Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Rise Up! Rock Out!

Back in November, I shared a snippet of conversations I was having with friends and acquaintances who were struggling to make sense of the election and the outcome and the world we were immediately plunged into because of it. I'm not magical so I'm wasn't immune to the same feelings my friends were feeling BUT I felt like I had a strategy in place for moving forward when the election was "done." I would ask my friend "What have you done? What are you willing to do next?" not because I wanted them to feel guilty but because I wanted them to think about how to be part of change in a way that would work for them. And maybe, by being a bit more in the world, the crippling sense of doom would go away bit by bit. That was the plan.

For me, being a "good" citizen is important. I've always believed that being socially and politically active is the point; that's how I define a good citizen. We're supposed to protest and vote and get involved in our communities. We're supposed to care about one another and this country and question our leaders. The Women's March was a powerful reminder of that as have been the countless protests and other movements that have happened since November. Social change isn't easy especially when you're covering ground you should NOT have to repeat but all of these steps are necessary so we don't end up 50 years (or more) in the past.

What's challenging is getting lost in the muck of all of these ideas and the rhetoric and the ridiculousness of a commander in chief who tweets like a teen jacked up on Mountain Dew with equally poor grammar. It's hard sometimes to find the good in the world. I know this. That's why I planned for it (because sometimes I'm a little too Type-A for my own good) and decided to commit myself to more coming off of the natural high the Women's March. I vowed to be more active within my local government (which I am doing in many ways) and to look for a local organization to either donate time or money to (or both). That's how I found Girls Rock! DC.

Celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year, Girls Rock! DC is a summer camp for girls, trans, and non-binary youth which focuses on music, music education, and social justice. The original rock camp was founded in Portland, OR and has spread around the US and the world, with rock camps in most major US cities and in countries like Japan, the UK, and Sweden. During camp week, campers take music classes, learn music history, and form a band. The bands write music together, create their band name, their aesthetic, and a song to be performed at the end of camp Showcase. They also have the opportunity to take workshops on a variety of topics and learn from one another and the camp staff.

Girls Rock! DC (GR!DC) was founded in 2007 by a group of area musicians, teachers, and community organizers to focus on the idea of building community while also rocking out. I heard about Girls Rock! DC from a volunteer at the museum. She and I were discussing getting more involved in local organizations and she mentioned GR!DC. She'd recently gone to a showcase for their adult program, We Rock!, and had thought of me because of my love of rock music and education programs (I'm always surprised by my qualifiers amongst people who know me). I did a little research, saw that they had a call out of for volunteers, and contacted the group. I did a volunteer interview, talked with a member of their leadership team via email about working on the communications team, and showed up at the first training. And then I was hooked completely.

It's rare to walk into a room of people so dedicated to something that you immediately have to tell someone else they need to be involved in this group but that is exactly what happened when I went to my first training (I texted Anita and then made her get up early to come to the showcase). It was awesome to see so many people coming together to make this camp happen. Listening to the various leadership team members talk about the program, the mission, the campers was inspiring. It's a lot of work but it makes a difference for the campers who participate. Many are experiencing not only camp for the first time, but playing a musical instrument for the first time. The camp is very representative of the area, with campers coming from all quadrants of DC, Maryland, and Virginia. It's a supportive, open, and creative space. Girls very rarely get that.

I didn't get to spend the week at camp since I started my new job (this will be remedied next summer) but I did get to spend time working on the showcase program and helping with set up at camp and at the showcase venue, the 9:30 Club. Did I not mention that? The camp showcase is at the 9:30 Club. I know, it's wild. The other volunteers I work with are awesome; I have never met a cooler, more welcoming group of humans in my life. I wasn't sure if my more Type-A personality would work within the group but it seemed to be okay at least for what I was working on throughout the last few weeks. The few campers I got to meet, primarily the members of the Youth Leadership team, were fun to talk to and hear from as they shared their camp experience.

And then there was the showcase. These bands and DJ crews (there were two crews this year) have one week to write and rehearse their song. Many of the campers are learning music for the first time and they range in age from 8-18. What they created for showcase was amazing; the songs were from the heart, timely, and full of spirit and resistance. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Here are a few samples:
from "Freedom and Justice" by Awesome Jamz-P.O.M.S
Yo, my freedom is everything, everything to me
I might even sing in it in four harmony
I got my sisters by my side
You know that they down to ride
They call me up, and they say "hey!"
We fighting for freedom and justice everyday

from Unknown Dawn's song
Don't give up 
Believe in yourself
Change what you want to change
Don't be bothered by anyone else
Try your hardest and love yourself

There was also a song called "Triggered" by Close Open Doors with a chorus that offered the suggestion of being calm and counting to nine to handle a very serious topic that happens all the time. The band handled it with humor and seriousness all at the same time. There was a lot of poetry and defiance wrapped into these songs. One of my favorite songs was from one of the younger band groups, Galaxy Starzz. It was a dreamy nugget of a song and it was about being you who are and making friends and being stars. The DJ crews were also impressive; it added a great vibe to the showcase and they were really supportive of one another on stage.

At the end of the showcase, all the campers, past and present, and the volunteers come on stage to sing the Girls Rock! DC anthem. Here's my favorite verse from the song:

Now I know I can do anything
I can DJ or play drums or sing
Come on, everyone, get up and dance
Cos the future of rock is in our hands!

Groups like Girls Rock! DC give me hope for the future. I'm excited to continue being part of this organization throughout the year and waiting anxiously for camp 2018. Until then, let's all continue to rise up and rock out!

 Photos by me

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