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Playing for Change: A Personal Blog Post

August 12, 2010

By Wendy Kobylarz

A year or two ago my mom sent me a link to Playing for Change’s first video, musicians from around the world playing and singing Stand by Me. I think mostly they’re street musicians, though some are probably professionals.

I sat and watched it and cried. Music and hope can be so powerful, and really I’m not that tough. 😉 Even if I am the vegan police.

After opening an email from them this morning I thought hmmm, I haven’t seen one of their videos in ages, so I went along to YouTube and looked some up. I’ve pretty much been playing them all morning, tears just dripping from my eyes. I listened to One Love, then Stand by Me then went on to Change is Gonna Come. When the video opened, it was titled to show it had been filmed at some kind of leadership conference at Starbucks. At where!? Sponsored by what!?

So I immediately had to post to Facebook. What I wrote is pretty long, but I will repeat it in this note in case you missed it.

I find myself constantly engaged in a struggle between good and evil, or variations thereof: wanting, wanting, wanting to believe in goodness (really) and finding a reality that slams into me like a mountain of brick-hard shit. Nice image, right? Specifically: politics and hope, hope and politics.

More specifically: Playing for Change. I LOVE it. I check out their YouTube stuff, go to the song Change is Gonna Come — and it’s being presented by Starbucks. 😦

Most of us, I know, compromise our ethics to some extent, and this world isn’t perfect, but the very corporations that “promise” change, or donate money to help (Chase Manhattan and Pepsi giving are all over FB) are the precise corporations that are responsible for continuing massive trouble for millions of people, billions of animals and the planet we all share. I get confused!

Yes, I want that shelter to have money. Yes, I want Playing for Change to be able to build music schools for kids. No, I don’t want to support the corporations that do this because the money they spend on it is chump change (and who are the chumps?) to them, but the PR couldn’t be better for them if they hired the most expensive PR firm in the world.

This is not a rant, this is confusion. You may tell me: nothing’s perfect. I know that. But how do we bring on real lasting change, people-powered change, through promoting corporate America, corporate Europe?

Am I expecting too much? And if I am, why is it too much? Is it that whatever our scope of activism is, if it doesn’t encompass, um, pretty much everything, it’s too narrow? Can you separate animal rights from corporate takeovers from water rights from poverty from human overpopulation from endangered species from women’s rights from religious freedom (meaning no religion too) from food rights from indigenous rights from queer rights from the peace movement from street riots from environmental activism from freedom from advertising from the medical pharmaceutical complex? I don’t see how. A person may choose to focus on one area — indeed these are all so big it’s hard to focus on more than one — but should we ignore some of the other issues in order to create “success” in one area, and if so, what does that success look like, and who do we hurt to achieve it?

I’m good at expressing myself this way, but I am not good at solutions.

And I am confused.


* * *

Repeated looks at the Playing for Change videos have shown me a couple more bothersome things. One, that I am ignorant of the geography of other places. That’s not a nice thing to have to admit, but there you have it. I didn’t realize the Democratic Republic of Congo is on the ocean and that the whole thing is not jungle and that parts of it are just gorgeous. But why wouldn’t it be? The Earth is pretty much gorgeous, except where desecrated by mankind.

Two, that Playing for Change is, like the majority of the world, male-centered and dominated. Of my three favorite videos, only one (the shortest) features fronting of any length by a woman, a singer (Tula, from Israel). There are very few female musicians (two sitar players from India, one singer/drum player from South Africa and one drum player from Ireland [and she only appears once, I think, in one video. Her drumming would be, I guess, the drumming of native Irish music. It is not a big rock ‘n’ roll drum set]), and several female singers/groups.

I would like to be clear here: I am not opposed to the men in this video. I have to like them for just wanting to be part of this. They look like nice people, good people. But the presence of women soloists is very limited. They are, as usual, primarily backup.

Part of me wonders: does it matter? They found musicians who work well.

Well, yes, it does matter. Women are so universally mistreated, underrepresented and abused at the hands of men. I recall reading something on FB about a young woman who is being executed in Iran, I think, for engaging in oral sex with men. She’s being killed for committing unchaste acts. The men who got the good deal? They get to live.

