Readings and songs for a Trump presidency
November 13, 2016 7:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for relatively short readings, quotes, songs, poems, etc that can be read at activist gatherings to create a sense of urgency, resolve and/or hope.

I'm hosting day-long weekly meetings for activists in my circle of friends. We're in this for the long haul, and I want to keep feelings of helplessness at bay. One of my ideas to this end is to start and/or end every meeting with a reading. That's where you come in.

I want to keep these relatively short - as short as a couple sentences, but no more than three or four pages. Topic-specific readings, for instance on climate change, immigration, religious freedom, resisting authoritarianism etc are good as are more general suggestions. Explicitly political stuff is great but don't limit your suggestions to the political. We're an eclectic bunch so source doesn't matter: religious tome, presidential speech, tv show, obscure band, soap label, it's all good.
posted by galaxy rise to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This is what I'm listening to as I see your question:
Om Trayambakam
It's a bit "out there" for your question, but I find it quite powerful. Get your whole group to sing it before the meeting and who knows what might happen.
Protection from fear of death is pretty relevant to a lot of people right now.
posted by crazylegs at 7:56 PM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The first time in my life I heard this poem, it was September 13th, 2001, and was lying in my loft bed in the Lower East Side within sight of the pillar of smoke from Ground Zero listening to Scott Simon read it on NPR's "Morning Edition".

by W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 PM on November 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

I've also been reading my copy of this poetry collection a lot now. Gwendolyn Brook's "Speech to the Young, Speech to the Progress-Toward" is in there, and is another good one.

As for songs - how about Tom Waits?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 PM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking of this one lately by Hannah Szenes:

Blessed is the match consumed in the kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the heart's secret places.
Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor's sake.
Blessed is the match consumed in the kindling flame
posted by Toddles at 8:13 PM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The reason that I'm not a nihilist
Is some day I wanna live like in Star Trek
And I know that we'll never build starships
Until we tackle poverty, war, and hardship

So we fight overnight and over lifetimes
Organize for that warp drive
And of course I realize
That we're a long way from it
But what better reason to start runnin'?

Cause if you're gonna do the work then it's gotta be honest
Because the best of us have all already been forgotten
And if you're in it for the recognition
I hate to disappoint but if you do it right you'll never get it

Yo, we don't remember the farmer
We remember the fruit
We don't remember the inventor
We remember the boom
The impact through the eons
So I know what side of history I wanna be on

I got a lot of ancestors on my side
Got a ancestor took an arrow to the chest and survived
I got an ancestor who cheated and lied
I got an ancestor who taught her children how to fight

So much spirit in my corner
Can't help but color outside every border
To every ancestor who kept my song alive
I swear on your unmarked graves
I will sing it 'til I die
Sifu Hotman / "Matches"
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:36 PM on November 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've heard that Lin-Manuel Miranda's love sonnet from the Tony Awards has been used at protests. I think it's beautiful, though not every part applies.

My wife’s the reason anything gets done
She nudges me towards promise by degrees
She is a perfect symphony of one
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:42 PM on November 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

I unexpectedly heard Peter Gabriel's "Digging in the Dirt" on a bike ride to day and it seemed really apt for the moment we're in.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:22 PM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is my all-time favorite poem:

Kids Who Die by Langston Hughes

This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
As always,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.

Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Organizing sharecroppers
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Organizing workers
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.

Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together

Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies’ll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht
But the day will come—
You are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.
posted by decathecting at 10:53 PM on November 13, 2016 [11 favorites]

Powerful stuff, decathecting. Reminds me of Jonathon Kozol's work. Actually, any of Kozol's books would be a good companion to this ...
posted by Ostara at 10:56 PM on November 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

Pastor Martin Niemöller
posted by runincircles at 2:47 AM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

“Ain't Got No/i Got Life

I ain't got no home, ain't got no shoes
Ain't got no money, ain't got no class
Ain't got no skirts, ain't got no sweater
Ain't got no perfume, ain't got no beer
Ain't got no man

Ain't got no mother, ain't got no culture
Ain't got no friends, ain't got no schooling
Ain't got no love, ain't got no name
Ain't got no ticket, ain't got no token
Ain't got no God

Then what have I got
Why am I alive anyway?
Yeah, what have I got
Nobody can take away

Got my hair, got my head
Got my brains, got my ears
Got my eyes, got my nose
Got my mouth, I got my smile

I got my tongue, got my chin
Got my neck, got my boobs
Got my heart, got my soul
Got my back, I got my sex

I got my arms, got my hands
Got my fingers, got my legs
Got my feet, got my toes
Got my liver, got my blood

I've got life
I've got my freedom
I've got life

I've got life
And I'm gonna keep it
I've got life
And nobody's gonna take it away”
― Nina Simone
posted by runincircles at 2:55 AM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's a little bit of a departure from messages of hope (although I feel pretty hopeful when I listen to them!) but there are a lot of really great punk songs that delve into the complicated politics of being an American and simultaneously loving your country and despising what it's capable of. There could be some potential readings in some of those.

