Singing Occupella: 99% vocalize their demands in San Francisco

Occupy activists have taken on a new peaceful method of promoting their cause: music. The Occupella group has organized numerous public events throughout the Bay Area, with guitars and voices as their main weapons of persuasion.

­The Occupy Movement has been going for over half a year by now, but activists are proving that they still have new ideas to fight for their cause. One of these novel approaches is playing songs to the public.

The point is to keep this message in the air in a friendly and inclusive way so that people can say, ‘Oh that Occupy thing that happened a few months ago, I guess it’s not over. I guess it wasn’t just a flash in the pan,’” says Occupella founder Bonnie Lockhart. “It’s participatory and that’s one thing that we made really clear. We said, ‘this isn’t going to be about performing, it’s going to be about getting people to sing.’

Occupella offers a slew of social justice songs and parodies of famous folk songs with Occupy-relevant lyrics. These include “99 per cent of us All,” a parody of “99 bottles of beer;” “Tax the Millionaire,” a spoof of Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”; and “Imagine (You Have Health Care),” a rewritten version of John Lennon’s famous song. The full songbook is available on the group’s website.

“Music has the power to build spirit, foster a sense of unity, convey messages and emotions, spread information, and bring joy to participants and audience alike,” notes the Occupella website.

San Francisco commuters have the opportunity to listen, and to feel this “sense of unity” on their way to and from work. Occupella has been performing at a number of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations.

But public transport isn’t the only venue. Occupella also staged performances at Citibank and Wells Fargo branches in Oakland, aptly singing “Take me out of the big banks,” a parody of the 1908 “Take me out to the ball game” written by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer.

And Occupella isn’t limited to the Bay Area. Anyone is free to join, and the website encourages supporters to start a branch of Occupella in their own communities.

The group was created by a number of veteran songwriters whose musical activism dates back to the 1970s. These include Hali Hammer, Betsy Rose and Nancy Schimmel, as well as Lockhart.
It’s not the first time to use the power of music in the struggle against corporate greed and inequality. Last Christmas, several activists in Boulder, Colorado sang spoof Christmas carols at various banks in the city. That includes singing “O Holy Bailout” at a branch of Chase bank, as on-street performances of “Frosty the Oilman” and “Occupy is Coming to Town.”

And then there’s Occuponics, an inclusive, eclectic and participatory musical collaboration based in New York. They performed “This Park is Your Park!”, a spoof of Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land is Your Land” at Washington Square Park, as well as handful of other songs at various locations throughout New York City.

­Responding to economic and political problems with singing and joking was also used in the UK in 2008. Five hard-up British builders saw an opportunity to form a band, singing their way out of the recession at a building site in London’s Canary Wharf.

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