While the use of spiritual music in non-violent resistance is noted by such scholars as Thomas Turino (2008), one not might expect music to play a large role in a Quaker-led non-violent direct action campaign. Even though Quakerism is known for its historical animosity toward music, I argue that Quakerism's historic values have in fact fostered a robust musical culture within Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) and shaped its ability to function effectively as a "rebel" non-violent direct action group. Music is used to summon courage and unity within scary actions. The “gentle” Quaker aesthetic may meanwhile partially mask or even cap the movement’s rebelliousness.

The Philadelphia-based organization’s Power Local Green Jobs campaign pressures a local utility company to invest in renewable energy and local jobs in marginalized communities, and considers itself to be on the intersection of climate, racial, and economic justice. The group’s musical choices, which range from traditional spirituals to parodies of popular songs, promote group cohesion and—in tandem with the group’s demographics—allow the group to index good virtue seem non-threatening to outsiders, even as it poses a threat to the political status-quo. Scholarship, including work by Turino and by Noriko Manabe (2015), has begun to address the use of music in large contemporary political mobilizations. This paper considers the role of music within a smaller but sustained, strategic campaign which I argue is an especially important model for creating change in the current political era.

Author Biography

Benjamin Safran is a musicologist, composer, and activist currently based in Philadelphia. They completed a Ph.D. from Temple University in 2019 where their dissertation focused on contemporary classical composers' uses of social justice and political themes within concert music.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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