"I come from the land of Ben Franklin
Twain and Poe and Walt Whitman
Otis Redding, Ellington,
The country that I love
But it's a land of the slaves and the Ku Klux Klan
Haymarket riot and the Great Depression
Joe McCarthy, Vietnam
The sickest joke I know"
--'Merican by The Descendants

"Who cares about our civil rights
As long as I get paid?
The blind Me-Generation
Doesn't care if life's a lie
so easily used, so proud to enforce
The stars and stripes of corruption
Let's bring it all down!
Tell me who's the real patriots
The Archie Bunker slobs waving flags?
Or the people with the guts to work
For some real change?"
--Stars and Stripes of Corruption by the Dead Kennedys (if you want to go full tilt righteous rage)

This next song is about the UK, but if you swap out all of the explicit Britain references, it is pretty relevant:

"Gimme a country that's red, white and blue
Gimme the British way, honest and true
Gimme the chance to be one of the few
Gimme a nation where people are free
Free to do and free to be
Free to screw you before you screw me
--Fly the Flag by Stiff Little Fingers

...I might be missing the "message of hope" part of this. But man have I been playing these songs on loop a lot lately and feeling just a teensy bit better. Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:08 AM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Somebody Will", a short song that is good for resolve and hope.

Vienna Teng's song "Level Up", similarly.

Via Hillary Rodham's Wellesley commencement speech, the poem "The Art of Making Possible", by Nancy Scheibner.

The very end of "A More Perfect Union", starting "There is one story in particular that I'd like to leave you with today".

Allen Ginsberg's poem "America".
posted by brainwane at 6:12 AM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maggie Smith, Good Bones

Good Bones

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
posted by Aubergine at 10:13 AM on November 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh and how about this? Reasons to Survive November by Tony Hoagland

November like a train wreck–
as if a locomotive made of cold
had hurtled out of Canada
and crashed into a million trees,
flaming the leaves, setting the woods on fire.

The sky is a thick, cold gauze–
but there’s a soup special at the Waffle House downtown,
and the Jack Parsons show is up at the museum,
full of luminous red barns.

–Or maybe I’ll visit beautiful Donna,
the kickboxing queen from Santa Fe,
and roll around in her foldout bed.

I know there are some people out there
who think I am supposed to end up
in a room by myself

with a gun and a bottle full of hate,
a locked door and my slack mouth open
like a disconnected phone.

But I hate those people back
from the core of my donkey soul
and the hatred makes me strong
and my survival is their failure,

and my happiness would kill them
so I shove joy like a knife
into my own heart over and over

and I force myself toward pleasure,
and I love this November life
where I run like a train
deeper and deeper
into the land of my enemies.
posted by Aubergine at 10:15 AM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've found "What Kind of Times Are These" inspiring lately.
posted by torridly at 1:08 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jason Robert Brown's new song, Hope
(player at the bottom of the page)

I come to sing a song about hope.
I’m not inspired much right now, but even so,
I came out here to sing a song. So here I go.
I guess I think
That if I tinker long enough, one might appear.
And look! It’s here.
One verse is done.
The work’s begun.

I come to sing a song about hope.
In spite of everything ridiculous and sad,
Though I’m beyond belief depressed, confused and mad,
Well – I got dressed.
I underestimated how much that would take.
I didn’t break
Until right now.
I sing of hope
And don’t know how.

So maybe I can substitute “strength,”
Because I’m strong.
I’m strong enough.
I got through lots of things I didn’t think I could,
And so did you.
I know that’s true.

And so we sing a song about hope.
Though I can’t guarantee there’s something real behind it,
I have to try to show my daughters I can find it,
And so today –
When life is crazy and impossible to bear –
It must be there.
Fear never wins.
That’s what I hope.
See? I said “hope.”
The work begins.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:29 PM on November 14, 2016

Another Obama speech I think is appropriate.
posted by brainwane at 11:56 AM on November 20, 2016

Poem: "Revenge".
posted by brainwane at 6:48 AM on November 29, 2016

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