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How a New Album is Galvanizing a Social Justice Movement

How a New Album is Galvanizing a Social Justice Movement

Silhouette of a woman holding a guitar above her head at sunset

How much change can one person really accomplish?  

Given that forces of darkness in the world have been given a fairly explicit green light, great big megaphones, and multiple platforms from which to broadcast - how effective can a single soul be in casting out those shadows, drowning out the dismal drone, and rallying the righteous?

Cue the individuals. Not one, but many. Let’s begin with one: Liz Dunst, chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, sent out a call for new social justice anthems. She didn’t say, “I’m going to save the world.” Instead, she said, “Here’s what I can do.” She heard the hope in the singing voices of young people at summer camps, and noticed the songs were decades old. Time for something new, she said, and she put out the call for new, contemporary songs of social justice. What a beautiful world-changing gesture from one person - to inspire others toward inspiring others.

I once wrote a song called "Let There Be Light” about how any individual can invoke B’reishit and begin to effect change in the world by simply saying those words. Just as Jews begin their day with prayers like Modeh Ani and Birkot Hashachar, intending to build the day upon a foundation of gratitude, we sing songs like "Let There Be Light" to condition our minds toward creating joy, wonder, and peace in the world. It's brainwashing - the good kind.

With that in mind, I thought, what anthem would I like to have, to brainwash myself (and others!) toward moving through our current environment of ignorance, disinformation, misinformation, and malaise? Well, it would be something I would sing when I'm in the heat of power-struggle battle with my 3-year-old daughter, Laila... or debating with my politically diametrically opposed neighbor... or wrestling with the worst part of myself. My anthem, I decided, would be a mantra, a prayer, a deeply soul-stirring wish, in the form of a question: "Did you put more love in the world today?" Simple, straightforward, and to the point. I’d say it, I’d sing it, I’d repeat it over and over. I’d make it my Kool-Aid.

As luck would have it, I’d already written the song “More Love (Karleigh’s Song)” when Liz Dunst’s query came. I just hadn’t thought of it as an anthem - more of a medicinal song. A friend and fellow congregant, Karla, had commissioned it for her granddaughter Karleigh’s bat mitzvah. In learning about Karleigh for the song, I found that she spent her time putting more love in the world, through multiple mitzvah projects, and her gentle and caring way. At 12 years old, she had just lost a best friend to leukemia, and instead of retreating, she redoubled her efforts to be a light, to carry on and spread as much goodness as possible.

Karleigh was and is the inspiration for the song, and I aspire to follow her example. I like to think the song has facilitated healing.

Once Liz put out the call, I began to see “More Love (Karleigh’s Song)” in a new light. This medicine song could be an anthem. I’d let the contest selection committee decide - and they did. They heard the potential for a simple question to guide each single soul who hears it toward goodness and light-filled action. A bunch of individuals, all doing the right thing, and judging their actions by whether they put more love in the world? And then singing about it? That’s galvanizing - the seeds of a movement, especially when sung along with the other songs on “Together as One," the new album Liz helped create.

What can one person do? I think of Karleigh. I think of Karla. I think of Liz Dunst. I think of each of the songwriters on “Together as One.” And I think of you.

Billy Jonas is a performer, singer-songwriter, composer, and educator, who tours with the Billy Jonas Band. His song, "More Love (Karleigh's Song)" is featured on the new album of social justice music, Together As One. For more information, visit www.togetherasonemusic.com.

Billy Jonas
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