At fifteen years old, Harriet Jerusha Korim first took her music and art to the streets of Washington, DC, joined by thousands of students demonstrating for nuclear disarmament before the Cuban missile crisis. She remembers arriving at dawn to find President Kennedy’s administration had set out coffee and snacks for the marchers. Sixty-two years later, she has curated an extraordinary collection of art from decades of protests, sit-ins, rallies, and marches for an exhibition at Preservation Hall Gallery in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. The artwork, with roots from all over the world, speaks loudly (and quietly) that it’s time to pay attention to climate change, racism, senseless wars, loss of reproductive rights, and injustice in the workplace. And don’t worry if you can’t see the art in person, the exhibit just went global online at artpeacemakers.org. (see the link to the Revolutionary Exhibition Catalogue).
For sixty-two years, protesting was not just a catharsis for Korim. It has been a lifelong call to action with the purpose of creating change and encouraging others to become activists.
The Civil Rights struggle was a great awakening and inspiration, even for middle-class white kids in the North. We were thrilled by freedom songs that were more than a soundtrack for the movement; they were the heart and soul and a key survival tool for that movement. I answered a call to design and print silk-screen posters for SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). We were city kids who rode the T subway to Boston and across the river to Cambridge to hear Seeger, Baez, Dylan and dozens more. We carried our guitars in cardboard cases and made our own music. For teenagers, love songs are also songs of rebellion. I was a teenager when the Vietnam War shit hit the fan.
The intensity of public outcry over the Israel-Gaza war has reached a decibel level of protest not heard for decades. In cities around the world, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets in support of Palestine, while last Sunday, an estimated 50,000 people (Reuters) marched in London against antisemitism, all of which is playing out live on social media in real-time. Last Saturday in Italy, tens of thousands of people rallied in the streets on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women triggered by the death of a 22-year-old university student who was murdered by her boyfriend.
Back during the Vietnam War protests, long before the internet was born, the old-fashioned telephone and word of mouth fueled grassroots organizing. And while grassroots activism is still a force, big money is also a player. The People’s Forum based in midtown Manhattan NYC has helped organize demonstrations since October 7 with a $20.4 million dollars contribution from tech entrepreneur Roy Neville Singham and his wife Jodie Evans of CODEPINK, a “feminist grassroots organization working to end U.S. warfare and imperialism that supports peace and human rights initiatives”, according to the CODEPINK mission statement.
In the 1980s Korim helped launch The Peacemakers Collective – a community-based group of artists in Massachusetts who will advocate for peace and social change through an upcoming art exhibit and march on Martin Luther King’s birthday.
The drumbeat of protesting has definitely gotten louder, and it is the hope of Korim and the Peacemaker artists that we avoid getting caught up in counter-productive rants or violent protests. Instead, Korim believes that a “subtler emotional connection that ultimately inspires us to learn more and take action” emerges through powerful art. As Roger Payne (the biologist who launched the movement to save whales) said,
The heart changes the mind.
Real life experience, compelling stories, music, imagery, theater, movies…all of these, especially when communicated truthfully and artfully, can deeply touch our hearts, open our minds and move us to change. And when we connect with others to share resources, collaborate, sing and walk and stand together, the impact is multiplied exponentially. – Korim
May the exponentially multiplied impact galvanize our world leaders to find a peaceful solution to this crisis in the Middle East. Amen.
Cover art: To Bring An End To The State Of War by Mary Spencer Nay
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