Grenfell Tower commemoration
Early evening on the 14th of June 2018, 200 people gathered at the Mound precinct in Edinburgh to join with others throughout the UK to mark the first anniversary of the Grenfell fire.
Large pictures of each of the victims of that tragedy were held by people lining Princes Street in silent vigil for 30 minutes. This was followed by: a statement from Justice for Grenfell read by Alison Murphy of the Educational Institute of Scotland; songs from Protest in Harmony; short speeches from Leigh Craven, Living Rent, Heather Ford, Edinburgh Tenants Federation, Neil Findlay MSP and John McKenzie of the Fire Brigades Union. The moving event was closed with a final poem read by Mary Alexander of Unite.
(The commemoration was organised by Edinburgh Trade Union Council and the images are by Craig McLean, National Union of Journalists)
After our monthly meeting on 17th March a large number of us gathered in the High Street in Edinburgh to sing. Eileen filmed us. A lot of people seemed stop and listen. It was really successful, with quite a few new members coming along. Nearly everyone then went to George Square with Shereen to sing and support a group of students who were demonstrating there in support of the lecturers’ strike.
Open Shuhada Street: taking part in a global protest
On February 24th the High Street was busy with people on their way to the Rugby International against England. So, setting up a checkpoint near the City Chambers, members of Protest in Harmony and street theatre group Active Inquiry told the story of the Hebron “High Street” which, since 1994, has been closed to Palestinians living in the West Bank of Hebron.
With queues, passes and “soldiers”, they acted out Shuhada Street-style apartheid as witnessed by San Ghanny Choir during their April 2017 visit to Hebron, in the West Bank. Songs of non-violent protest were sung by the choir led by Penny and Shereen. San Ghanny’s thirteen members visited and sang in Shuhada Street and were so shocked by the similarity to apartheid they vowed to join the global campaign to “Open Shuhada Street” started by Youth Against Settlements in Hebron. “It was like the High Street in Edinburgh being closed to all Scots!” said Sheila Mackay.
Many people were involved in the planning of this action including making banners, badges, a mock checkpoint and “passes” to handout to passers-by. A preparation day had introduced us to street theatre techniques and Suzanne Dance had encouraged us to improvise and act out scenarios to help us feel what it might be like to live on an apartheid street. About twenty-five choir members were involved in this successful and enjoyable action and nearly four hundred explanatory “passes” were handed to those who stopped to watch and listen.
Eileen Karmy made a video of the event which has been shared with Youth Against Settlements in Hebron and with a campaigning organisation in Chile.
Shereen writes: Many, many thanks to the PiH-ers who turned out earlier this week to support the UCU strikes. It’s been hugely appreciated by my colleagues (and of course by me!).
Bhopal memorial December 3rd 2017
It’s always moving to sing in Greyfriars Kirkyard on December 3rd in memory of the horrendous 1984 gas disaster in India. We stand tucked in, round the corner, near the plaque at the gateway so visitors often don’t see us at first. Then we sing. This year it was Think of Me, Step by Step (as a round) Rise Like Lions (but not without incident!) Bambalela and Freedom Come All Ye.
Sometimes it’s been in the dark or the rain but this year it was just “normal Scottish cold” We, twenty-five or so members of Protest in Harmony led by Jane and Shereen, three wreath-layers from the Trades Unions and one or two other stalwart souls listened to Eurig Scandrett as he spoke of his knowledge of Bhopal and the ongoing work there. Then he read from Rob Edwards’s 2014 newspaper article. We held a minute’s silence. People came and went using the shortcut through the kirkyard. But a small group stopped to listen and learn about the world’s worst industrial disaster.
Campaign Against the Arms Trade
On Saturday Dec 9, 2017, quite a few of us went out to sing in Rose Street after our last rehearsal of the term. A record amount of money was collected by CAAT. Very successful.
Ability Centre, West Lothian
Eight or nine members of PiH went out to Livingston to support them as they challenged the closure of their services. They sang songs including Save Our Public Services and Bambalela.
Refugees are Welcome Here
Some of us were able to be at the vigil on June 15th for the people whose lives were taken in Orlando. We sang as people gathered.
Conscientious Objectors Memorial Day, 15th May 2016
About 70 people joined the third annual Conscientious Objectors Day vigil on 15 May to remember the 16,000 COs of the First World War and all those who have refused compulsory military service around the world in the past and today. Marking the centenary of conscription in the First World War we shone particularly remembered COs from Edinburgh and Scotland who were imprisoned, forced to do hard labour and those who died.
We also remembered local peace activists who have passed away in the past year, including Fr Daniel Berrigan, an American Jesuit priest whose action with the Catonsville Nine in 1968 sparked anti-war actions and demonstrations that eventually ended the Vietnam War.
Speakers included Peace and Justice Centre Coordinator Brian Larkin, Lesley Orr from the Iona Community, Eric Chester (IWW), Arianna Andreangelini, who spoke about Second World War CO Franz Jaggerstadter, and Elizabeth Allen and Andrew Farrar, descendants of First World War COs.
Once more this was a very moving occasion.
May Day march and rally, 2016
Members of Protest in Harmony added their voices to the 2016 Edinburgh May Day march and rally. 2016 May Day was celebrated on Saturday, 7 May and celebrated workers’ rights, human rights and the life of James Connolly. One of our songleaders, Penny Stone, sang at the rally with members of PIH supporting from the crowd!
