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January, 2014
1-24-2014: Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival, 2014-At the women’s music camp I go to, we have a condition we call FOMS (Fear of Missing Something) and I felt that last Saturday at four o’clock. I was at the Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival in Burlingame, California, and the choices were:  1. Freedom Rides: Music and Movement, with Jerry Moore (original Freedom Rider) 2. Women Do This Every Day: Songs for and about Women with the Re-Sisters of Vancouver, BC 3. All That Jazz: African Seed/International Flower, A Musician’s Perspective, with musician, poet and ethnomusicologist Avotcja. Read more

September, 2013
9-21-2013: Singing at the Oasis-Bonnie has signed us up to sing at one of the Hold the Line demonstrations against the KXL pipeline that 350.org scheduled for this weekend. It’s practically in my neighborhood, at the Biofuel Oasis at Ashby and Sacramento, and it’s even closer to Leslie. Read more

9-9-2013: A Celebration and a Vigil-Today is a big day, the second anniversary of the weekly Tax the Rich demonstration in North Berkeley. We have a visitor from Austin, Texas who is interviewing people for a book on the joys of singing out and speaking up.  Read more

August, 2013
8-3-2013: Summer Heat with Occupella-Today is the first anniversary of a fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond that sent around 15,000 people to emergency rooms in the East Bay. A bunch of environmental organizations and unions have organized a march from Richmond BART to the Chevron refinery in Point Richmond... Read more

July, 2013
7-2-2013: Saving Social Security and Medicare-We had planned to take BART to today’s demonstrations in San Francisco to save Social Security, but BART was on strike. Claudia dropped us off at the ferry, which by 1:00 was not crowded, and we had a pleasant trip over.  Read more

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

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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, Jan 24, 2014: Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival, 2014
Burlingame

At the women’s music camp I go to, we have a condition we call FOMS (Fear of Missing Something) and I felt that last Saturday at four o’clock. I was at the Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival in Burlingame, California, and the choices were: 

1. Freedom Rides: Music and Movement, with Jerry Moore (original Freedom Rider)

2. Women Do This Every Day: Songs for and about Women with the Re-Sisters of Vancouver, BC

3. All That Jazz: African Seed/International Flower, A Musician’s Perspective, with musician, poet and ethnomusicologist Avotcja.

Of course I wanted to go to all three, but since I’d met some of the Vancouver women when I visited a rehearsal of the Vancouver Solidarity Chorus up there last year, I opted for #2. They sang a bunch of songs for us, and then asked which one we wanted to learn. “Bugger the Bankers” won. You’ll see why if you listen to it on youtube

Those of us who learned it sang it with them at the open mike that night. Since Avotcja is local, maybe I’ll see her presentation another time. The evening’s open mike was fun and varied. Besides the Vancouver group and the SF chorus, about eight members of the New York Labor Chorus came all the way to California to sing for us. Occupella sang Bonnie’s new song about the minimum wage, “Fifteen Bucks an Hour” to the tune of “Which Side Are You On,” and several of the groups there wanted copies. Earlier in the day a woman had snagged Leslie and me to sing backup for her new song about Mandela, so we rehearsed it a couple of times and opened the evening with it. 

 PM Press was there and I bought a book I’d been wanting: Elizabeth Morgan's Socialist and Labor Songs: An International Revolutionary Songbook. Lots of old-time stuff, some familiar, some not. I’ll pass it around to the other Occupellans.

 The high point of my day was seeing Bev Grant’s “We Were There.” This is a multimedia show with a cast of about a dozen women reading quotes from women in US history, in the labor force, in unions, in the women’s movement, while the women’s pictures are projected above the readers. Bev intersperses several songs and the whole thing ends with her and the SF Rockin’ Solidarity Labor Chorus (or whatever the local chorus is) joining in on “We Were There” as the finale. You can see the visuals for the finale and hear Bev and the Brooklyn Women’s Chorus sing on youtube. I sang in the chorus at People’s Music Network in Lawrence two years ago along with other PMN folks and members of the Lawrence High School Performing Arts Center Girl's Ensemble. We just did the finale. I’d never seen the whole show. How it seems to work is that Bev sends pieces of the script to women who will be at the event, they have a rehearsal onsite, and then they present it. The chorus was not on stage but sitting in the front rows, which was inviting for joining in on whichever songs people in the audience knew.

 PMN is happening this weekend in NYC, but I decided to stay home, and it’s just as well. This California girl would have been nervous about the weather back there. I’m sorry that I’m missing the Magpies as the resident artists, but glad we had WWLHF so handy. 

Comment from Skye Alexander posted 2-17-2014:
Hi, Nancy. I heard your song from the Pete Seeger memorial at the Freight on KPFA today. What a treat to get to hear you! I'm inspired to come to an Occupella event now.


