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Lyrics and Life

 

By Caitlin Ward

03/25/2015

I Wish I Knew How it would Feel to be Free
Nina Simone

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free
I wish that I could break all the chains holding me
I wish I could say all the things that I should say
Say ‘em loud say ‘em clear
For the whole round world to hear
I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart
Remove all the bars that keep us apart
I wish you could know what it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree
That every man should be free

I wish I could give all I’m longin’ to give
I wish I could live like I’m longin’ to live
I wish I could do all the things that I can do
And though I’m way over due
I’d be starting anew

Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be if I found out I could fly
Oh I’d soar to the sun and look down at the sea

And I sing ‘cause I know, yeah
And I sing ‘cause I know, yeah
And I sing ‘cause I know
I’d know how it feels
Oh I’d know how it feels to be free
Yeah Yeah, I’d know how it feels
Yes I’d know
I’d know how it feels
How it feels
To be free

Songwriters: William Taylor; Richard Carroll Lamb. Published by POLYGRAM INT. MUSIC PUBL. B.V.

A friend of mine said to me recently that she thought it was probably easier to be rebellious in the 1960s. Attempts at revolution were much safer, because the way society was structured was a lot more clear.

I tended to disagree. The 1960s seem to have been a truly terrifying time to rebel in any meaningful way, what with the deeply oppressive social mores, the police brutality, the government corruption and the blatant racism and sexism. To name a few things.

That said, though, I think the path to revolution had to be a bit more straightforward. In North America, at least, it was a time when countries were mostly sovereign. It was clear who was in charge of things. We knew who The Man was. People didn’t know all the terrible things that were going on all around the world because really, why would they? There was no Internet and not a lot of newspapers were going down to Guatemala and Honduras to report on how the United Fruit Company had taken over the government. Probably, actually, not a lot of newspapers were allowed to do that. People interested in fighting injustice could look in front of them and think, “oh, this is terrible.” It was an act of strength and courage to decide to fight those things, certainly, but I tend to think something like the civil rights movement was pretty straightforward in terms of aim, if not always in method. There were laws to change, reasons to march, and people to become free. There were Nina Simone and Sam Cooke songs to sing. There was The Man to defeat.

These days, it does feel a bit more complicated to figure out what one’s aims should be in the first place. There’s a lot on our doorstep: the disenfranchisement of Aboriginal peoples, the widening gap between rich and poor, the consistent though perhaps more subtle oppression of minorities of all stripes, the ever-growing group of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. To name a few things. And in those places, perhaps we can think like a Nina Simone song. But then, we have a 24-hour news cycle and the information age has given us access to most everything that’s going wrong in the world. And as if it weren’t difficult enough to work out what to focus on that’s actually important, there’s also the distraction of hundreds of TV channels, celebrity culture, social media, and goods that are fiscally cheap to produce, but with an absurdly high human cost.

But out of all of that, where I work, we got a bit of an idea. We weren’t going to save the world, but we were going to spend some time making a corner of it a bit more just. We’d been working with La Federación de Campesinos Hacia el Progreso in the Dominican Republic for a year, or so. We sent students to live with and learn from the grassroots development organization last summer. We had respect for the work they did: working together, building relationships, creating co-operatives to make their lives sustainable, fulfilling and just. We found some points of contact between what they did, and what we do: the co-operative movements in Saskatchewan and La Federación, tucked into the mountains surrounding Bonao, have had much in common, though we have not faced nearly as much deprivation or violence.

So then we, at St. Thomas More College, got the opportunity to bring some of the campesinos to Canada as part of a speaking tour in concert with Kings College in London, Ont., and St. Michael’s in Toronto. They could talk about their work building a sustainable community, and talk about some of their struggles with Canadian mining companies in the mountains in which they live. There were such points of contact, you see. The Northern Trappers’ Alliance was going to come to talk about how they faced many of the same issues in Northern Saskatchewan.

Oh, we had high hopes. This would be the beginning of a new partnership, a genuinely reciprocal relationship where we could learn from one another and grow. I had visions of exchanges for students at St. Thomas More College and La Federación, alike, twinned communities joined in a mutual love for the planet and its people, and a commitment to building a sustainable and just future.

And then the Canadian Government wouldn’t grant them visas to travel here. Essentially, though subtly, they accused we three Catholic colleges of colluding to commit immigration fraud and help three middle-aged Dominican farmers settle illegally in Canada.

I’m a bit skeptical that’s what they were worried about, of course. It doesn’t seem a coincidence that this government, which has declared environmental activists terrorists, would prevent three community organizers who are fighting a Canadian mining company, from entering Canada.

And frankly, I don’t know who to be mad at. The consulate? The government? The mining companies? The people who want nickel? Myself? Everything?

And I don’t know who to fight. All I know is that I can write this column, and remember the words of Esteban Polanco, La Federación’s founder and a man far more optimistic than I am: “No nos van a vencer jamas.”

They shall never overcome us.

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings