BEHIND THE MOVEMENT
SAVING THE PLANET THROUGH SONG:
by Autumn Breon, Songs for Good Advisor
Songs have been essential elements in movements for justice around the world. The late activist and congressman John Lewis once described “a movement without song” as a “bird without wings.” These poetic words capture music’s power to send the spread the ethos of a movement beyond the confines of space and time. Like John Lewis’ own legacy, sacrifices for justice from ages past and thousands of miles away have traveled on the wings of chants and anthems.
This makes it fitting for community organizing groups to intentionally center music in movement-building. Zero Hour does just that and has an entire team dedicated to harnessing music’s power in their movement. Founded in 2018, Zero Hour centers the voices of diverse youth in the conversation around climate and environmental justice. Zero Hour is a youth-led movement creating entry points, training, and resources for young and adult activists and organizers that yearn to take concrete action around climate change. They believe that together, they comprise a movement of unstoppable youth organizing to protect rights and access to natural resources. Zero Hour works to protect and build a clean, safe, and healthy environment that will ensure a livable future where people can flourish.
Andrea Manning is at the forefront of the intersectional climate justice movement. She serves as Zero Hour’s Deputy Music Director and Co-Executive Director of Zero Hour Georgia. Andrea is also the Executive Director of Access the Polls whose mission is ot make civic engagement accessible across all intersectional divides while making sure that disabled people feel comfortable and accounted for in all spaces. Like many adults and young people, Manning found it difficult to relate to the environmental issues when she was first introduced to climate change via the news. When she was able to make a personal connection to the impact of environmental injustice, she committed herself to sharing the climate crisis, its implications, and solutions to people of all ages and backgrounds. Her mission is ambitious and her weapon of choice is music. In this installment of the Songs for Good interview series, Manning and I discussed her deeply personal work to use music to lead a movement. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
AB: I would love for you to start by telling us about Zero Hour and your role.
AM: Zero Hour is a youth climate organization. We focus a lot on climate justice organizing, education, and mobilization actions. My role is Deputy Music Director. I spend a lot of time on the Music Team working on the different events we’re working on and writing songs about the climate. Our platform is very intersectional. We touch on how it's not just about climate justice, but also racial justice, immigration justice, and all the justices.
AB: How did you get involved with Zero Hour? Why is this work so important to you?
AM: I got started in my senior year of high school when my friend asked me if I'd be willing to help her plan an event that she had signed up to do. I really hadn't been tuned into climate organizing before then. I always say that my understanding of climate change and climate issues were polar bears and ice caps. I thought polar bears were cool, but [climate change] didn't really hit home for me. When I started helping her organize, I really started doing more in-depth research and reading articles. That exposed me to how widespread this issue is and how intersectional it is. That's something that I didn't know before. That really got me into climate change.
AB: I think that it’s very special that this organization even has a role for a music director and that you have a Music team. Can you tell me what that's like?
Yeah, it's honestly really exciting. I feel like activism is generally seen through one lens. It's like if you want to be an active part of the community to be sort of engaged, you have to be a protester, an educator, or a voter. I feel like having the space for a Music Team to be able to use self expression to connect with people and call them into the space that you occupy. So it's really amazing that we have a Music Team and that we're given creative license to really go forward and take charge to use music to deal with climate issues, racial justice issues, and immigration issues.
AB: How have you used music expression personally?
AM: I'm currently working on a couple of songs that I'm hoping to have out by the end of the year. Being able to tell your story, connect with others who have a similar story, and then connect them with resources is extremely important. Music also helps to educate those people that might not be familiar with certain experiences. That’s why I want the music that I create to be a tool of expression. My music has a lot to do with finding yourself, which sounds so cliche for a twenty-year-old, but that's what I'm currently working through and trying to do. I’m trying to deal with a lot of different realities that I've dealt with in the past twenty years.
AB: What are some of those realities that you've dealt with that you use music to express?
