THE BLOG
11/14/2014 11:10 am ET Updated Jan 14, 2015

We Are a Gentle, Loving People Singing for Our Lives

Fascinating how past and present political movements merge when we cast our votes on Election Day. We just had such a day. Events, large and small, became history.

The really big winner may have found its focus on Sheila Kuehl, who won a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, a jewel in the crown. In fact, Kuehl has broken through and established a new political source of power that could last for many years, captured explicitly in her triumphant TV and print ads: "Our local firefighters, deputy sheriffs and political officers, classroom teachers, nurses, lifeguards and county prosecutors all support Sheila Kuehl."

I voted for her. Indeed, her election brought up exciting and challenging images of the past. In June 1991, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors met in their downtown building. They had not provided adequate funds and services to deal with the AIDS crisis. This despite the fact that more lives were threatened, especially in African American and Hispanic communities.

So the Los Angeles Coalition for Compassion issued a request to clergy to engage in a publicly prayerful "kneel-in" -- an action of civil disobedience at a supervisors' meeting. On the morning of June 12, seven people, who were prepared to be arrested, read a prayer. It said, in part, "We pray these supervisors may be moved this day to hear the cries of the 112,000 persons with HIV disease whose lives are in their hands."

One of the supervisors reacted with anger and said, "This demonstration must end." Then Supervisor Kenneth Hahn replied, "This isn't a demonstration. It is a prayer."

Those of us who would be placed under arrest began singing Holly Near's classic piece of music, "Singing for Our Lives." One by one, we were placed under arrest and taken away to jail. As our song diminished, so did our presence in the room with the supervisors. Our inspiration to express ourselves in this way went back to Poulenc's contemporary opera, "Dialogue of the Carmelites," in which contemporary nuns sing to express their faith under the shadow of the Nazi tyranny that would shortly take their lives.

This was on my mind during my incarceration in jail, including the four hours when I was chained to a bench while also handcuffed to another prisoner. Holly Near's words and music were a continuing source of spiritual strength. "We are a gentle, loving people and we are singing for our lives."

Singing For Our Lives
By Holly Near

We are a gentle, angry people
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a justice-seeking people
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are young and old together
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a land of many colors
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are gay and straight together
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a gentle, loving people
and we are singing, singing for our lives