Thursday I ran across this in Malvina’s autobiography-that-kept-turning-into-a-journal:
March 9, 1976
When the people called me from Pitzer [women’s college in Pomona] for the seminars of Achievement for Women In Careers, they said, “We have a good panel of speakers, but we’d like something smashing to close with, something to make the women move away from this event with a great sense of achievement, so we want you to come and sing.”
I said, “You want these women to walk away from this conference with a feeling of pride in the accomplishments of women, and you’re going to be paying me $50.00 for a $600.00 gig.” You can be sure Shana Alexander wasn’t coming for a $50.00 fee, or a $600.00 one either.
The woman on the phone said, “I’ll see what we can do,” and they came up with $250.00. They had put out too much on other expenses, they said, and were caught short for me.
Well, I had made my point, and the money didn’t matter a lot, so I agreed to come.
’Twas ever thus. In the book I’m reading on the early days of People’s Songs (the late forties) people complain about the progressive movement of that time not valuing music or musicians, and I’ve seen it myself as a member of Freedom Song Network in the San Francisco Bay Area in the last few decades. The civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa knew the power of singing, so maybe I should say “the white progressive movement.”
I went to a meeting yesterday at the First Congregational Church of Oakland (hereinafter referred to as First Congo) organized by people who do understand the power of song. The music didn’t come after endless speeches but right away, and it was a rousing African song—with drumming—that raised energy and set the tone for what followed.
                             Kelly Takunda Orphan, singer,                 songwriter, drummer, and choir director at First Congo
What followed was the founding meeting of the Bay Area manifestation of a new organization called Genesis, a coming together of churches to take action on the problems of racism, poverty, and global warming. Folks from sixteen churches representing six or seven denominations were present, plus guests from the Alameda Central Labor Council, the Unitarian seminary, and several community and environmental organizations. This local group has chosen public transportation as an issue at the crossroads of racism, poverty and global warming. Bus services keep getting cut, services for the poor, the disabled, people of color, and people too young or old to drive, while a disproportionate amount of money is allocated by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to extend Bay Area Rapid Transit to affluent suburbs.
As we entered the sanctuary we had each been given a piece of ribbon about a foot long to write our names on. After a rousing sermon by The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Assistant Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese and the least Episcopalian-sounding preacher I ever heard, we were asked to tie our ribbons to those of our neighbors to make a long streamer that will be taken to an MTC meeting on November 3rd (at 9 a.m. at 1233 Preservation Parkway, corner of 12th and MLK for any East Bay folks reading this). People promising to attend that meeting to demand funding for bus service were asked to stand and be counted. We were also asked to volunteer at get-out-the-vote phone banks. And, of course, to give money to support all this.
My partner sings in the choir at First Congo, and kind of twisted my arm to come because they were afraid they’d get a poor turnout, what with people being busy with the election. In fact there was a very good showing and I needn’t have come—but I’m glad I did.
Genesis is a project of the Gamaliel Foundation. From their website: “The mission of Gamaliel Foundation is to assist local community leaders to create, maintain and expand independent, grassroots, and powerful faith-based community organizations so that ordinary people can impact the political, social, economic, and environmental decisions that affect their lives; to provide these organizations with leadership training programs, consultation, research and analysis on social justice issues;  to be a network for mutual learning environments and working coalitions.”
©2008 by Nancy Schimmel
Monday, October 27, 2008
Logo of the First Congregational Church of Oakland.