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Saturday, Sep 21, 2013: Singing at the Oasis

Bonnie has signed us up to sing at one of the Hold the Line demonstrations against the KXL pipeline that 350.org scheduled for this weekend. It’s practically in my neighborhood, at the Biofuel Oasis at Ashby and Sacramento, and it’s even closer to Leslie. We are to sing at noon to 12:30. At eleven o’clock, it’s pouring down rain. Bonnie calls, dubious, she’s all the way in the middle of Oakland and still being careful of her hip, and the publicity didn’t seem that good. I say I’ll go by anyway and see if anyone has showed up. 

 When I get there it’s still pouring but a canopy has been set up at the street edge of the lot and a dozen people are there, including Leslie, who is tuning up her guitar. She says Bonnie is coming. We pass out songbooks and start with Bonnie’s Stop Keystone song. People are happy to join in. More arrive, including Bonnie with song-sheets for some songs that aren’t in the book. Brave souls stand with banners and signs at the curb—there may be thirty of us now. Jessica, the Biofuels person Bonnie talked to, tells us there is a honey tasting in the building and some displays. We ask her to wait and we sing my “Vegetable Car” song while she’s there. I pass out words and people join in even though they don’t know the tune. This is good news. It means the tune is easy enough to learn. 

 When our half hour is over, the rain stops. We gather up our rain-splashed guitar cases and songbooks (we’ve been standing at the edge of the canopy). I go inside. One of the singers (I know her from the Organic Chorus) is tasting the honeys by drizzling a bit of each on her hand and licking it off—saves little spoons. “This is a song,” I say to myself. I taste local goat cheese on a bit of lettuce, look at the books and gardening supplies. I tell Jessica that “Vegetable Car” will soon be up on youtube (I’m going into the studio to mix on Wednesday) and she says she’ll send it to their mailing list. She thanks us for singing and says that someone in the neighborhood called at eleven to ask if they needed a canopy—they had one they could lend. This is the way the world is supposed to work.

 I go home and start writing a song about local honey.


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Monday, Sep 9, 2013: A Celebration and a Vigil

Today is a big day, the second anniversary of the weekly Tax the Rich demonstration in North Berkeley. We have a visitor from Austin, Texas who is interviewing people for a book on the joys of singing out and speaking up. I promised her cake and there’s a big one, and balloons too. Bonnie, Hali, Betsy and I are here and another guitarist who often comes. Also some people I haven’t seen there for months, Ying Lee and Flo among them. 

One of the guys who usually sings with us, Marty, is an organizer of one of the Move On vigils against bombing Syria planned for later this evening that’s just a few blocks from here, so Bonnie and I have dinner at the Cactus Taqueria and drive over. We expect a dozen or so but there are many more than that. Bonnie gets out her guitar and we start singing zipper songs--it will soon be too dark for songbooks so we don’t bother. Two more guitar players come, one a regular at Tax the Rich and one I’ve heard sing once before at some demonstration or meeting. Tax the Rich regulars and strangers join in on the songs and suggest verses. By now there are about a hundred people on all four corners in front of Monterey Market holding signs and candles. Someone asks for “If I Had a Hammer” which we don’t usually sing, but a lot of people know it and join in. After an hour of singing, Bonnie and I are ready to fold. She has a new hip and I have an old knee. But the other two guitar players stay on. People thank us as we go. One doesn’t know about Occupella so I give her a card. 

 A good day. May tomorrow be better. Maybe the president will listen this time.


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Saturday, Aug 3, 2013: Summer Heat with Occupella

Today is the first anniversary of a fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond that sent around 15,000 people to emergency rooms in the East Bay. A bunch of environmental organizations and unions have organized a march from Richmond BART to the Chevron refinery in Point Richmond, with a park nearer the refinery designated as a meeting place for people who have small kids, disabilities, or other reasons not to do a long walk. The Brass Liberation Orchestra and some speakers are at the BART station; Occupella is to entertain at George Carroll Park till the march reaches it. 

My friend Guma opts for George Carroll since she is adjusting to two new knees, and her friend Linda comes with us. Leslie, Bonnie and Hali are riding together. We get there first. Not just first of the Occupellans, but first of anybody. So we get a convenient parking place and have time to visit. Linda and Guma tell me about the meeting last night in San Francisco where they heard Bill McKibben and other good speakers, including a representative from the nurses association. She had interviewed nurses who treated people after the fire. 

 We also get to meet Rita, a resident of San Pablo who joins us at our picnic table. She is one of the 15,000 who went to the emergency room after the fire. She tells us that the hospital was so crowded they had set up huge tents outside it to treat all the people. She had throat problems and spots on her cornea. She was active in civic affairs before that happened, but has become even more so. Then Marg comes up with her wheelchair. She is concerned about air quality because, after twenty years of crawling around under people’s houses as a building inspector, she has developed environmental sensitivities. I knew about her job but never thought of the dangers of it.

