed to free hostages in Iran. Times seemed bleak but you had the Clash questioning authority and pointing out injustice as a counterpoint to a general toe-the-line malaise. It reminded me to pay attention to other parts of the world and not just worry about what I was paying for gas.
‘The Call-Up’, The Clash | YouTube