Thursday, October 16, 2008

Civics Lessons: From Little Things Big Things Grow

Paul Kelly: From Little Things Big Things Grow


Civic pride has caused our comments to swell with debate; without the glare of the TV lights and a high-polish moderator, things seem to have flared up, both modeling and threatening to overwhelm any chance we might have of returning to a normal state of musical celebration. I take partial responsibility, both for fanning the flames and for "calling" this week's theme without considering how quickly we might turn to the right to protest, and those things protested, as if that was all that civic engagement had to offer us.

But there are as many ways to take up the citizen's mantle as there are moments of change. Voting is a civic task -- mind the voting box to our left. So is writing your congressperson, or co-creating a bill, or running for office yourself.

So is making peace.

In the interest of civility, then -- an etymologically relevant term -- I thought a turn to songs of reconciliation would be appropriate. And there's none better than Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody's co-written history of the Gurindji strike, and how a few brave Black Australian cattlemen and house servants walked off their jobs and, instead of holding out for merely the right to run Casino palaces and cigarette stands in tiny havens throughout the country, staged an eight year sit-in on their own land in order to get it back. The event sparked and focused the Indigenous Australian land rights movement, and the above image shows the end result: Whitlam, the government rep, pouring the land back into the outstretched hand of indigenous activist Vincent Lingiari, and through him, to the culture he represented.

Kelly and Carmody's protest song never charted, but it has become a sort of anthem for change in the land down under since it's release, helped along recently by a new version of the song featuring a cast of thousands and a heavy set of speech fragments from Prime Ministers old and new. Of the many "original" recordings of this song, though Kelly's original is nice and folky, complete with banjo plunks and charm, I much prefer the live version released this year through Kelly's free A-Z downloads project. To further show its strength, here's a pair of other Aussie bands taking a turn on the song: The femmefolk harmonies of The Waifs and the mystical trancejam of Okapi Guitar each bring a new tone to the poignant tale of sitting as change.

The Waifs: From Little Things Big Things Grow [purchase]

Okapi Guitars: From Little Things Big Things Grow [purchase]

We are all tribes, with naught but civility keeping our speech from becoming war. But nations within nations pose a special problem for citizenry, especially vis a vis issues such as loyalty, allegiance, and fairness; here more than elsewhere, in order to keep balance, it falls to the powerful to be generous and good, or in the end they will be forced to act anyway, lest they lose the faith and confidence of the populace. When nations swallow nations whole, and then mistreat them, the best any of us can do is to know where we stand in the law, and walk the walk, and trust that -- as the song says -- if we fall, others are rising. And that's not nothing. From little things, big things grow.

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