Occupella performing at April 29, 2017 Climate Mobilization in Oakland
Occupella performing at April 29, 2017 Climate Mobilization in Oakland

Fighting for System Change by Song

In the belief that every good social justice movement needs song, the women’s singing group Occupella has become a presence at many climate and environmental justice events in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Ecosocialist Songbook is a compilation of songs we have performed and led at rallies, marches, and demonstrations.  Here is the introduction to our 18-page songbook which is free to download and use by clicking here..

Welcome to the Ecosocialist Songbook!
We hope that you’ll add to it and adapt it to the work in your communities and organizations. Feel free to reproduce it, copy a song or two for an action, or send it on to anyone who might need it.

These lyrics were compiled, adapted and penned by members of Occupella: Betsy Rose, Bonnie Lockhart, Hali Hammer, Leslie Hassberg, Marcie Boyd and Nancy Schimmel. We came together in the whirlwind of the Occupy Movement. We’d all known of each other through decades of Antiwar, Union Solidarity, Feminist, and LGBT cultural work in groups such as The Freedom Song Network, The Children’s Music Network, The Red Star Singers, Singing for Peace, The Choral Majority, and People’s Music Network. We felt excited by Occupy and its potential to grow the better world we know is possible. And we knew that music—not only commercially distributed songs with their hearts in the right place, but participatory, community-made, culturally transformative music—must accompany the political and economic changes Occupy brought to light. And so, we set about bringing that kind of communal singing to public events.

As the moment of Occupy passed, the relationships and movements it spawned developed and grew. Occupella found ourselves singing more than ever, and among the most compelling projects we supported were Climate and Environmental Justice events. This Ecosocialist Songbook is a collection of some of our favorite pieces from that work.

Although we are all songwriters, nearly all the songs we use, and all of those included here, are updates and rewrites of old songs, traditional songs, and popular songs. We want people to sing! And we’ve found that using a tune that’s at least somewhat familiar to at least some of the people improves the odds of folks opening up their mouths and letting it rip.

We’ve included some songs specific to our local Bay Area and California state campaigns—among them, Bye Bye Coal and Gee, Governor Jerry. We hope these will inspire you to write and sing about what’s up in your area. Most of the songs, more’s the pity, apply almost anywhere. 

The genius of the improvised lyric, so prevalent in African American traditional song, as well as in many world folk traditions, is particularly well suited to the kind of full out, up-to-date singing we need. It was probably Pete Seeger who coined the term ”Zipper Songs”—zip in a new word or two to create a verse to fit the moment.  You’ll find some of those here. We encourage you to adapt them to your events.

Please contact us and let us know how you’re integrating singing into your ecosociaist work. Send us a video, or lyrics of a song you’ve used in your project. Visit us at www.Occupella.com to find more songs on economic, racial, and gender justice. Or find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Occupella-223145394427604/
Let’s keep on singing and supporting the work of ecosocialists everywhere. Who knows, with a little luck and a lot of mind and muscle, we just might make some of these songs obsolete!

Bonnie Lockhart is a member of Bay Area System Change Not Climate Change, Democratic Socialists of America Climate and Environmental Justice Working Group, No Coal in Oakland, Occupella, and Sistahboom!

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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

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Let’s Save Each Other

Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission