Joe Solo reflects a new phenomenon … and starts planning next year’s event

Tim Lezard Europe, UK,
Thee Faction WSO

Thee Faction perform at Le Pub, Newport, during the We Shall Overcome weekend

“We Shall Overcome has made music matter again.”

That was a message I received a few weeks ago as our movement was growing beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, words echoed by many musicians I spoke to tired of being locked out of the more corporate festivals because they didn’t know the right people, and delighted they could be a part of something inclusive of everyone no matter what their ability or connections.

The same went for the promoters and venues, no longer the only place in town to put the odd band on, but now a part of something international and historic.

And it was. WE ONLY WENT AND DID IT!!!

UnionNews editor Tim Lezard introduces Thee Faction at their Newport We Shall Overcome gig

UnionNews editor Tim Lezard introduces Thee Faction at their Newport We Shall Overcome gig

Five months of plotting and scheming, provoking and cajoling resulted in the biggest festival of music and politics the world has ever seen. Over the weekend of October 2/3/4 there were 250 events in 123 towns in 8 countries on 3 continents and each made the whole stronger and brought communities together, united in the joy of a shared task, that of helping those suffering most under austerity, those driven to food banks by DWP sanctions or poverty wages, and those unfortunate enough to find themselves sleeping on the streets and staring down the barrel of a long cruel winter.

We didn’t want to put a Children In Need-esque total on it because we felt the community spirit and solidarity were equally as important and you can’t put a price on that, but we think given what we know went on out there, that a ballpark figure of £125,000 worth of cash, food and clothing is likely. That is a lot of help, and while it may not beat austerity, it can certainly black its eyes and kick its shins.

But alas, money and food run out. They are a temporary fix, a sticking plaster on a nasty vicious wound. Thankfully the most telling result of our weekend has been the outpouring of compassion and community spirit echoed in post after post on social media from the four corners of the UK.

“I didn’t think people cared any more, I thought I was alone in thinking what is happening is wrong. Now I see that there are thousands of people like me, and I won’t forget that.”

Those were the words of one lady I met on my travels over the weekend. Everywhere I went people were slapping my back, shaking my hand, hugging me, and I took it all on behalf of the thousands of volunteers in all those venues making magic happen and protesting at the same time as they pulled together, living up to our promise of being ‘A Raised Fist and a Helping Hand’.

People everywhere brought their own skills to the party; from musicians to artists, from Radical History tours to food collections outside Goodison Park as Everton hosted the Merseyside Derby; and in doing so created the biggest festival of music, politics and community solidarity there has ever been. Next year we make it a full week. Next year we come back bigger, bolder and better. We run October 3rd to October 9th. #WSOW16 is coming.

In the meantime we’ll go back to what we’ve always done. Every weekend, up and down the country, musicians are out there banging the drum for a fairer, better world; only now we know we’re not alone and our voices will be echoed in every town and city which took part. We’ll be out there singing and shouting, backing campaigns, raising awareness, helping where needed and encouraging others to join us and do the same because it matters.

I’ll leave you with the words of a young homeless man forced out of Manchester by officials who didn’t want him littering the streets during the Tory Party conference, he was helped by volunteers in Ashton-under-Lyne and wept quietly when told of what WSO was doing. His message was as simple as it was stark:

“Thank you for seeing us.”

We see you.

We know protesting isn’t enough. We know we must not repeat the mistakes of the past and allow divisions and petty squabbling to defeat us and blind us to the human tragedy we face. We must unite against our common enemy. We must defeat the poverty AND the politics which create it. We can only do that together.
And together we can help. Together we SHALL overcome.

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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