Name: Bonnie Lockhart
Current Gig: Co-founder of Occupella, an informal singing group that fights for truth, justice and the (anti-corporate) American through music at protests, marches, demonstrations and occupations all across the Bay Area.
Neighborhood: All the Occupella organizers live in Oakland or Berkeley.
Years In The Bay Area: Occupella was founded last October.
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How did Occupella start? After Occupy Oakland looked like it was going to get raided [last year], a group of us who wanted get involved met up and decided that we were interested in adding music. I gathered some musical friends of mine and we started going to occupations and demonstrations.
We sent emails out to hundreds of people to come join us. We wanted people to get the idea that what we're doing isn't really a performance; it's more about people just getting together and singing.
How do you select your songs? We wanted songs that people could sing, ones they already knew the melodies to, and then we'd zip in our own words to them. "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" became "Take Me Out Of The Big Banks."
Where do you normally perform? We don't perform. It's a funny distinction to make, I know, but it's mainly about participation. That's really the whole message Occupy--it's very democratic. We normally do things about 2.3 times per week (laughs). During the winter, we held weekly events at BART stations and got a really good reaction. Now that the weather's nicer, we go to the weekly "Tax The Rich" rally in front of the banks on Solano Avenue in Berkeley.
What drew you to BART stations? Betsy Rose started a regular "Singing for Peace" event at BART stations around the beginning of the Iraq War, which we partially modeled Occupella on. BART stations are fun because of all the natural amplification they provide. They're also sheltered from the elements and they're crowded--so you're exposed to a lot of people.
Have you ever gotten much of a negative reaction? Not with any regularity. Sometimes there are people who are either drunk or intoxicated. People in pretty bad shape, who are drawn to the energy of it but are unable to constructively participate. That's something that Occupy itself found out too--the strong needs of people who live on the street.
It's funny, we put out song books in a basket so people can walk up and join in, but at BART stations people often throw money in the basket because this is America and sometimes money is the only way people know how to show their support.
There are a lot of different ways to participate in activism. Why did you choose to do it though music? That question makes me think of a Thelonious Monk quote, "Jazz is about freedom." That experience of freedom, it's why music is used in religion and politics so often. Music is deep and it's powerful and the changes we need to make are deep so we need to be powerful. Music has an experience of joy to it. That's why we do what we do as activists; we believe that life should be joyful. As oppressive as any political system is, there's always still going to be joy.
What would you say is the biggest success of the Occupy movement? Changing the conversation. People are actually talking about class now and they're doing it on mainstream TV--the idea that there's a working class and there's a class war that wasn't started by people being foreclosed on, it was started by the people doing the foreclosing. People are out there talking about that now.
What do you think the future holds for Occupy? No one knows where the movement is going, but building alternatives to the capitalist structure is important. We need to envision different ways of organizing ourselves collectively. All of the Occupella folks wanted to do something like this during the Bush years but didn't have the organization. Now, we can be a force to help people getting the shaft--people getting foreclosed on, people being laid off, people who need a helping hand. Ultimately, we're building a movement that will evolve and find a new way to organize our economy.
Check out this slideshow of Occupella performances:
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