A longer post than most, in honor of Gay Pride Month. More posts to follow. ENJOY!
Back in March I posted Feminist Songs Celebrating Powerful Women. Many in this documentary were featured in that one. What was omitted I found here, about the beginning of the women’s movement. It began as a “Lesbian” music festival in Michigan by organizer Holly Near. The festival began in 1976, with the final festival in 2015, because of their policy of admitting only “womyn-born womyn” and excluding transgender women led LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Michigan to boycott the event in 2014 and drew criticism from the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National LGBTQ Task Force. The festival held its final event in August 2015. However, there is/was an event planned for this year, 2020.
This derailed the movement for a couple of years and they since have reorganized and moved to a new location, still in Michigan, and have made policy changes, but it is still a womyn only festival. This has led to some performers being shunned if they participate. But they have clearly defined the reasons the policy remains. Exclusions of any kind need to be examined.
At the beginning of the women’s movement, women sang in protest to get the vote. In 1920 the 19th amendment was passed and white women were allowed to cast their votes for the first time. However, dedicated to educating and inspiring citizens to ratify the ERA, which was written by equal rights activist Alice Paul in 1923, it still had not been ratified by the 38 states required to make it law. But it wasn’t until activists again took up the cause and in 1972 Congress passed and ratified the ERA and black women were added to the voting register. Women such as Bessie Smith and Sister Rosetta Tharp sang and played the blues. The new wave of men and women helped push the discussion forward through song. This documentary showcases many of them, some I featured in my March blog of Feminist Songs Celebrating Powerful Women. Holly Near is someone I know little about. The documentary gave her credit for being a formidable lead in the women’s movement of the 60’s. See below for Holly’s story.
During this time they had an formidable critic in Phyllis Schlafly, an evangelical anti-feminist activist, who fed into her followers fears of what would come. If you have seen the Hulu/FX show Mrs. America, staring Cate Blanchet, you know of her. In Mrs. America, we get a backstage pass to the drama that unfolded in the 1970s, when Schlafly, a self-proclaimed Illinois housewife with expertise in national defense, pivoted her political mission to defeat the ERA. She believed “equality” was a step down for women, that it would strip them of their privileges (such as alimony, child support, and protection from drafting for combat duty – something women fought for, and which has brought accountability to the troops actions), that gay men and women would be given “the same dignity as husbands and wives,” and that a woman’s most important roles were wife and mother. Any suggestion otherwise was an insult to housewives and stay-at-home mothers everywhere, according to her. She is someone who inspired me to change this narrative!
Her efforts kept it from ratifying by not getting the required 38 states needed to ratify it, until 2017, when after years in limbo, a Nevada Democrat coaxed his state to ratify it. 2018 saw Illinois do the same, with Virginia becoming the 38th State to finally get it passed in January 2020, finally after nearly 100 years! There remains much controversy over its ratification. This is what it can provide: guaranteed pay equity, paid paternity leave (in addition to maternity leave), state intervention in domestic violence and sexual harassment cases, protection against discrimination for pregnant mothers, depending on changing definitions of sex, the amendment could further the cause for protections against discrimination for LGBTQ communities. It wasn’t until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that women of color finally were given the right to vote.
After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, African-American women, particularly those inhabiting Southern states, still faced a number of barriers. At first, African-American women in the North were easily able to register to vote, and quite a few became actively involved in politics. One such woman was Annie Simms Banks who was chosen to serve as a delegate to Kentucky’s Republican Party convention in March 1920. White southerners took notice of African-American female activists organizing themselves for suffrage, and after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, African-American women’s voter registration in Florida was higher than white women’s. African-American women were targeted by a number of disenfranchisement methods. These included having to wait in line for up to twelve hours to register to vote,[when?] pay head taxes[clarification needed], and undergo new tests.[when?] One of the new tests required that African-American women read and interpret the Constitution before being deemed eligible to vote. In the South, African-American women faced the most severe obstacles to voting. These obstacles included bodily harm and fabricated charges designed to land them in jail if they attempted to vote. This treatment of African-American women in the South continued up until the 1960s.
SHOW UP AS IF YOUR LIFE DEPENDED ON IT!
Holly Near; The documentary gave her credit for being a formidable lead in the women’s movement of the 60’s. Holly Near was born in Ukiah, California, in 1949 and was raised on a ranch in Potter Valley, California. She was eight years old when she first performed publicly, and she auditioned for Columbia Records when she was ten. She sang in all the high school musicals, talent shows and often was invited by local service groups to sing at their gatherings. Groups like the Soroptimist Club, Lions Club, and Garden Club. Her senior year she played Eliza Doolittle in Ukiah High School production of My Fair Lady. In the summer Holly attended performing arts camps such as Perry-Mansfield in Colorado and Ramblerny Performing Arts where she studied with jazz musicians Phil and Chan Woods and modern dancer/choreographer Joyce Trisler.
In 1970, Near was a cast member of the Broadway musical Hair. Following the Kent State shootings in May of that year, the entire cast staged a silent vigil in protest. The song, “It Could Have Been Me” (which was released on A Live Album, 1974), was her heartfelt response to the shootings. In 1971, she joined the FTA (Free The Army) Tour, an anti-Vietnam War road show of music, comedy, and plays that performed for soldiers, many of whom were resisting war and racism from within the military. The tour was organized by antiwar activist Fred Gardner and actors Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. Near was only 21 and the youngest member of the troupe. Her song “It Could Have Been Me” has become new again with the increase of police shootings against black and brown skinned peoples.
Her song “Singing For Our Lives” appears in Singing the Living Tradition, the official hymnal of the Unitarian Universalist Association, under the title “We Are A Gentle, Angry People” (Hymn #170). The hymn was also performed by Quaker Friends in an episode of the TV series Six Feet Under. In 2015, the same song, credited as “Singing For Our Lives” appeared in the Australian independent film The Lives We Lead, alongside its theme song “I Am Willing”, another rousing Near-penned protest song. In 2018, Near released a new recording titled 2018, reflecting on issues including the environment, aging, domestic violence and the unresolved storm damage in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria. In October 2018, a PBS American Masters documentary film titled Holly Near: Singing For Our Lives made by award-winning director Jim Brown premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival, detailing Near’s life and work.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=johabhyURIw “We Are A Gentle, Angry People”, Holly has a sweet easy voice!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CadP4dRemYk “It Could Have Been Me”
I do hope you watch this fabulous documentary Rise Up: Songs of the Women’s Movement. It’s brought us to this moment in time when all eyes are on ERA and what it means today, after it passed in January 2020, finally after nearly 100 years! Because of the continued fight for rights, it is why songs heal and gives us hope, and why we still march. Their movement is about human rights, equal rights for all….and SHOWING UP.