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May, 2013
5-24-2013: Singing at Monsanto, Davis California-Bonnie and I drive to Davis to sing in front of the Monsanto offices in Davis protesting GMO crops, pesticide use, threats to the bee population. This is the first setting up of an Occupella appearance in which my entire contact with the organizer has been on facebook. Read more

5-15-2013: Conscientious Objectors’ Day-Once a year the City of Berkeley honors conscientious objectors and war resisters as part of International Conscientious Objectors’ Day. So today I bring my guitar to City Hall where a small group has gathered to sing, make speeches, and raise a rainbow peace flag. Read more

April, 2013
4-22-2013: Occupy Earth Day at the EPA-I have been neglecting my blog something fierce. I’ll go back later to tell y’all about People’s Music Network in January, but now I want to cover our participation in Earth Day.  Read more

January, 2013
1-20-2013: Labor Films at the Festival-I go to the film panel because nothing else is tugging at me and one of the panelists is my neighbor, Jai Noire. She has produced a series of how-to-do-it videos about forming worker cooperatives and cooperative housing.  Read more

1-19-2013: Occupella at the Festival-Hali leads the Occupella workshop this morning. It starts out disappointingly small but grows to a big circle.  Read more

1-18-2013: Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival in Burlingame-I arrive early to miss the traffic and go to the union hall to see if I can help--or at least find someone to go to dinner with. But everything is done, so I visit with Anne Feeney (who came all the way from Pittsburgh, PA) and a few others.  Read more

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Hello, I’m Nancy and I’m a Blogger

When I started singing at Occupy Oakland and Occupy Berkeley events, I started writing about them but didn’t have a blog set up to post these pieces on. 

Then we decided to have an Occupella website, and now, with the help of my daughter, Nancy Ibsen, internet maven, I have a home for my blog. Sometimes I write about moments, like the five Buddhist monks walking by us in their orange robes when we were singing at the Montgomery Street BART station, one carrying a matching bottle of orange juice. Sometimes I write little stories.

My other blog, Writing Malvina, is about writing a book on my mother, Malvina Reynolds, with snippets from my source material, and sometimes it's about what I do in between writing. 

 


Friday, May 24, 2013: Singing at Monsanto, Davis California
A preview to the big one

Bonnie and I drive to Davis to sing in front of the Monsanto offices protesting GMO crops, pesticide use, threats to the bee population. This is the first setting up of an Occupella appearance in which my entire contact with the organizer has been on facebook. I don’t know the email address or phone number of Andy Conn, but I know what he looks like from his profile picture, so when we arrive there is no searching around for our contact. Today he is wearing a bee hat, however, and one of the women is wearing bee wings. Another guy is in a hazmat suit. About seventy-five people, young and old, are lined up along the road holding signs, or sitting in camping chairs they have brought. The street trees provide shade and there is a breeze, so it’s more pleasant than the prediction of temperatures in the eighties led us to expect. We are supposed to go on in half an hour, at 1:30 p.m., but Andy says that the sound system, which was supposed to arrive at 1:00, may be late, do we want to go on without it? We decide to decide closer to the time. Some folks have set up an anti-Keystone XL Pipeline display, so I show one our Stop Keystone parody and write down how she can get it on occupella.com. She is delighted. 

Andy says the sound system is on its way, but we know it will take a while to set it up, so we go ahead, despite the traffic noise. I get somebody to help me pass out song-sheets with “It Isn’t Nice” and “Every Third Bite” (about bees) on them and Andy announces us over the bullhorn. Most of the people gather around, and most of those sing along. Some lines in the bee song go over especially well, and “Ain’t gonna let Monsanto turn us around...” and people have a few suggestions for the zipper songs. Afterwards, a young man comes up and says he has seen us there before, heard us sing that song. We say this is our first time. “But I heard you sing your song, that song, ‘Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody...’ “ We explain that it isn’t our song, it’s an old Civil Rights song that many groups sing. This is all news to him. We are carriers of history, it would seem. 

