Singing can be one of the most effective methods of nonviolent protests. Music is easily shareable and mass groups of protesters singing a tune can be quickly and easily organized.
The earliest recorded uses of singing as a means of nonviolent protest date back to the late 1830s when slaves in Trinidad protested England’s plan to wait six years before freeing them. They assembled in a square near the main government hall and began singing and screaming “Not six years!” In 1838 Cherokee Indians protesting their relocation to previously unsettled lands in the West refused to move and began a week-long protest that involved singing native American songs. That protest was eventually broken and led to what is called the “trails of tears.”
Protest singing has continued to be a huge factor in nonviolent protests in the United States. During the 20th century singing was often used during civil rights demonstrations as a way to stir the crowds and drown out jeers from opponents. These songs were often gospel-based songs that were adopted from more traditional songs that were sung every week in church.
During the 1960s protest singing came into its own throughout the world. In Europe nonviolent protesting of communism and economic injustice was often accompanied by song. It was used by protesters of all ages and it was a prime reason why anti-communist protests in Poland eventually freed the country in the 1980s.
In the United States nonviolent protest were accompanied not just by the singing of traditional protest tunes by by protest songs created by well-known musicians. From anti-Vietnam War protests songs such as “Give Peace A Chance” to tunes like the anti-National Guard “Ohio,” singing was an integral part of any protest.
That tradition continues today as the “Occupy” protests that have taken place around the world have used music as a way to draw attention to their nonviolent causes. The biggest difference between today and previous protests is that there has not been a great deal of writing of new music. Today’s protesters are typically singing slightly-reworked versions of popular 1960s songs written by musicians such as Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger.
Continue reading the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.