Heather Heyer: The Ballad of the Unknown Activist

This song was written after the Charlottesville riots. It was also a few weeks after the sudden, accidental death of our older brother. I was ripe for self-reflection, resentment, anger at myself, anger at the world as well as gratitude and a general tenor of taking stock of my station in life to try to beat back the impending despair.

The song was written quickly, and in my mind played reels and reels of footage I had seen over the years, plus old photos, plus the images I burned in my own imagination reading texts of people who have fought for human rights and improved living conditions far into our histories.

I imagined the African-American and other sympathizers marching from Selma to Montgomery, with bleeding feet. I imagined in the same movement, African Americans sitting at lunch counters, until they were hauled away. I imagined protesters and activists gathering in churches and community halls throughout history, linked arm-in-arm for strength and lifting their voices together until they were re-charged and ready for another round.

Of my four grandparents, one was a union telephone (telegraph before the phones became ubiquitous) worker. One was a seamstress. One was a longshoreman, constantly striking and agitating for better treatment, benefits and pay. And the fourth took whatever odd clerical jobs she could to cover the strike days. While they weren’t activists, somehow, the plainness and earnestness of their aspirations strikes me as the very heart of what the activists I wrote for are fighting for. Simple, honest work, fairly compensated, enough time to care for family and friends, and to enjoy life and mental health.

I have long been critical of myself for not getting more involved, and perhaps, Heather Heyer, being a young white girl forced me to see the sacrifices I have skirted thus far, and forced me to reckon with the cowardice I have always secretly carried. Maybe I saw what I wished for myself in this young woman who looks like me, and finally I had to pull my own covers.

Whatever the reason, this is a song for you, the activists, the perseverers, the parents of kids who need a little extra so you fight for them, the kids of parents who need a little extra, so you fight for them, the people who suffer discrimination in this life for a physical or mental disability, for the color of their skin, their sexual preference, their God preference, their income strata, you name it, somebody has fought to normalize it and get themselves the benefits and quality of life we all deserve.

I personally, am forever cosmically humbled by the sheer weight of valor this takes and I hope this song is the first of many braver and more relevant steps I take participating in forging a better life for everyone and everything on this little planet.

In November Quenby went into our local studio here in Livingston, MT with engineer, Jamey Warren to record an acoustic track of a song she wrote in 2017 after the Charlottesville riots. She got to work with local musicians and dear friends, Jody Engstrom on upright bass and harmony vocals, and Chelsea Hunt on fiddle and harmony vocals. The single drops on Friday, January 7th on all streaming platforms. Stay tuned for the video, but in the meantime, here are some photos and videos of the recording session.