 The sound system shows up, but we actually liked being without it in this size group. It’s the Friday before a three-day weekend, and traffic has been slow in places on the way up, so we don’t want to delay the trip home too much. We wait around a bit to see the next act, but it turns out only part of the sound system is there, the rest is still to come, so we head out, feeling that we added something, were appreciated, and enjoyed ourselves. A good day. Tomorrow a lot of these folks will be in Sacramento at a larger protest, part of a worldwide effort against GMOs.

Comment from Bonnie Lockhart posted 6-2-2013:
I was lucky enough to meet up with the Oakland Monsanto demonstration when their march passed the Grand Lake Farmers Market on Saturday. A terrific rally followed the march! There were a few hundred people there, totally giving lie to the myth that environmental issues are only of concern to the white and well off. The leadership of the rally appeared largely brown and black and under 40. The speeches were poetic, passionate and politically penetrating. A Brazilian woman who works with the Landless Movement there spoke with fervor about the need to change the economic system in order to free ourselves from abuses from Monsanto's ilk. She compared the chilling resemblance of corporate agribusiness to urban drug dealing--how the profiteers' greed blighted land and lives. Another speaker articulated a theme common to the event: As large and formidable as Monsanto is, they are only a symptom--a symptom of a system that places profits before people and cannot meet human needs. Throughout the event was a profound current of spirituality, connecting our health, our land, our food, our seeds to our fundamental being. Honoring that connection, the event left me feeling fierce and hopeful!


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Wednesday, May 15, 2013: Conscientious Objectors’ Day

Once a year the City of Berkeley honors conscientious objectors and war resisters as part of International Conscientious Objectors' Day So today I bring my guitar to City Hall where a small group has gathered to sing, make speeches, and raise a rainbow peace flag. I sing my mother’s “We Hate to See Them Go,” Vic Sadot from the BFUU open mikes sings “I Ain’t A-marchin’ Any More” and Maxina Ventura leads “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.” Max calls it the “Ain’t Festival.” It’s not an official Occupella event because there aren’t two of us here, but it feels like one. People I know stop by to chat. Afterwards, some of us bring the banners and guitars to the other end of Civic Center Park, where there’s another flagpole by the skateboard area. I walk with the guy with the “Peace Now” banner rolled up, the others lag behind. As we near the other flagpole, what to our wondering eyes should appear but two young white Army recruiters in desert camo giving their spiel to a young black man. I offer to hold the other end of the banner and we position ourselves opposite the young man. The guy I’m with starts talking about the recruits who call the hotline he works at, who tell him the recruiters lied to them. The recruiters and the guy finish their conversation, the rest of the group assemble, the recruiters go over to a group of young men sitting on the skateboard wall. After they finish, Max hands out cards for the local hotline. We put up the flag and disperse. 

 This puts me in mind of a conversation I had in the pool at the Y on Monday with a man who was in the armed forces a long time ago and said back then troops were never seen in an American city in camo or fatigues. If you were off base, you were in dress uniform. You looked like you were serving the country, not occupying it.


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Monday, Apr 22, 2013: Occupy Earth Day at the EPA

I have been neglecting my blog something fierce. I’ll go back later to tell y’all about People’s Music Network in January, but now I want to cover our participation in Earth Day. It’s a Compare and Contrast assignment, because we’ve been to three anti-pipeline demonstrations lately. 

 The first, on Sunday, February 17, organized by 350, the Sierra Club and NRDC, was the biggest. It focussed mostly on the Keystone XL pipeline. We pretty near surrounded the block the State Department office is in at the foot of Market Street. I was walking, not singing, because I was recovering from that persistent cold that was going around then. The rest of Occupella was stationed on one side of the block with the Brass Liberation Band on the other, out of sight and sound. People stopped to sing with Occupella or smiled as they walked by. Then the big rally across the street with Native American drummers and the usual bunch of speakers, some quite good. Mostly white middle-class crowd. The whitest being the polar bear.

 The second, on Wednesday evening, April 3, occasioned by President Obama’s visit to San Francisco for a fundraiser in a mansion in Seacliff, was organized by CREDO, 350.org, 350 Bay Area, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and others. It, too, was mostly white and middle class, and we were all freezing in the fog and wind except the polar bear. We didn’t sing, it was all Brass Liberation Orchestra. But we all went over together by BART and bus, and until the fog came in it was a festive outing.