2016 Street Choirs Festival, Leicester
30 choirs, the vast majority being politically engaged, gathered for a fabulous concert given by local musicians and comedians, a great massed sing in Jubilee Square, busking on the streets (including lusty singing as we strolled past marching soldiers gathered for Armed Forces Day), a fantastic concert of all the choirs, and workshops and a picnic the final day.
Phew. Exhausting? Yes. Exhilarating? Certainly. Inspirational? Undoubtedly — especially as it occurred on the weekend after the momentous decision to leave the EU. Wonderful to be surrounded by hundreds of people who care passionately about solidarity and diversity — the twin themes of the weekend.
Many thanks to Shereen and Penny for their brilliant leadership.
Moffat weekend 2016
Our annual residential weekend took place at the Well Rd Centre in Moffat.
27 of us had a great weekend of singing, socialising, eating, origami, waltzing, Oscars, chocolate spoons and more. It might have been slightly chilly, but we soon warmed up thanks to the lovely food on offer.
Eileen P. led us in some singing on Friday evening and on Saturday morning the song leaders put us through our places, we soon warmed the gym up. Penny taught us The Article 6 Waltz and there were some smart moves in the dancing. Although one member was heard to say that it was difficult to harmonise and waltz at the same time. Shereen fairly woke us up with Big Sky, for many their first experience of Shape Note singing. This proved to be quite a challenge, but as ever we all rose to the occasion and our voices rose as well as we were encouraged to shout our parts. Poor Jane then had the unenviable task of leading us in a very poignant song about refugees, When Death Was Behind Me.
One of the highlights, as ever, is the ‘Saturday Pairty’, very ably compered by John and the glamorous Maggie who did a sterling job with awarding the chocolate spoon Moffat Oscars. At the end of the evening we were all commenting on the huge and varied talent pool that is Protest in Harmony.
Thanks to Kathy and her able accomplices of Liz B, Hilary, Hilery and Liz E who made the weekend run seamlessly. If you missed it, make sure you are free for next year.
International Workers Memorial Day is a day to remember those who have died through work to pledge our ongoing commitment to improving working conditions around the world. As it does every year, Protest in Harmony played an important part in Edinburgh’s 2016 commemoration. We sang before and after the event on a rainy and cold day at the Workers Memorial Day tree in Princes Street Gardens.
Despite the weather the event was a moving one, specifically highlighting work-related mental health issues and remembered those who have died through suicide where work played a part. Speakers were Paul Holleran, National Union of Journalists NUJ, Eileen Penman, a member of Protest in Harmony. telling a personal story of loss, and Alieu Ceesay, a journalist and refugee from the Gambia. We sang One Heart Beating, William Morris and Freedom Come All Ye. The event was organised by Scottish Hazards Campaign and Edinburgh TUC. Wreaths laid by UNITE, UNISON, NUJ, UCU, FBU, RISE, Scottish Hazards and Edinburgh TUC.
Scrap Trident march and rally
24 singers traveled to London to join other campaign choirs, and many others from Scotland and the rest of the UK, to encourage the government not to renew the Trident missile system.
(Latest news appears to be that government has by-passed the democratic process and has announced that it will spend a further £642million on Trident ahead of the Parliamentary vote.)
The atmosphere, the weather, the crowds and the singing were all great — the latter brilliantly led by Shereen, Penny and Jane.
At Trafalgar Square there was a majority of female speakers, including political leaders. Nicola Sturgeon made the obvious point that the UK is in a minority in having nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to sing our uniquely Scottish songs, to the disappointment of one small soul (whose push chair she had abandoned momentarily) who had been practising the Chocolate Teapot song diligently!
Sadly one of the unsung songs (I want to have a little bomb like you) was written many decades ago but is still highly relevant.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we no longer had to make these heartfelt protests?
Campaign against the Arms Trade
On 12 December around 35 of us braved the cold to take part in our annual fundraising sing for the Campaign against the Arms Trade. Ably encouraged by our inspirational song leaders, we sang a very satisfying medley of seasonal standards together with some new and moving songs for Syria and Palestine. The Christmas shoppers seemed appreciative. Sadly recent events have made our songs very relevant this Christmas.
We Speak Earth
Members of Protest in Harmony joined singers from the Open Community Singing Group, Portobello Community Choir and Wildfire to sing a Sami yoik, We Speak Earth, in support of the Sami community which will be devastated by the increasing effects of climate change.
We met together at Portobello Beach, luckily in some welcome sunshine after days of stormy weather, to sing together and make a sight and soundbite to share on YouTube on 12th December for the Paris Climate Summit 2015.
Singing it outdoors on the sand with the sea behind us and the sun shining on us, with the sound of the waves, the gulls and the breeze surrounding us made it all the more enjoyable and meaningful.
Sara Marielle Gaup Beaska explains their situation and plea here, and sings the yoik:
Bhopal memorial 2015
20 people braved the rain and wind to gather at Greyfriars Kirkyard to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster. With songs, poetry and statements of solidarity, we remembered all those who have died and been made ill in Bhopal and renewed our pledges to support the people of Bhopal in their ongoing struggle for health care, clean water and justice.