Why Woodstock?

When I talk to people and they ask me where do you live, my response is always, house in Woodstock, apartment in Brooklyn. The reluctance to let go of Brooklyn as my official place, because I do so love me some Brooklyn, is puzzling to me somewhat, yet, Saturday I was pleasantly surprised by my feelings about how much Woodstock has become my home.

A dear friend emailed me about whether or not I would be attending the “march” in Woodstock. First I was taken aback that there would be anything organized up here and secondly, I figured that if there was something going on here, more than likely the attendance would be perhaps 30 people. I have lost count of the Sundays where I’ve driven by the Village Green to see the lone woman from Families for Peace, standing, holding one end of her colorful sign made from a bedsheet with the other end tied to the tree. And every time witnessing her solitary acknowledgment for peace, I would vow to myself that one of these Sundays I’m going to park and go stand with her.  OK back on track…..I got to thinking, a women’s march and rally in Woodstock is ideal. If I could march here instead of traveling all the way to Brooklyn where we would eventually end up in Manhattan, this would definitely save me time while showing solidarity. I had long discarded the idea of going to Washington, DC. cost, time, distance all the things that would make even an active activist hesitate.

Woodstock Women's March

Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link she provided for me and found out that there were women marches happening all over the world and not just mobilizing on a large scale such as Washington, DC; New York City; San Francisco, but they were also being organized in smaller more remote areas. How brilliant and exhilarating! If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed……The point of these marches is to mobilize wherever you can and to show unity no matter where you are in the world, right? So thus my decision was made and I prepared to attend believing that at least 30 of us Peaceniks living here would show up.

I DID NOT EXPECT the turnout!!! There were hundreds of people. Women and men of all ages, children, babies, young and old, carrying signs….They were marching together, singing songs, playing instruments, talking and reminiscing about the days when they rallied in this exact town or other rallies and marches. And those pink hats. I’ve never been a fan of pink, but now, well let’s just say, I’m picking out the yarn for my new pink hat, knit a few to keep on hand cause something tells me, I’m gonna need it.

Experiencing the day, I met many new people. I ran into new acquaintances and people that I’ve known since I first moved here. We talked, laughed and recalled events in our lives together and it was that moment that I came to the understanding why I live in Woodstock. What was the thing about it that made me feel that it was my home? I really can’t put my finger on it exactly but there is a saying that Austin, Texas coin, you can find it on the t-shirts that Book People use to carry in their store – Keep Austin Weird, well Woodstock has a saying, Relax, they’ll never find you here. I think we should add another slogan and have one that says, Yep….you’re in Woodstock.

Artist as Peace Activist

What is the artist’s responsibility, if any, to the state of the world? As we progress in life, sometimes, but not always, we begin to look at our lives and ask ourselves, what is my contribution?  Some of us think that we can’t make a significant input unless we do something that a least gets mentioned in the New York Times, nominated for a major award or some other self-affirming accolade. Artistic offerings whether large or small, recognized or not, are always present in our world.

Those of us who are ambitious musicians, strive to have our music heard, to have our feelings understood by the masses. Perhaps this is the only type of addition that matters for us as artists. I can only speak from the musician’s point of view, but perhaps it may be true for the other art forms as well.

Some of us sit comfortably in our world of art for art sake, art without an agenda, believing strongly of its authenticity.  But is art with an agenda not authentic art? Why is it that some artists are considered political while other artists are not? Is this an intentional thing on their part or merely a by-product of stirrings in the subconscious mind that arises without awareness, in the form of a song, poem, painting….?

Of this I am certain; when music springs organically from a source, the ‘what is strongly felt within is a mirror to what is felt without’, producing a power that can change the world for good or for bad. Artist as peace activist?

