No Revolution without Songs: The Sing in Solidarity Chorus

Singing in support of abortion rights, March 2019

By Liz V

“No Hay Revolución Sin Canciones:” There is No Revolution without Songs. These words (popularized in the Chilean socialist movement of the 1970s) are the beating heart behind Sing in Solidarity, the open-to-all chorus affiliated with NYC-DSA. Founded in early 2018 by members of NYC-DSA, including Dana Steer, Ben Bath, and Annie Levin, the mission was to use music as a tool to build solidarity and community. The question was: would there would be enough interest in a socialist chorus to sustain it? (No other national chapter has one.) But the first rehearsal drew over 45 people, and the chorus now has members from four boroughs, New Jersey, Long Island, and from even further afield upstate. 

The chorus has a wide-ranging approach to creating a revolution through song: whether leading rollicking protest songs while marching in the streets or organizing concerts at bars across the boroughs to fundraise for worthy leftist organizations, no opportunity for spreading the message of socialism is too big or too small. Past actions have included leading songs in the streets at the Queer Liberation march, assisting with fundraising for May Day events, and collaborating with NYC for Abortion Rights at a speak-out and sing-out at Washington Square Park. Last December, there was a very successful Music Night at DSA-favorite Starr Bar in collaboration with the Immigrant Justice Working Group, featuring a diverse program of song, poetry, and Puerto Rican drum bands. A small contingent participated at an event hosted by the People’s Puppets of Occupy Wall Street, performing No Pasarán to an audience of families, artists, and radicals. Sing in Solidarity also led a crowd of hundreds in a rousing rendition of Solidarity Forever at the January 2018 inauguration of State Senator Julia Salazar. 

Since a revolution must be open to all, absolutely no singing or sight-reading experience is required to join. Rehearsals are run collaboratively, with a loose leadership structure: anyone is welcome to lead a song, to offer up a new vocal warm-up technique, or to suggest new songs to add to the roster (and after most rehearsals, a contingent of singers heads to a nearby bar for continued conversation and camaraderie). Since socialism knows no national boundaries, the songbook is international in flavor. There are songs in Spanish from the New Chilean Song movement, songs in German from the anti-fascists of the 1930s, songs in Portuguese from the Carnation Revolution, and songs of the South African struggle against apartheid. And of course, the songbook contains Solidarity Forever,The Internationale and Bread and Roses: classics of the genre. 

The chorus acts as a reminder that there can and should be joy in a social movement, not just struggle. Uplifting our voices in song is not a distraction; it contributes to the movement and is in itself a powerful weapon against fascism and oppression. It is a useful recruiting tool to bring new people into the movement: people who don’t have experience in organizing or participation in DSA may be drawn to the vibrant community. It is a warm and welcoming environment that combines activism with art, and creates deeper connections between comrades that encourages networking between those in different working branches, disparate neighborhoods, and differing areas of activism. The weekly radio show Revolutions per Minute featured Sing in Solidarity on their program, furthering the reach of the chorus and bringing in new members.

The chorus’s next event is an August 9th benefit concert for the Charlottesville Community Resilience Fund: ¡No Pasarán! An Anti-Fascist Song Convergence. Come out to meet the chorus members, activist musicians, artists, and organizers. And all are welcome at the next rehearsal on August 1st: see more details here. Creating music together makes our revolution stronger. 

Liz V is a member of the Sing in Solidarity chorus.

About Rebecca Capua 117 Articles
Red Letter spotlights editor, former MWG OC