It's unlikely that Emma Goldman predicted her legacy would inspire the name of an activist folk music duo, but perhaps she did. Over the weekend, I had the delight of seeing Emma's Revolution, a "musical uprising of truth and hope from award-winning, activist songwriters" perform with feminist folk music pioneer Holly Near.
Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow -- the voices of Emma's Revolution -- take their name and their inspiration from Emma's boldness and fiery passion captured in her paraphrased quote: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." Though certainly true to Emma's sentiment, I should share the excerpt of Emma's autobiography Living My Life from which this quote was derived:
"At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.
I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. "I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things." Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world--prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal." - Living My Life (New York: Knopf, 1934), pg. 56
Much like Emma herself, Emma's revolutionaries (Sandy and Pat) are committed to a radical new social order, to freedom, to self-expression, and to the power of every individual to enact critical change. They write songs about GLBT rights, environmental protection, migrant farm workers, labor equity, women's equality, family members of undocumented workers who died during 9/11, world peace, and more. It was pretty rousing to hear many of these songs live (I had been singing Pat Humphries's "Swimming to the Other Side" since I was a young camper at Camp Walt Whitman in Piermont, NH). Now I have my own Emma's Revolution CD (Roots, Rock, and Revolution) which I've been listening to non-stop for three days. Their music is infectiously energizing; it all seems to come from a place of hope rather than jadedness. They describe themselves as writing "powerful, passionate songs about the lives of real people," which couldn't be truer. Many of their lyrics including "we can change the universe by being who we are" remind me that each person has the power to make a difference in the world, something we've been reminding ourselves at the Jewish Women's Archive in considering ways to reduce our impact on the environment. What's more is that Sandy and Pat bring a good dose of humor to their lyrics and their stage presence (the next time you're at an Emma's Revolution concert, ask Sandy to sing a song from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in Hebrew... she can do them all!)
So ... check out the Emma's Revolution website for upcoming gigs (notice the snazzy shofar-like formation of their logo and menu bar. Cool, right?) and get yourself a lovely "Peace, Salaam, Shalom" T-shirt (to accompany their "Peace, Salaam, Shalom" music tour). Perhaps you'll see them at an upcoming rally, march, or teach-in. In the meantime, I'm sending Emma's Revolution a JWA Emma Goldman poster.
How to cite this page
Namerow, Jordan. "Emma's Revolution!." 6 May 2008. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/emmas-revolution>.