Organize. Show up. Sing out!

I grew up listening to the music of the protesting 60s.

From the radio I heard “It’s Good News Week” by Hedgehoppers Anonymous. I bought that 45 in 1965.

On TV I saw Buffy St. Marie perform “My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying.” I bought her LP in 1966.

From my older brother I heard the songs of Peter, Paul, and Mary including “I’m in Love with a Big Blue Frog.” He bought their “Album 1700” in 1967.

My father had a record collection of music from an earlier era. He also had quite a music memory. He used to burst into song all the time. He often said, “There’s a song for every occasion.” And I think he may have been right.

We had a Sunday ritual. He got up early in the morning and made paper-thin pancakes, using a Bisquick recipe he invented. We always checked the ads in the Sunday paper to see if Korvette’s had a record sale. A good price in 1968 was $3.44. I shopped for the latest album by The Doors while he searched the bins for the music of Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw which he once owned on 78s.

Our other Sunday tradition had to do with Sunday School. Dad was responsible for driving me there in his tan Karmann Ghia. I didn’t want to go to Sunday School. I just wanted to eat pancakes and go to Korvette’s.

To avoid Sunday School, I pretended I was asleep when he came into my bedroom to wake me up. I wasn’t very good at pretending. He’d sit on the side of my bed, rub my back, and sing “I don’t want to fight zee Sunday bull.” Humor was his go-to strategy for defusing conflict. I had to hide my face in the pillow so he wouldn’t see me smiling.

Thinking back on that, I realize that my dad introduced me to one of my earliest protest songs. It was sometimes sung as, “I don’t want to go to Sunday School.”

It is with that rich history and my “discovery” of Pete Seeger’s music in high school that I wrote a song to sing to the New Hanover County Schools Board of Education at their November meeting. The song is called “Earn Our Trust” and is based on my notes from a planning meeting I had with some retired teachers and parent activists.

At the October Board meeting, I gave a 3-minute speech about the School District’s questionable safety measures for their transition from Plan C (all remote instruction) to Plan B (hybrid of remote and in-person instruction). Our group’s plan for this month was for everyone to speak on the theme of “trust.” My muse of musical protest had a different plan.

There are special rules for our Board of Education meetings during this COVID period. The audience is limited to 25 people. Chairs are spaced six feet apart. Wearing a mask is required.

The part of the meeting where audience members are allowed to speak is referred to as the “Call to the Audience.” For health and safety reasons, the other members of our small group prerecorded their messages and watched the proceedings from home. I was the only in-person speaker.

My name was called first. I stood up and wondered what would happen next. Would they question my bringing a ukulele up to the podium? Would they stop my singing mid-verse? I had prepared myself mentally to be escorted out of the room by a member of the Sheriff’s Office, singing and strumming the whole way out to the front door of the building.

I introduced the song by saying, “I’ve written something for the current Board, our newly elected Board, and for parents and community members that I know are watching everything you do.” (Notice how I strategically didn’t use the word “song” so as not to tip them off!)

Wearing a KN95 mask, I sang my three verses, three choruses, and a bridge. I definitely had the Board members’ attention. We had eye contact for most of the time. I couldn’t tell from their masked faces what they were thinking, but I’m pretty certain that no one smiled. When I hit the final chord there was long silence. The few people in the room consisted mainly of administrative staff and reporters. They didn’t budge. Then I quietly thanked the Board and sat down.

The speeches from our group followed and were played over the sound system. They were fabulous. Each one mentioned something about the “lack of trust” or “needing trust.” The Board members did not react or respond to anyone’s questions or concerns. When the last speaker was done, the Chairperson moved on to the next item on the evening’s agenda.

Singing a song in person helped set the tone and the message for that evening’s “Call to the Audience.” It may have even energized our group. However, the impact of our collective work won’t be known for several months. We’ll have to wait and see which actions the Board takes to earn our trust.

I’m looking forward to future planning and organizing sessions with my education allies. We have work to do on forming a coalition with diverse community members and bringing new voices to the podium. I don’t know what I’ll be presenting in December, but you can bet someone will have a song ready for the next occasion.

  • Peter Rawitsch

Here are the song lyrics:

Earn Our Trust

words and music by Peter Rawitsch

How do we know you’re listening?

How do we know you care?

How do we know what’s on your mind

when you just sit and stare?

With better communication

and real transparency

you’ll earn our trust, (earn our trust)

earn our trust (earn our trust)

Take care of our teachers.

Protect our children too.

We don’t like the rumor mill.

Just give us the truth.

Report new COVID cases

by the end of every day

and you’ll earn our trust, (earn our trust)

earn our trust. (earn our trust)

We know you’re not indifferent

or prone to nonchalance.

But when we write, e-mail, or call,

we’d like a prompt response.

Some here were elected.

Some of you were hired.

Some are well-respected,

while others have been fired.

Know that we’re all watching

everything you do to

earn our trust, (earn our trust)

earn our trust. (earn our trust)

You’ve got to earn our trust.

You can watch my live performance of “Earn Our Trust” at this YouTube link: https://youtu.be/IS8oYPdEvmI

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