The Perfect Protest of "We Shall Not Be Moved"

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“Us youngsters, some of us would take off by ourselves.”

I found myself walking down a strange street, in a strange town, surrounded by strangers. I held in my hands a sign that said “Reform Jews Will Not Stand Idly By.”

I was in Tuscon, AZ for a professional meeting on March 24th, 2018, and our group decided to attend the “March for Our Lives” together to show support for stronger gun laws to help prevent mass shootings. I walked down the street, with my friends by my side, loudly carrying a sign that identified who I was, and the change I wanted to see, the whole while humming to myself “Just like a tree, that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved.”

29543267_10155395027286658_5914096022382192802_nI was inspired. During the last month, I watched teenagers cower under their desks to avoid a hail of gunfire one day, only to become the leaders of a national movement fighting tooth and nail for meaningful gun laws the next day. I saw tears turn into action. I saw pain turn into victory.

Watching these kids from Parkland, FL inspire an entire country to action serves as a visceral reminder of other times throughout history that we have had to look to young people to make real and lasting change. During the 1960’s, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led thousands of young people to fight for civil rights. They stood up in the face of hatred and anger. Fire hoses were aimed at them. Attack dogs were set upon them. They were taunted, beat, shot and hung. But, these young white and black adults stood firm and fast. They protested, they marched, they sang songs.

Mavis Staples’ brilliant 2007 album We’ll Never Turn Back revisits a time when she and her family, The Staple Singers, helped to lead the struggle for civil rights by providing a soundtrack, at Dr. King’s request, for the movement. The songs they sang and wrote helped to inspire people of all backgrounds to action through non-violence. We’ll Never Turn Back highlighted some of the songs they sang, and serves as a valuable reminder that, even in the age of Barack Obama, there is still much work to do.

“We Shall Not Be Moved” is Mavis Staples’ interpretation of an African American spiritual that has been sung in church for well over a hundred years. The lyrics are simple. The message is powerful.

“We shall not, we shall not be moved
We shall not, we shall not be moved
Just like a tree that’s standing by the water
We shall not be moved

We hear the words over and over again. We shall not be moved. We are a strong as a deeply rooted tree. Sensible gun laws. Civil rights for all. Religious freedom. Peace. We are standing here until we are satisfied.

“We shall not, we shall not be moved
We shall not, we shall not be moved
Black and white together
We shall not be moved.”

Look at the faces of the Parkland students. Reflect on the Civil Rights movement. The reasons are different, but the struggle is the same.

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The words rang in my head as I marched. I could hear Mavis singing to me. Singing with the wisdom of years gone by. Singing with the pain of experience and witness. Singing with the joy of promise and hope.

Nope. We shall not be moved.


“We Shall Not Be Moved”
Performed by Mavis Staples
Released August 24, 2007

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