Soli Garzon (she/her)
Stumbling into the tiny building labelled, “The Social Justice Center”, in wonky all-capital letters, I was instantly greeted with smiles from a few of the volunteers for this Poor People’s Campaign’s New York State Capital Region meeting. Shortly after we took our seats, a man walked over to stand at the front of the group. The man introduced himself as Joe and asked the group to stand with him. The Poor People’s Campaign, he explained, has a tradition of starting off their gatherings by singing together.
“I’m going to teach you one of the songs we like to sing,” he said, “Once you get the hang of it, you can jump in and sing along”. Joe breathed in some air, opened his mouth, and began to sing with a sureness that seized the small space:
“Everybody’s got a right to live. Everybody’s got a right to live. And before this campaign fails, we’ll all go down to jail, because everybody’s got a right to live”. As he completed the first round of the song, more voices began to pile on. At first people joined somewhat hesitantly, but as the song continued, the voices gradually stabilized with certainty. As we sang, what was at first an unfamiliar space containing seemingly unrelated individuals, began to transform into a cohesive organism. This organism was embodied by the single, yet sturdy, voice that exploded in the tiny building, glowing with smiles, claps and stomps. As the song progressed, the group swapped out the word “live” with other words, such as “love” and “vote”. After some time, Joe signaled to the group that we had reached the final round of the song. We clung on to that last note for as long as we could, puffing out air from our bellies hard and buzzing our teeth into our lips to stress the “v” in “live”, making sure our last sound represented the beauty and power of the moment we had just shared with one another. The energy we cultivated through our voices remained in and filled our bodies as we became silent and returned to our seats, its vibrations bouncing off the walls and making the room hum. There was a mutual understanding of the immensity of what had just happened. Through this collective act, we acknowledged and appreciated the fact that we are interconnected in ways that transcend geographic lines and individual life experiences.