I was in the drum corps of a woman's action group, and we went to the Republican Convention in Houston specifically to give support to the women's health clinics because Operation Rescue was going to do a number there.
We joined with about 30 women from Houston and we practiced simple beats with them. We followed Operation Rescue from clinic to clinic, and stood in front of the clinics beating our drums and chanting. They couldn't get near.
And when Randall Terry tried to do his photo op in front of the clinic with tv news, we were so loud, he had to go around the corner to be heard, so he couldn't stand in front of his group.
Operation Rescue had some kids with them, and they would start dancing to our drumming and laughing.
It was great. I think every liberal church, clinic, etc. should have a drum corps. Or maybe every community should have one and defend these places from the whackos.
So I posted the above as a comment, and was asked to write a diary about it because it's a good non-violent action to use in clinic defense and elsewhere. So, go below the fold for a few pointers.
So, let's start with "equipment". I used an old snare drum (with the snares removed), and I tied a long piece of cloth to either side so I could wear it easily hung from around my neck. For me, the comfort zone was when the drum hung around my belly button. But one could also use pots and pans, however, that limits the beat, because you have to hold the pot or pan with one hand and can only hold one stick. People who play djembes (an African hand drum) can also wear those in a way in which they can use both hands. Or you could get a stainless steel bowl and drill holes in the side you can wear it and band it with both hands.
Percussion instruments can be made too. A water bottle with some small steel balls makes an excellent shaker. I'm sure there are some people here who can suggest other homemade percussion instruments.
So, what to play? I was a drummer in several bands, so I knew actual rhythms. However, most of the women in our drum corps were new to playing music and to drumming. After getting everyone comfortable wearing and situating their instrument, we came up with a few rhythms using words to get the sense of the rhythm.
This was in New York City, and our first drum corps practices were in my band's practice space on 3rd Street in the East Village, which was the Hell's Angels block. Outside, there was a huge mural on the wall in memoriam to a guy named Vinny. Written in big letters were the words (capital letters represent accented beats):
R.I.P. Big Vinny
When in DOUBT
Knock em OUT!
So that became our first rhythm. Our second rhythm was pretty vulgar.
You FU*KED my MOM
And it got worse (this also became a favorite affirmation people recited when they were pissed at Republicans:
FU*K that motherfu*ckin BULL SHIT
KISS my motherfu*ckin ASS!
What can I say? We cursed a lot, and that also made the rhythms really easy to remember and play.
We referred to the first rhythm and Big Vinny, the second rhythm was MOM, and the third was BULL SHIT. Sometimes some of us would play Big Vinny and the rest of us would play MOM.
Digression: I've always thought that people curse a lot because it adds good percussion to a sentence. A word like "shit" sounds like a high hat closing. "Fu*k" and "Fu*cking" sounds like hitting a drum. For example:
"I'm going to the store."
Boring rhythm. But
"Shit, I'm going to the fu*ckin store."
That sentence has rhythm!
The point is, coming up with word phrases to use as rhythms is an easy way to get people to play rhythms together without having to learn music. The words make it easy to remember. One might use a line of lyric from a song (rap lyrics are often very percussive) or just notice something on a billboard or someplace. Using this word rhythm strategy made it easy to go down to Houston and enlist 30 new women to play and easily teach them some beats (we only had one afternoon to teach them). Or to easily have people join in the corps on a march.
At certain points, someone would just start banging their drum ecstatically, because the group energy and drumming would launch them into what came to be known as a drum orgasm. This could happen in the middle of a march or clinic defense or even a practice, and when it came on, the rest of us would cheer the ecstatic drummer on whooping and shouting, banging around.
There was one especially brilliant drum orgasm one of our members had that blew us all away. She was a very smart, funny woman, and she was rather homely. One afternoon, we were in a "protesting pen" being kept away from the event we were demonstrating at, and we were drumming in the warm summer sun. Suddenly this woman burst into a drum orgasm. She was going at it like Ginger Baker on LSD and speed, and I swear, you could almost see an aura of energy around her. When she was finally done, she was positively glowing. And she looked so incredibly beautiful. I mean the look on her face, the grace in her body was stunning. After that, when I looked at her, I only saw beauty. Never saw her as homely again. Even though nothing about her appearance had changed except that influx of glowing energy.
When we did clinic defense and faced off with Operation Rescue, we'd pause our drumming once in a while and hold our drumsticks in a sign of the cross position and sing "Joshua fought the battle of Jericho" (an old hymn), about Joshua and company blaring trumpets and making noise and knocking down the walls of Jericho. That really irked some of the Op Rescue people. How dare we use a hymn against them! How dare we claim god on our side (even though most of us were atheists, it's a damn good hymn).
By the third day of this, one old woman in the Op Rescue brought her fiddle, and was trying to counter our drum corps with her music. As Op Rescue broke to go to the next clinic, and we broke to follow them, I sidled up to her and complimented her playing and said, "In another setting we could be jamming together." She smiled and nodded. It was a beautiful moment.
For our trip to Houston, we donned costumes of camouflage shorts and hat, our group t-shirt with cut necklines and sleeves, a long strand of plastic pearls, black fishnet stockings, and hiking boots. We also rented an ice cream truck and drove around handing out ice-cream and "menus" that listed such items as Good Old Boysenberry (with a paragraph about sexism in politics), The Slush Fund Slush (about mis-use of political slush funds), etc.
Imagine anti-abortion protesters trying to get close to a woman who is accompanied by drummers on either side. Imagine them trying to scream their bs (that's REAL vulgarity) over the sound of drums. Imagine drummers and dancers escorting women joyously into the clinic. Because Op Rescue folks like to think of us as angry feminists. They hate seeing us show signs of joy (even tho getting an abortion is not a joyful event, being free to choose IS joyous).
Drum corps are good at most any march, demo, or protest. But they are very effective against Operation Rescue types at women's health clinics. And I promise you, making a cross with the sticks and singing Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho will make them nuts.