 Today, in contrast, is a demonstration for environmental justice, which means the pipeline and much more. I go over on BART and coming up on the escalator see a guy in front of me dressed in black with a big instrument case on his back. Clearly he is of the Brass Liberation Band. The rally, in front of the EPA office on Hawthorne, a small street south of Market, starts with an Idle No More round dance with drumming and singing. We dance in the street, which the police have blocked off. The guys on the construction site across the street are on their lunch hour, watching from the unfinished second, third and fourth floors. I find Hali and a couple of people from the SF Labor Chorus find us. The band plays, then come the speeches. Too many, as usual, especially since we are waiting to sing, but they represent a lot of different groups: Latinos fighting toxic waste dumps and incinerators and pesticide runoff in the Central Valley, African Americans fighting pollution from the Chevron refinery in Richmond, where they had a big fire last year and are now refining toxic crude from fracking in California, which makes for more air pollution than regular crude. Pennie speaks, I recognize her from the Idle No More demonstration in Berkeley in January. The crowd is refreshingly mixed in age and ethnicity.  No polar bear, though. We are there both to protest the lack of regulation of toxics and fracking and to celebrate EPA’s criticism of the Keystone pipeline. 

 At last we sing. We start with “We Shall Not Be Moved,” with pertinent zips: “Defend our farms and ranches,” “Oil and water don’t mix,” “Environmental justice.” Then we do the political verses of “This Land Is Your Land” with some of our additions, and end with Anne Feeney’s “Have You Been to Jail for Justice,” which we haven’t used before. It gets a rousing response and goes in our repertoire from now on. Two more speeches, then we march behind Idle No More to Market Street and down Market to the State Department office. The police have one side of Market blocked off for us. We look good, lots of banners, people are taking pictures with their phones, and we are a respectable length, though I remember the huge marches against the Vietnam War and the thrill of cresting the rise on Fulton and seeing  the mass of people stretching down to the Civic Center.

I peel off at the Embarcadero BART station and go back to Berkeley. My knees are aching so I call Claudia to pick me up. She can’t come for a half hour, so I get an iced latte and wait. It occurs to me that I can use the latte, in a plastic glass, to ice my knees. They feel much better by the time Claudia comes. I get a nap, go to Tax the Rich and then to an Occupella planning meeting. I bring my new taste discovery, sliced strawberries and yogurt with a spoonful of almond butter mixed into the yogurt. It is well received. And so to bed.


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Sunday, Jan 20, 2013: Labor Films at the Festival

I go to the film panel because nothing else is tugging at me and one of the panelists is my neighbor, Jai Noire. She has produced a series of how-to-do-it videos, about forming worker cooperatives and cooperative housing. I learn that the big victorian she lives in is  the oldest limited-equity housing co-op in California. She talks about the importance of artists and artisans owning their own living space and work space so they can live on what such work brings. 

The other panelists are Carolina Fuentes with a film “Our Right To Sing,” examining the role of music in the resistance movement of El Salvador during two decades of military dictatorship, and Jim Davis from Ireland with “Meeting Room,” about parents in a poor neighborhood in Dublin banding together to fight the drug dealers when the police were ignoring them. They both talk about the importance of giving the people’s history back to them.

During the question period a college teacher says that ten years ago when he asked what his students knew about labor unions one or two hands would go up, but now, thanks to Occupy, half the hands go up. This is the most hopeful thing I hear all weekend. 

After lunch, Vukani Muwethu chorus and Jimmy Collier present a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Jimmy Collier often sang before Dr. King's speeches back in the day. We all stand and hold hands when he closes with “We Shall Overcome.” Then I go and wash my hands. It seems strange, but I’m determined not to catch anything before I go to the People’s Music Network Gathering next weekend in Massachusetts.

 

 

Comment from Linne posted 2-10-2013:
I have been a fan of your mother's work since the 60s and now I'm a fan of yours, too! Thanks for your support of Chief Spence and Idle No More. I am not aboriginal, but I certainly support the movement, usually by retweeting and occasionally on Facebook (not on FB too often these days, though). My mother is 90 and her sister is 93 (with developing dementia, so that she requires support at home). I am not active in any of the causes I care about and truly appreciate the work done by those who are able to be involved in a material way.