 We are also being entertained by a woman playing frisbee fetch with her dog. At least she is playing fetch; the dog is playing keep-away. At one point we are laughing because it looks like the dog is trying to bury the frisbee. The woman comes over to tell us that she and her dog are happy to entertain us but what specifically is so funny. We tell her. No, she says, the dog was not trying to bury the frisbee but to get a gopher. She  intends to take the dog home soon and join the march.

There’s no summer heat yet. It’s cold and foggy and when Bonnie, Hali and Leslie come we distribute the extra shirts and jackets I have in my car. People arrive with banners and signs. Some of the signs are in the shape of sunflowers, a plant that can suck pollution up out of soil. We try for a pre-performance pit stop, but the park bathrooms are locked. Hali finds that it's okay to use the bathrooms at the Richmond Plunge across the street, but by that time I am busy passing out lyric sheets for our Stop Keystone Pipeline song and “Che-chev-ron-ron,” a parody of “Da-do-ron-ron.” We start to sing. People are happy to have an activity in the chilly morning, and many join in. Jimmy Kelly is there from the early days of Ocupella at Occupy Oakland. Gerry Tenney and his son Noah add bass parts. Every few songs someone makes announcements, “The march is leaving the BART station,” “The march is fifteen minutes away,” “Begin to form a line over here.” At that one, we move from the picnic area to the curb. We have about ten people standing around us, singing. The police motorcycles come, and then the first marchers, carrying signs and actual sunflowers. The families with children move in to form the front of the march. We pause while the Brass Liberation Orchestra goes by, playing “Which Side Are You On?” then resume singing. A contingent of nurses goes by, then  SEIU folks, and lots of friends. We stash our instruments in the cars and fall in at the end.

The sun comes out as we walk. It’s not far to the rally, which has started. We hear the speakers booming, but our focus is on finding the port-a-potties. On the way, we pass people kneeling on the ground busily painting in a huge sunflower someone has chalked on the road in front of the Chevron gates. There are only two port-a-potties, and the lines are long. Luckily, Guma and Linda and I have more visiting to do, and the demonstration to watch. People have made banners of shiny yellow material on tall bamboo poles, and these with the sunflowers give the demonstration a beautiful look. Bill McKibben speaks, and the mayor of Richmond, Gayle McLaughlin. I expect she is part of the reason over 200 people line up to commit civil disobedience. She has been trying to make Chevron shape up for years, and the police are on our side on this one. If you are going to get arrested, this is the place. I’d be tempted, but I signed up for a five-day writers’ retreat next week, and don’t want to have to come back for hearings. Same thing happened when I was demonstrating against nuclear weapon development in the eighties—I was slated to teach storytelling at UCLA summer school and didn’t want to be tied up or have to come back. Someday the planets will be in alignment and I will commit civil disobedience.

 

 

 

Comment from Bonnie Lockhart posted 8-22-2013:
Thanks for posting, Nancy. Hope you'll add your poem inspired by this event!

Comment from Nancy Schimmel posted 8-23-2013:
Thanks, Bonnie. Here it is:

Summer Heat

Sunflowers on sturdy stems
Suck toxins from the soil.
Sound the bell!
A flaming hell of oil
Smokes the sky.
Bolt the doors!
Hide inside.
But dirt can’t hide.

Bring sunflowers,
Seeds of summer,
Faces of tomorrow.
Bring sunflowers
By the thousands.
Leaves on green stems
Teach us
To follow the sun.

—Nancy Schimmel


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Tuesday, Jul 2, 2013: Saving Social Security and Medicare

We had planned to take BART to today’s demonstrations in San Francisco to save Social Security, but BART was on strike. Claudia dropped us off at the ferry, which by 1:00 was not crowded, and we had a pleasant trip over. We took the bus to 7th and Market for the New Priorities Campaign's smaller pre-demonstration about taking money from the war budget for social programs. A black teen-ager joined us for the first couple of songs, then moved on. An older guy came up, said we had hijacked him, he was just going to the library. He picked up a sign and asked for “We Shall Not Be Moved” so we sang that, then he and Hali found out they were from the same part of NYC and had that conversation full of street names that New Yorkers in exile have. He joined us for the short walk over to the Federal Building on Mission for the big demo with the Alliance for Retired Americans and the SF Labor Council. We found members of the Rocking Solidarity Labor Chorus who asked us to join them on stage because some of their members had not been able to overcome the transportation problem. Getting on stage, the flat bed of a huge truck, was a bit of transportation adventure in itself. There were no stairs, so we went up in groups of four, some with guitars, on the lift, which had nothing to hang on to. You can hear our combined voices in this video 

We heard some good speakers, young and old. Then the three of us from Occupella (Bonnie, Hali and I) sang a couple of songs as about four hundred people lined up to walk. Our audience was stretched around the plaza, but they were singing along anyway. We skipped the walk down Market Street to Senator Feinstein’s office and got a ride home at 5:40. We expected it to take hours, but it seemed like a normal rush hour commute to us, a pleasant surprise.



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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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