Volume 21, Number 4

Our Passion And Spirit Can Never Be Defeated

Fred Schepartz

When I was considering what to write for this issue’s editorial, I originally planned to wait until after the midterm elections before deciding what my topic would be. Then two days before the elections, I had a profoundly mind-blowing experience and decided the elections didn’t matter in terms of what I would write about.

On a pleasant Halloween night, at the stunningly beautiful Capitol Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, I saw Gogol Bordello. To say the show was amazing is an absolute understatement. The crowd was as loud and rowdy as I’ve ever seen at a show. Hell, they were so rowdy that people literally were jumping from the balcony to get to the main floor.

Aside from putting on a damned entertaining show, Gogol Bordello taught me a crucial lesson: the people’s passion and spirit can never be defeated. Simple as that.

The people’s passion and spirit can never be defeated.

For the uninitiated, Gogol Bordello is usually referred to as a Gypsy Punk band because they incorporate gypsy music into a high-energy, somewhat politically charged sound. I would also consider them to be ethnic folk punk. Or I might simply call them the world’s greatest rock-and-roll band.

What’s most important is that this is a band of the people, by the people and for the people. Their slogan, “Familia Undestructable,” says it all. At the back of the stage, those words appeared on a huge banner that depicted a hand holding a slingshot. A red star blazed at the top of the banner.

The band is run in a collective, communal manner. The band members themselves are a band of gypsies. About half the band comes from Eastern Europe though other members hail from Northern and Southern Europe, Asia and Africa.

Some of the songs are funny, if not silly, like “American Wedding”—Where is the vodka, where's marinated herring? Certainly some of the songs are political. One thing I noticed was that all the songs featured fairly simple lyrics with choruses that were repeated many times. This made it easy for everyone to sing along, even if one didn’t know the song. By using this format, the whole audience was able to join the undestructable family.

A certain realization made me chuckle during the show. There’s a good reason why there aren’t folk songs about tax cuts for the rich and supply-side economics. And obviously, there’s good reason why there’s bands like Gogol Bordello or Los de Abajo, the radical Mexican band, or the countless other international folk bands we’re able to discover through the Internet. What these bands all have in common is that when you see them, you feel so much more alive.

Ordinary people have always found the need to express themselves through music in an extraordinary way. I remember the scene in Braveheart when pipers play banned music following the murder of young William Wallace’s father. The old saying about the Spanish Civil War is that Franco had the tanks, but the Loyalists had the songs. That may be true, but even though Federico Lorca is dead and gone, the songs sung by those brave freedom fighters live on. And Franco is still critically dead.

I think back to the social history classes I took at the University of Wisconsin–Madison from the great Harvey Goldberg. He could so stir my pulse with his Fall of the Bastille lecture, but invariably, Harvey’s stories all had tragic endings. That pretty much holds true in terms of the people’s history of the world. The strong rise, and the weak fall. Darkness defeats light. Greed squashes generosity.

Yet the people’s passion and spirit can never be defeated.

People prod on. People never stop striving for a better life for not just themselves, but for their families, friends, comrades and fellow workers.

Over the long, long haul, there are triumphs. There are victories. I believe that things are getting better, though it is often two steps forward and one step back. Still, there is progress.

The French Revolution degenerated into the horrible excess of the Terror, before things got much worse during the counter-revolutionary Thermidorean Reaction. Yet today, France is one of the most humane countries in the world.

South Africa dismantled Apartheid and managed a relatively peaceful transfer of power through a process that made the nation stronger and much more enlightened.

Over the last several years, many left-wing leaders have been democratically elected all over Latin America, in some cases in places where it seemed impossible. Hell, just last year in El Salvador, the FMLN won the presidential election, ending 20 years of rule by ARENA, basically the political arm of the right-wing death squads.

Even here in the Repressive States of Puritanikal Amerika, I see signs that we are evolving (these last elections notwithstanding). Gay marriage will be legal in my lifetime. Not long ago, that was unthinkable. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell could possibly be overturned in the relatively near future.

Alternatives to Capitalism (which I like to call Neo-Syndicalism) are growing, thriving and becoming increasingly widespread, be they worker cooperatives, fair trade, sustainability or community supported agriculture.

We are slowly but surely becoming better stewards of our environment. Being Green is significant and important, and efforts to transform into a Green society and economy are conducted in both a vertical and a horizontal manner.

But don’t get me wrong. Our economic and political circumstances are bad right now, and they could get worse, much worse. Yet, I can take solace in the fact that we will never stop striving to make things better, but as a reminder, we have a chant, a slogan we must not forget.

Remember the chant, “The people, united, can never be defeated?”

Here’s a new version:

Our passion, and spirit, can never be defeated.

Chant it loud and proud.