But what does it mean?
January 29, 2014 3:26 PM   Subscribe

So, Pete Seeger passed away, and I've seen a few people on social networking sites write "rest in power" when eulogizing. I noticed the people who are writing this are the activisty kinda folk (ultra-left, mostly atheistic). What does it mean? Is it a new phrase amongst these circles?

I Googled it and found it used also in relation to Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, James Brown, Adrienne Rich, Kimani Gray, Alan Blueford, and queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz, mostly on blogs.

I can kind of surmise what it means based on the above-- that the person who's passed had made such a lasting impact that they are still powerful in death, but would like to know definitively, preferably hearing from somebody who's used the phrase.

Just 'cause I like to be up on the lingo.
posted by spicytunaroll to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The earliest reference I can find is in the lyrics to Helicopter by Antwon

Rest in power to my friends, I'll see you tomorrow

I've seen that Snoop Dogg tweeted it when Al Davis died, so it's apparently been a common phrase in rap circles for a bit.
posted by blob at 3:44 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it is a modern phrase. To my knowledge, this phrase was not widely used in the 60s in the hippie / folk music scene.

Social Empowerment was a stated goal of Pete Seeger, and the hippie / folk music scene. That is, getting a better seat at the table for a variety disenfranchised social groups. Seeger clearly had an influence on the civil rights movement for a minorities, women, and homosexuals.

The people using the phrase "Rest in Power" are using this modern phrase to note Seeger's influence in creating social empowerment.
posted by Flood at 4:23 PM on January 29, 2014

Ultra lefty here. It's a counterpoint to rest in peace. He was a rabble rousing agitator, and a giant among us, so we say rest in power - we the people are powerful and we can make change.

It also has an echo of Joe Hill's, Don't mourn, organise.
posted by Mistress at 5:44 PM on January 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

I first saw this phrase used in others' remembrances of a far-left activist friend of mine. The thing that always struck me about this friend was that he fundamentally could not be at "peace" with a world that had so many gross social inequalities and injustices as the one he lived in. Same goes for Pete Seeger. I mean, check out this video of 92-year old Pete Seeger leading Occupy Wall Street protesters in song. That is not the action of somebody who's going to go down peacefully.

People think of peace on some level as the absolute opposite of being violent: still, calm, passive. The people for whom I'd say 'rest in power' may have been non-violent in life, but they were certainly not calm and passive. I'd rather they not be remembered that way in death either.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:25 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sort of lines up with one of Pete's favorite sayings - "Take it easy, but take it."
posted by mikepop at 6:50 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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