As we gear up for our 25th anniversary celebration of Artists as Activists on October 17th, I am thrilled to announce two exciting additions to the Rosenberg Fund for Children’s Advisory Board who embody the intersection of art and activism (a full list of members is available here).
On June 19, 2015, (a date that has special significance for my family and the RFC community) singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey wrote and first performed “Take Down Your Flag” at The Calvin Theater in Northampton, MA as a reaction to the horrific Charleston church shootings two days earlier.
Peter’s original lyrics eulogized Suzie Jackson, the oldest of the shooting victims, and called for South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag flying over the statehouse before Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s body laid in state under it, and other victims’ families buried their loved ones while this symbol of racist hatred — alone among all the flags — still waved at full staff.
Shortly after debuting “Take Down Your Flag,” Peter posted a YouTube video of himself playing the song. Soon several of his friends in the music community, including Ani DiFranco, Pamela Means, Vance Gilbert, Anais Mitchell, and Erin McKeown (who will perform at our October 17th event), had stepped up to write verses for some of the other victims. And, in a remarkable outpouring of activism and solidarity, close to 300 other songwriters from around the world soon followed, creating their own verses.
We connected with Peter after hearing his song and following this artist-led movement. We’re honored that he’s joined our Advisory Board and touched by his explanation of the connections between his song and the RFC:
Over the past couple months, I've gotten to know some people who work for the Rosenberg Fund for Children. Robert Meeropol, who founded the RFC and his brother Michael were orphaned by agents acting with political intent, just like those who lost parents in the shooting in Charleston in June. That's a sobering thought and illustrates the importance of the RFC's work.
I remember being thunderstruck by the scene in “Angels in America: Perestroika” where the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg sings lullabies to Roy Cohn on his deathbed. It was an early inkling for me that this is all the same fight: mercy and compassion and kindness find their expression through art, through politics, through activism, through simple commerce, through our mundane interactions in traffic, in line at the grocery store. So I was both surprised and not surprised when I learned that Abel Meeropol, who adopted the Rosenberg sons, also happened to be the man who wrote "Strange Fruit".
Art = politics = commerce = ordinary life. Our government was wrong to execute the Rosenbergs. That cannot be undone. But we can make a difference for children affected today by politically motivated attacks. I’m proud to stand with the RFC in this important work.
The second addition to our Advisory Board is new to this role, but he and his family have been committed to art, activism and the RFC for generations. As Kitama Seeger Jackson (Pete and Toshi’s grandson, pictured with me at Seeger Fest, above right) explains, “I am honored to take my grandparents’ place on the Rosenberg Fund for Children’s Advisory Board. I am studying to be a social worker and plan to work with incarcerated individuals and their families. I am glad to have this connection with the RFC and with the Meeropol Family.”
RFC staff members met Kitama when we sponsored Seeger Fest, the multi-day, multi-venue extravaganza he created last July to honor his late grandparents through music and art. As Kitama explained, Seeger Fest was, “a way for those who knew and admired Pete and Toshi to remember them, and for those who hadn’t heard of them, to get inspired by their compassion for the human race.” The festival included movie screenings, a memorial, a photo exhibit, boat rides, a square dance, and several star-studded concerts — all free and open to the public and mostly outdoors, as Kitama knew his grandparents would have wanted.
The RFC’s motto is “Carry it Forward,” by which we mean that through our work, we strive to nurture and transmit progressive values from one generation to the next. We use that phrase because in their final letter to my dad and uncle, my grandparents said that they took comfort in the knowledge that others would carry on after them. Kitama and the more than 200 Seeger Fest performers who ranged in age from nine to almost 90, and in many cases included two or even three generations of families, are doing just that.
As we celebrate 25 years of supporting the children of resistance, we are honored to welcome these additions to our Advisory Board.
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