An open love letter to the Occupy Movement

Dearest Occupiers,

       What you’re doing, the way you’re doing it, makes my heart sing!

       Jeff Mangum’s plaintive song, “Oh Comely,” plays from morning to night on the inner jukebox, reminding me of that magical October night when he showed up to sing with you at Liberty Plaza in Zuccotti Park. His presence there was a tribute to you. Chiming in on Jeff’s song, your voices carried such passion and purity of heart. He thanked you with reverence and gratitude: “You guys are doing a beautiful fucking thing.”


[Oct 6, 2011] Jeff Mangum live at Occupy Wall Street – Liberty Park, NYC (Neutral Milk Hotel) Hear Jeff & the Occupiers singing “Oh Comely” at 26:00: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvLm01ruV00

I feel it. I’ve been keeping vigil, on-line around the globe, and on the ground at Occupy Seattle as this sweet “Occupy Moment” struggles to embody a “Movement.” Until now, I’d wondered: “Where have all the young men gone?” – worried for the nation’s youth who appeared to exercise only their thumbs in the virtual world of video games, smart phones and computers. Heads bent, necks frozen, eyes glued to the screen – captives of the mesmerizing power of “the smoke” curling around your heads even before you’d left the womb.

I see. You’ve been on the couch, like the rest of us, awaiting the cue to rise up and step out. When it came, I witnessed something entirely unexpected. Propelled by the heart, you seem to know just what to do. I marvel at your skills. Witnessing the absurdities of war and greed and oppression, you’re taking matters into your own hands. You’re going about setting your world aright, adopting principles of nonviolent resistance, practicing horizontal group process and consensus decision making, insisting that each one – and especially those usually remaining silent – be given a voice.

“The voice” is key here. I lost mine at age 39 to an intractable condition known as spasmodic dysphonia. The ensuing 30-year search for my voice became a search for my own Soul. I see now that I was never alone. We’re singing out together, inspired and empowered by truth, justice, beauty, harmony, and inevitable peace – the music of the heart.

       “Mic check!”

        “Mic check!”

You don’t have to agree with what someone else is saying. The chant-like call and response of the human microphone reverberates their words through your heart, your being, acknowledging and amplifying their sentiments in a process we call “participatory democracy.” But it is much, much more than that in my view. Unlike the megaphone and electronic p.a. systems, it signals honor and respect for each one’s existence. Having been born as one with “vocal gifts,” a singer, teacher, community organizer and psychotherapist, only to become disabled, disenfranchised and invalidated in recent decades, I thrill to the sound of voices that truly have something to say and are given the space to be heard.

One of the gifts of my personal journey has been to discover that I’m not the only one saying what needs to be said. Shutting up, taking time out to hear what other people and my own heart are saying have become important practices over time.

How many folks in a wheelchair ever get up and walk again? How many facing a death sentence get free? I’m back, listening and participating in the everyday affairs of this earth home we all share.

After a singing dream that focused my primary life quest for peace through music, I designed and built a gypsy wagon for SingPeace! Earth Pilgrimage for Peace & Global Harmony.

It’s all about crafting a culture of peace through song. I depend upon a varied troupe of singer/songweavers to bring people together in community in a style we call “singing ‘n mingling.”


We took the wagon to Occupy Seattle in October, following the “Night of 500 Tents.”



We were joined by members of the Seattle Labor Chorus, Seattle Peace Chorus and the Raging Grannies.



The beauty of this event for me was the interface, the harmonious relationship we were able to establish with the Occupiers, the Seattle Police, the Seattle Parks Department and the Westlake Park Rangers…all those systems interacting in the tiny postage stamp of Westlake Park! They facilitated our getting in there. They cleared and jointly swept our staging area. People came around to thank us for showing up. “This is just what we needed,” they told me.

[Occupy Seattle 1/16/11, http://vimeo.com/31093444, a video posted by Chris Sewell,  and “There’ll Come a Day,” a song of peace & justice by Bob Killian, sung by Sharon Abreu, Mike Hurwicz, accompanied by Talia Toni Marcus, http://singpeacepilgrimage.ning.com/video/there-ll-come-a-day-song-of-peace-justice

You who are on the ground know the demands of the Occupation, day in and day out. My gratitude and warm hugs are with you. I salute you for your courage and stamina, and also for your sense of play and willingness to sing along. Be assured that for every one of you there are dozens and thousands who, now and in the future, will benefit from what you do there. As “Yes!” magazine has stated in their recent compilation, “This changes everything.”

[This Changes Every Thing: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement, Sarah van Gelder, Yes! editor and staff. http://www.yesmagazine.org/OWSbook

May you continue to sing out! May your voices and your message echo around the world!

Peace & blessings,

Pushkara Sally Ashford,


December 2011


SingPeace! gypsy wagon at Occupy Seattle

On Sunday, the SingPeace! gypsy wagon appeared in Westlake Park (Pushkara bought a permit) and there was lots of singing around the wagon, with members of the Seattle Peace Chorus, Seattle Labor Chorus and the Raging Grannies. I think we may have done a version of “We Shall Not Be Moved” for the Guinness Book! People kept adding verses – great fun. We actually made it onto network news for a couple of seconds singing “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.” Mike and I taught a couple of newer songs in addition to leading a bunch of the oldie-but-goodies. Great weather, great energy, no evictions, and no arrests as far as we could tell. The Universe supported our efforts in every way over the weekend. Monday, however, there were evictions and some arrests. Peaceful protest is very important to Occupy Seattle. Let’s support its efforts – our efforts – as much as we can.

The Gypsy Wagon Heads for Occupy Seattle

The SingPeace! gypsy wagon should be at Westlake Park by noon on Sunday. If you want to join us, it would be good to be there around 11 a.m.

Pushkara went in today (Friday) to stay the weekend. The wagon made a foray into the area today to circle Occupy Seattle and be a “presence” there. Pushkara has been in the park talking to the Occupy folks while the wagon circles. We’re basically harmonizing with Occupy AND the police, getting them used to seeing us and the wagon down there. We do have a permit for Sunday, so both groups should be helping us to get into Westlake Park.

Pushkara posted a notice on the Occupy Seattle forum, receiving two emails back from people who love music and really want to sing with us. One contributed a song. We will have a few copies of that song, as well as Sharon Abreu’s “Give the People Back Their Homes.” (Maybe we could do a whole “Occupy Songbook” !) We also heard back from the Raging Grannies, who are interested in joining us. No other choir has responded, but we have hopes that we’ll have more singers.

We’ll be marching on Saturday, but we’re not taking the wagon down. Chances are the streets will be cordoned off. The sleeping situation for Occupiers at Westlake Park is very dicey. They are defying the order to move and encouraging 500 tents for Saturday night.

A heads up: there’s a game at the stadium on Saturday where they anticipate 60,000. Occupy Seattle is working out plans to be there. There may also be thousands in the march. Traffic may be at a standstill for hours.