The new anthem of the women’s movement I Can’t Keep Quiet is as infectious as it is stirring. And to sing it with meaning you need to have the harmonies in place so to learn before you perform.
Workshop booked, travel plans made. But to get there you need to have got all that women’s work done – and time often isn’t on our side...
A woman’s work is never done they still say and so it was I found myself flying to the station between chores to get the train and tube to Piccadilly. No sooner had we pulled out of the station, the train stalled. The next half-an-hour was spent gazing out at the platform (while adding to my shopping list and work scheduling, obviously).
A group of four passengers sitting by me started to compare diets. WeightWatchers versus Slimming World versus Cambridge: the knives were out. There was no conclusion – except, maybe, that a woman’s body is never right.
Arriving breathless at the rehearsal venue, I found it silent. Banging furiously on the door only provokes tuts and stares from passers-by. A woman’s patience is inexhaustible, right? Charge down to Piccadilly Circus, where a news vendor says, ‘Those girls in pink hats? They left about ten minutes ago.’ Feel like telling him pink used to be associated with dominance - a male colour until protesting women appropriated it -and that the pink-hatted bunch weren’t girls they were women, but by then I’m flying down the tube steps.
King’s Cross station is big and busy - but lo! a siren call... And there they are, in full flow: they Can’t Keep Quiet.
On Saturday 8th April I did what I find myself increasingly doing these days, I left the sanctuary of my South East London garden, (the first really sunny Saturday of the year) and got on a tube to central London to sit in an underground room with a bunch of strangers. In the last two years I’ve become an activist and like many others, I’ve joined the world of politics  because not to do so doesn’t feel like an option any more. And every time I do it, I wonder why I didn’t do this before….
This time was a total joy. I signed up for a workshop followed by a flashmob performance of MILCK’s I Can’t Keep Quiet organized by HOLLER4 pop up choir as part of a day of action. About 40 women of all ages from children to women 70+ were there, feminists, singers, activists, wearers and makers of Pussy Hats, women who wanted to follow up on the energy, the fury, the impulse to keep registering our dissatisfaction and to maintain the pressure on a failing and unjust system, following the Women’s March London in January 2017.
We assembled, sang and claimed space in the public realm of London on Piccadilly, at Eros, at Euston, on the tube, the escalator and under the departures board at King’s Cross. You can hear and see us here. We took small pockets of Londoners and tourists unawares, reminding them both of the extraordinary freedom & creativity life in London can offer but also how fragile those freedoms are. Our presence asserted our optimism and our determination to defend and extend those freedoms. Elsewhere in London an iconic red bus took the song through the city following the path of the river. These weren’t just random acts of optimism- they were part of a collective action, an energy that will keep growing and regenerating like yeast.
At teabreak, our choir leader Denise took a moment to bring us back from the celebratory and potentially self-congratulatory cheeriness to call our attention to the women who don’t keep quiet around the world, and who have a lot more to sacrifice than a sunny Saturday at home. I thank her for reminding me of the extraordinary experience of hearing Jineth Bidoya Lima who we both, by coincidence, heard speak through a translator at the Women of the World Festival in March 2017.
Jineth Bidoya Lima is a journalist who reports on law enforcement, paramilitary groups, and abductions within Colombia. She herself has been kidnapped and raped twice. She now works with the protection of a Government bodyguard. She was in London to accept the Anna Politkovskaya Award - named for the Russian journalist who lost her life opposing corruption in Russia. The human rights and literature organisation PEN lists Jineth’s status as AT RISK. At risk for calling out the corruption and opposing abductions. Listening to her dignified empassioned Spanish then replayed in the deadpan of English translation intensified the power of her message as we were given time to absorb her words in the space between translations.
This was a big day for Holler4. Our first 'I Can't Keep Quiet' workshop. Would anyone turn up? Would anyone 'get' the song? But we held onto our belief that there's such a passion and drive behind I Can't Keep Quiet ... it feels like it has a life of it's own. We're finding that women are seeking out opportunities to learn it. They so want to be part of this new feminist movement and by singing, they're choosing to engage in a positive, empowering way . Here's some of the proof.
One lady wrote this on our feedback form. "I found you on youtube / Facebook. Loved the song, loved the sentiment, I'm just learning to sing in tune. Always been a feminist (I'm 70 now)." Amazing, right!
Here's another comment .. "Because what you 're doing is amazing and powerful <3. and because when I first heard the song it made my cry, it says so much".
And another .. "I've come to contribute in a positive way to raising the profile of the continuing challenges women face around the world.
With all that powerful impetus behind their intentions, it was no surprise that when they began to sing, right from the off, it sounded AMAZING. The feeling in the room was electric. When Denise suggested to take it out onto the streets, everyone couldn't get out the door quick enough. And when the 'man with the walkie talkie' at the London Underground Station came to chuck us off the premises, everyone sang the lyrics louder and louder "I can't keep quiet ... NOT FOR ANYONE .. not anymore!"" A perfect moment for a perfect flashmob. In the end, everyone left with their hearts full of pride and we know we can't stop there. This song has legs and we're going to run with it. Watch this space for more workshop dates! Eeeekkkkkk !!!
It's a two way thing, right? How does Holler4's Denise Dobson interact with all those crowds? But how do the crowds interact with Holler4? Here's a small bit of Denise working the crowd and the crowd responding from Women's March on London and Stop Trump Rally.
We're changing the face of British protesting. Rallys and Protests for years have followed the same format only differentiated by the numbers and the calling. Yet it feels that we're adding in something different. Beyond the option of chanting slogans, we are giving protestors a moment to make their collective voices heard.
You can feel the excitement in the gathering crowds. When they realise that now they're getting the chance to be active and sing, rather than just listen. Its feels like during our time on stage, it's a time to be joyous and celebratory - a welcome interlude - an antidote to the angst. It may be coincidence, but one of only two tweets that Owen Jones made, rather than retweeting, during the Rally was this one shown below with some of the responses alongside. .Amongst the foray of organising speakers and timings, I'm presuming, Holler4 choir gave him a chance to stop, actually get out his phone and film the crowd from the stage and appreciate the vocal interlude. That tweet has been retweeted 543 times and liked by 1,106 people. Only outshone by Caroline Lucas's tweeting that night! The power of singing all together, right there!