AM: I went through a lot in school going through special education. And then also, just being Black. That in itself is like going through a lot in the century, from the election of Obama to the death of countless Black people. I remember Trayvon Martin and all these young people that were murdered. I’m twenty now and a “real adult” and it's still happening. It hasn't changed. That's really something that is interesting to have to grapple with. Especially when you're in a youth activist space and everybody's figuring it out. We're just kind of collectively learning and then having to remind ourselves that we have a future, but we need to learn from the past and from our ancestors. That’s something that I'm exploring a little with the music that I write-- that process of learning and growing.In that process of finding myself, I’m grappling with some of the different experiences that I've gone through and the different experiences that we've gone through collectively.
AB: Are there elders that you respect or that encourage you ancestors that have used music as a form of self expression or activism?
AM: When I think of musicians who use their music as a form of protest, I immediately think of Michael Jackson. He wrote a lot of songs about being a good person and doing good for the world. Growing up, I listened to a lot of his music, but it never really resonated until this moment. I was listening to it last night and I realized that “Heal the World” is such a climate song.
I think that is important when we consider and examine songs for freedom, songs for healing, and songs for justice. It's not just the context from when the song was written or even how it was intended. It's also the context of where we are as individuals and as a society when we receive and hear that song.
AB: Why do you think that songs have the power to change how people think and act?
Music becomes a part of your subconscious and you don't even recognize it sometimes. It gets really embedded into you. I think music has so much power because of that. I also think that you can be honest with music. It can be really hard to grapple with certain issues and so being able to have that honesty is important. That's something we talk a lot about with the Music Team too. If you look at the Zero Hour platform, you’ll see that it's very in your face. We are anti-this and anti-that. I think that's important to have stances, but I also think it turns a lot of people away. The Music Team is really great because I feel like we are able to pull more people into the movement while also bringing our community in deeper.
AB: What does Songs for Good mean to you?
AM: I think that Songs for Good is a platform for songs that are intentionally written for a purpose. I think purpose-driven music is extremely important and that’s why we're really excited to get involved with this challenge. When we think about songs that are going to really connect people and encourage them to do good, I think that is something that needs to be intentionally done and intentionally thought of.
AB: What excites you about the Songs for Good challenge?
I've been scrolling through Instagram and the song submissions are so good. I think I'm just really excited to kind of share that one song that ends up capturing the essence of what we're trying to accomplish. Gosh, they’re so good. Just being able to see all the songs and see the impact that people are having on my personal platforms is amazing. And then being able to share that one song will be amazing. There are so many amazing artists out there that don't get the amplification that I think they need. I want to be able to do that for somebody especially when they're writing songs that are for such a good cause.
AB: You are the Deputy Music Director, you're an organizer, you consistently utilize your self-expression for the change that you want to see. How do you define purpose-driven music?
AM: I think it's just coming into the space with a goal that is bigger than yourself. So it looks different depending on the purpose. Not every song that I write has the same goal. I think that purpose-driven music looks at the collective instead of the individual.
AB: We’re living in a new reality that’s the result of both a global pandemic and a racial reckoning. Do you think that our world’s new reality makes audiences more receptive to purpose-driven music?
AM: Really good question! I think so. I know musicians want an outlet to pour those feelings into. So what’s happening is inspiring a lot of the music that we write. Some people are trying to go about things in a normal way. I think it's really time for us to craft a new normal. I think the music that is being written is a big part of keeping the movement going. At Zero Hour, we’re working on a Black Lives Matter EP. It's going to be amazing, but I know that we're hoping to be able to continue to motivate people to continue to care and to continue to fight for Black lives even after this moment.
AB: Do you have a favorite song or artist for good?
One of my absolute favorite artists is Raveena. She wrote an EP last year called Lucid. She went through a lot of domestic abuse and things like that and she talks about that in her music. She expressed her struggle, but with a lens of healing. I'm consuming everything she's putting out and her genius lyrics and vulnerability are so important.