So I continue to wonder how change is defined, and by whom? The white male musician who started this project? Or men in general? Granted, as the privileged parties here, men must change the most to effect real change, just like whites must, because anyone in a position of privilege has that responsibility. But because they are the ones who must change where male-female relationships are concerned, should they get to define what change means? I don’t think so. We need the kind of change that comes from listening to those who are routinely voiceless, or whose voices are whispers easily overridden by common privileged interests.

I can’t help listening to War/No More Trouble and even as I know it’s an older song, thinking how the racism referred to as being the major obstacle to the ending of war completely leaves gender out of it. The song is sung mainly by men; it is quite likely many of them advocate for women’s equality, but it is sadly just as possible they do not (similar to progressives who do not advocate for other species).

It is possible, I suppose, that some female musicians were approached and declined, but I’m more inclined to think that a street musician would not turn down an opportunity like this.

Some people may say that I’m never satisfied, that I pick out problems. I don’t go looking for the problems, but I can’t help seeing what needs fixing. I don’t need to look very deep to see what’s wrong; issues of animal abuse and women’s rights are pretty glaring to me, so where someone else may not notice something I tend to bump right into it.

I realize I have what some may say is a tendency to see the dark side of things, the negatives about every positive and it bothers me because there is truth to that. I still think it goes a little deeper, though; that if social justice issues were lines in the sand on the beach and the line with ocean is the last line you could draw, encompassing rights even for trees and mountains and rivers, I’d be very, very close to that line. Not quite there, but almost. I don’t say this to brag, though I am kind of proud of it, but to explain perhaps how easy it is to see what’s wrong when your vision of justice includes everything and everyone (with perhaps some work done to accept that certain people [vivisectors, hunters, etc] are deserving of rights) — when your vision includes this it is very hard to not look at almost everything and find something that needs fixing. Or, if not fixing, then at least pointing out. Because real change rarely happens in silence (I believe there’s a whole other story there on meditation and the power of the mind to change the world, but I am less than a novice about that and can’t speak to it properly).

In case you want to see one of the videos:

Despite everything, it is wonderful.

Now, imagine a Playing for Change featuring lesbian musicians interspersed with animal rescue and rehabilitation. That, my friends, would be like the best thing I could imagine watching. I think even better than Judge Judy! Does anyone know how to make a film? 😉


2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2010 6:27 am

    How did they do that! meld all these musicians into one song/video? Impressive, thanks for sharing that.

    I relate to your words well. All I can add is that change does happen slowly, but is never black & white. For example, animal cruelty laws get passed and the public majority feels satisfied. But those of us who know better still see it happening; still see the immense challenges of ENFORCING it. But while we beat our heads on that wall, elsewhere many animals are saved, protected and living a better life because of the monumental efforts made by a small population that fought hard.

    Velma Johnson (aka Wild Horse Annie). I ponder: Is she rolling in her grave about what the BLM is (again) doing to our mustangs? Or is she smiling because SO many are fighting so hard to stand up for them (something she began and really had to fight for – without the intranet!).

    Every battle being fought is part of the war, but is also part of the exponential web of our world. We are connected both by the horrors and the joys, the losses and the wins. No one is truly excluded, no matter how intense their activist focus is, or even how distanced they think they live from issues. In the end as they say, you can run, but you can’t hide.

    The wheel was invented, but is always being improved on still today, right?

    Because of our inherent diversity, we choose diverse causes. Imagine if we didn’t? Yet, if we attempt too many we would be like that Jack-of-all-trades, Master of none 😉

    I believe we are most effective when we keep our goal in focus but realize the web strands closest to our passion also matter. For example, my focus is wildlife abuse. For me to ignore farm animal or puppy mill abuses is foolish, because in the web, they are closely connected. Abuse issues on the other side of the world are also connected, but easier to think they are not if I don’t remember the conscience of animals has NO boundaries. If we expect black & white change with no gray, we are not being fair to anyone or anything, and we will simply burn-out.

    Our efforts, like Velma’s, leave a clearer path for those behind us to follow.


  2. August 27, 2013 10:48 pm

    Great and nice blogs. It’s also very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing this kinds of blog.

    Please visit my website: The Inner compass®


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