I’ve been a musician all of my life and I’ve been an active peace pusher for 20 years. As a musician, my focus has been to create the music, get the gigs, have fun playing music with wonderful musicians, and of course, let’s not forget getting paid cause the bills ‘gotta’ get paid. The idea that my music was affecting people in ways other than listening and having a good time, and that I could be one of those ‘political’  musicians, never occurred to me. Besides I felt I was already making a statement just by being an African American female jazz musician who grew up in deep South, in the 60’s. I lived those stories of riding on the back of the bus and drinking from ‘coloreds only’ fountains. Yes, I have some unbelievable stories to tell, which I will save for another time. My attitude finally settled on, “enough, I just want to play some music”.  It wasn’t until a dear friend of mine, who was a big community activists for over 60 years, started asking me to help her with mobilizing our Brooklyn neighborhood around the peace and social justice movement. Through working with local grassroots organizers, handing out flyers, creating educational forums, attending rallies and marches, I began to seriously think about my connection, first to my neighborhood, and eventually to the entire world. I was also introduced to Nichiren Buddhism and the SGI around the same time. The SGI which stands for Soka Gakkai International with its mission of education, culture and world peace seemed to be in absolute alignment with my new found personal calling.  So I jumped in, eventually became an active member of Brooklyn For Peace and began my exploration as an activist.

The years have passed and working day in and day out to mobilize and motivate people to take action has been a frustrating, yet rewarding adventure. For me it was not enough to simply inform people of things, that in my opinion, seemed out of balance; we needed to give them something to do about it.  To help them feel empowered and effective. People ask me why do you care so much about something that you can’t really change? Why involve yourself in a peace movement that obviously has not, nor probably never will, have a ‘win’ to speak of? You’re a musician, just play music!

My answer: I accept full responsibility for the state of the entire world. I am completely and totally connected to everything around me. Yeah, we know, the spiritual Buddhist thing, right? Yeah, that…, but think about this. The fact that you are reading this blog entry, and that I have typed it on my computer is the result of someone creating the technology for me to do so. The chair I’m sitting in, the desk that my laptop rests on, the house that I’m in, the list can go on and on and these are just the material elements. So when I say that I am connected, that my contribution or lack thereof is part of the cause and is definitely the effect, it hails more than just some intangible ‘spiritual Buddhist thing’. It can definitely be seen on the material plane. Just as I rely on everyone else in the world to help me with my existence, in turn I think it is safe to say that I aid everyone else in their existence. Interdependence or in my Buddhist practice, dependent origination.

So whether I acknowledge it or not, act upon it or not, I have a responsibility to the world and since I am an artist (that’s what I like to call myself), my work and expression (my story) are my tools that I use to provide service to the world, to create the greatest value.  Effective art tells a story and people always like a good, compelling story. If I am an active story teller, then I my art becomes my activism.

Maybe all the songs I sing and write aren’t those of specific social commentary such as End War NowSave the Planet, No Nukes, etc, they are commentaries nevertheless, and their value represents what I value in life. The tribal, familial elements of a story draws us in and guides us to seeing our similarities, identify with all the emotions of the moment, whether it be pain, joy, sadness, loneliness, happiness, etc. We all want to be heard, even if it is sometimes through the captured visuals, words and music of another.

Traveling around the world, I have witnessed first hand the power of music to bring people together. Music permeates and integrates the life of the teller with the listener’s and carries them both into the heart of silence where you find Peace.


There are some great articles on art and activism, here are a few here, but I invite you to browse the web and seek out more information for yourselves.

Art, Artists and Activism– 1930s to Today
By Art Hazelwood

Cultural Politics
Art Activism [this site contains numerous links for exploration]

Is It Possible?

This peace thing. What is it about the concept of peace that people don’t understand. Why would anyone be opposed to it? Why would anyone support it? Definition: A state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations.

If we go and kill “the others”, would we be any happier as individuals. I mean if you were miserable and hated your life before the attack on our soil, would you love your life and be happy if we are at war with people that are on the other side of the planet? Maybe? I guess we just need to inventory our own lives and determine whether or not it will make any difference to our personal happiness as to whether or not we should be fighting? That’s what it’s really all about, dig? Personal happiness. I mean you have to admit, I would find it hard put to meet people that do not have some type of personal agenda when it comes to this living of life. Why live if it meant not being with your family or sharing your joys with another human being or whatever living means to you. Should we be denied? Should “the others”?