I am very happy to have found your blog and will be back. ~ Linne


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Saturday, Jan 19, 2013: Occupella at the Festival

`Hali leads the Occupella workshop this morning. It starts out disappointingly small but grows to a big circle. Most people suggest songs from the songbook but some lead other appropriate songs, and we take up the whole two hours allotted just going once around the circle. A half a dozen members of the Seattle Labor Chorus are here and the harmonies are yummy. At Tax the Rich, a lot of drivers honk their approval of us and we like that, but it’s quite satisfying to sing and listen indoors for once.

I pass around a mailing list for people who want to be notified when the Occupella book comes out. I don’t have a publication date yet; the typesetter has the flu and is behind in his work.

Besides missing Jon, I hear about the loss of somebody I didn’t know at all: Spain Rodriguez, Zap Comix artist, Mission District muralist and activist. Samples of his art and labor posters are up on one of the bulletin boards, along with his obituary in the SF Chronicle. His last poster advertises a Woody Guthrie concert. Jon is listed as one of the performers.

I buy a book from PM Press by Ursula LeGuin and a CD of “Songs of Peace and Justice for the Holiday Season” from the Seattle Labor Chorus to get some more carol parodies for next year.

Comment from Nancy Schimmel posted 1-22-2013:
At Tax the Rich Monday Hali says that one of the people at the Occupella workshop told her it was the best song circle he was ever in; everybody knew all the tunes. Which, says Hali, is exactly the point of Occupella.


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Friday, Jan 18, 2013: Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival in Burlingame

I arrive early to miss the traffic and go to the union hall to see if I can help--or at least find someone to go to dinner with. But everything is done, so I visit with Anne Feeney (who has come all the way from Pittsburgh, PA) and a few others. In the evening circle, people introduce themselves. They are from all different unions, plumbers and teachers and home care workers, accountants and a labor lawyer. Most are from the West Coast, Seattle to San Diego. Avotcja leads off with a poem, then come the songs. An Irishman tells a story about three brothers. He can’t remember one of the names, so he says, “Ah, we’ll call him Ned.” Even the best storytellers make mistakes, but they know how to fix them and go on. Many talk about Jon Fromer, until now a regular at WWLHF. He sang and broke guitar strings at every march and rally and picket line from here to Ft. Benning, Georgia. He died of cancer three weeks ago. A particularly sweet moment comes when Sal stands up and says, “I’ve come here for years and never sung in the circle. I always requested a song from Jon instead. But tonight I’m singing.” He sings a song he wrote about Jon.

Lynn Marie Smith from Detroit is the featured performer. She specializes in Motown songs with labor words and sings three of them, including “We Need a Contract” to “Under the Boardwalk,” one of my favorites. I want it. She hasn’t recorded it. 

My voice seems iffy tonight, so instead of singing I elect to read from my Occupella book a few paragraphs about hanging out with Jon at People’s Music Network last year in Lawrence, going to the mill strike museum together, comparing ancestors. I saw a photograph of Big Bill Haywood there and said I had a picture of him with my grandfather; Jon said his grandmother was organizing with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York at about the time of the Lawrence strike in 1912. Annie Feeney is sitting next to me so she follows that with singing “Bread and Roses” with Janet Stecher, who is half of Rebel Voices from Seattle.

I give a couple of people a ride back to the hotel. Lynne, who volunteers at La Peña, tells her ancestor story. Her father and mother met when they were on the Hunger March on Washington in 1931. Her father was speaking and a policeman broke his arm with his nightstick. Lynne’s mother, a practical nurse, was the medic for the march, fixed him up and they fell in love. I tell her my father and mother had met and parted when they were young and gone on to marry other people. When I was reading accounts in the Long Beach newspaper of the 1932 KKK raid on my grandparents’ home (my mother was present), I saw an account in the next column of a hunger march on Washington. My father was mentioned as an organizer. My mother must have read it; she read everything. They got back together again a couple of years later, and I was born in 1935. Whether the newspaper article had anything to do with them finding each other again, I don’t know.


 


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