I was born decades ago, and came of age in the pre-Occupy late 80s and early 90s. Protest makes me think of action and noise: PETA members throwing red paint on fur-wearing pedestrians along Fifth Avenue; anti- and pro-choice groups waving signs and condemning each other loudly across barricades. When I think of protest songs, I think of Bob Dylan or the Sex Pistols.
The third assignment for the GlassBook Project course in which I’m enrolled required us to: select a protest song; create a visual representation of the song; and collaborate with musicians who would translate our visual representation into a musical score. The deadline to add/drop courses is past, and I’m a stubborn over-achiever, so though each class assignment confounds and intimidates me, I thought, “Bring it on.”
I am at the stage where I’ve selected a song, and am completing the visual representation. Collaboration with the musicians will occur within the next few weeks. Though not yet finished, this assignment has made me think differently already about protest and change.
I surprised myself with my selection of “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley. I’m a long-time Marley fan, but expected I would select something more, well, noisy. My husband suggested “Redemption Song” one night over dinner, and I thought, “Hmm, interesting.” I knew the lyrics from having sung the song so many times over the years, often while holding hands with other bad singers and swaying in a circle; however, the words read differently to me when I printed them and considered what they said about the nature of protest.
The song’s “narrator” is speaking on behalf of his community, and opens by recounting the experience of physical enslavement. The song doesn’t invoke the actions or words I associate as a challenge to or defiance of slavery, e.g., uprising, breaking of chains, escaping. The lines that resonated most with me were, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our mind”; and “All I ever had/Redemption songs/These songs of freedom”. I thought about how protest begins in the mind. The non-enslaved mind can envision change because it can imagine possibilities and realities outside of expected norms. It is radical to communicate the message of mental emancipation through the “character” of a physically enslaved person. I expected that his/her message would focus on liberation of the body; however, the surprising messenger reinforced that our minds are all we ever have, and we can be free as long as our thoughts are our own.
After slogging through a lot of not-so-great ideas on how to visually represent the concept of mental-freedom-equals-change, I decided to create a wind chime. The rods catch the breeze (they go with the flow, do not resist the winds of change), and the resulting tinkles encourage meditation. This may not seem like protest, but I believe a quiet mind is an open mind – and an open mind can see how to put change into action.
It has also been interesting to consider the connection between an open mind and the creation of identity. Members of the transgender community recently met and spoke with the class. The conversation made me aware of how much they challenged my understanding of identity. I was surprised, and dismayed, by how traditional definitions of gender confined my mind. Expanding the boundaries of my perception is how I can improve my interactions with members of any community, and recognize the injustices that need to be addressed by change.