On this episode of What Dreamers Do, we catch up with Si Kahn, an activist, author, playwright, organizer, and singer-songwriter known for his powerful songs and lifelong engagement in labor issues, human rights, and environmental concerns. The conversation covers his experiences in the labor movement as an organizer, and his engagement as a folk singer focused on writing songs for and about real people with real stories.
Si shares his insights into the world of social justice actions (musical and otherwise) and offers some golden advice on how to keep going during times when political situations make us feel despair and hopelessness.
We also learn more about the host's own experiences with activism and social change, and how she’s used music and dance to create solidarity and community. The episode ends with a discussion about how the energy we carry in our hearts has the power to help heal the world, and that carrying signs and protesting are the only ways to effect change.
Some key subjects shared by Si:
Si Kahn's Website
Creative Community Organizing: A Guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists, and Quiet Lovers of Justice by Si Kahn
"If" by Rudyard Kipling (poem)
Post-Roll with information about the Appalachian Flatfooting & Clogging Academy
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Carla Gover [00:00:00]:
Hey, dreamers. It is so nice to be back and spending some time with you today. And this podcast is just a little bit unusual because it was originally intended to just be a catch up session and conversation with my old friend Si Kahn. And I could quickly tell after beginning the conversation that it was just going to be so valuable for people to hear what he was talking about. Now, Si is an activist, an author, a playwright, an organizer, a singer songwriter, which is the main identifier I give to him under some protest from him. And as I have learned from my Yiddish speaking friends, he is what you would call a Mensch. He's a really good guy. And the reason I wanted to just let you guys in on this conversation is because this is a time in history when a lot of us are feeling some despair, maybe some helplessness about all of the things that are going on that seem so far out of our control. And I really appreciated hearing Si's perspective because he has been in the labor movement, the organizing movement, the folk singer who is, in his own way, changing the world movement for such a long time. And I think he has some valuable insights to share with us to help keep us going during these trying times. So I hope you enjoy listening to him as much as I did. And we're just going to jump right into my little coffee chat with Mr. Si Kahn.
Carla Gover [00:01:33]:
All right? I'll just say I am sitting here having coffee. Well, I'm having coffee. I don't know what he's having with my old friend Mr. Si Kahn Songwriter extraordinaire many other accolades, but I'll just leave it at that for now. I'm so happy to be here talking with you all.
Si Kahn [00:01:53]:
You're going to say I wasn't prepared years old. You're just going to say, I write songs.
Carla Gover [00:02:00]:
This is impromptu. Okay? We're off the cuff today. We're just inviting people in on our coffee chat. Would you like to brag on yourself, sir?
Si Kahn [00:02:08]:
No, I don't do that. I'm a professional civil rights union community organizer with bad laryngitis this morning. And we stay in the background. We don't lean, we don't get out front. We lift other people up, and we Make sure they get the credit. There's a lot of things I have Done in this world, and no one Will ever know that I was with the one that got them started.
Carla Gover [00:02:40]:
Well, that's a beautiful philosophy, and I think that your songs are one of the awesome ways that you do that work, one of the most powerful ways that you do that work. But one thing I wanted to ask you, this is what's been on my mind, and so I'm just going to ask it. First off, I was born in 1972, and some of the legislative hijinks that have been going on lately are the most alarming thing that I've seen in my lifetime. And I'm not sure how to respond. I know a lot of people feel really hopeless and powerless to fight, like the big corporate government machine that seems to be ramming everything through that's all dressed up in some sort of religious coding. Have you faced times that seemed this dire? And if so, what have you done in the face of it?
Si Kahn [00:03:38]:
Well, first, I completely understand how people are feeling.
Si Kahn [00:03:43]:
It's a tough time.
Si Kahn [00:03:46]:
But at least my sense is that.
Si Kahn [00:03:51]:
History in this country runs in regular cycles. A friend of mine just said this is the worst time in this country's history.
Si Kahn [00:04:02]:
You know what? It doesn't even come close. Doesn't even come close.
Si Kahn [00:04:08]:
You're talking about slavery.
Si Kahn [00:04:10]:
You're talking about the deliberate extermination of indigenous nations. You're talking about lynching, talking about the vigilante movements against the left, against the imprisonments of all dissidents. You're talking about deportations. And miraculously and strategically, the people in this country, as the people in other.
Si Kahn [00:04:44]:
Countries, always organize, always fight back, and ultimately, at least so far, have always won.
Si Kahn [00:04:53]:
And I just think you just say, well, I think it's part of what you said, that a lot of what's happening is a deliberate attempt to tell people it's hopeless. It's going to happen. The ultra right is going to take over. Nothing you could do about it. That's just a strategic move to keep us from organizing, to keep us from raising our voices, to keep us from fighting back. In fact, more of the people, by a significant majority in this country, want democracy.
Si Kahn [00:05:36]:
They want fairness, they want equity. They want all the things that probably.
Si Kahn [00:05:42]:
You want and probably I want. But a determined minority can raise a.
Si Kahn [00:05:50]:
Lot of sand and can convince the majority that it's hopeless.
Si Kahn [00:05:57]:
So I'm like that's.
Si Kahn [00:05:59]:
Nice guys. You're not going to shut me up. Nice try.
Si Kahn [00:06:03]:
You're not going to sit me down. You're not going to convince me that it's hopeless.
Si Kahn [00:06:10]:
You're on the losing side. History is on our side now.
Si Kahn [00:06:16]:
It is two steps forward and one step back. But you can always do the two step right. Yeah.
Carla Gover [00:06:27]:
Well, I love that. That's a more hopeful take than you will hear coming at you for any different sides right now. And I like your two step metaphor because I love to dance. And at this .1 of the things that I keep deciding and realizing is that I don't always know what to do, but I know how to bring people together to make music and dance and to create solidarity and to create community and connection and kinship and to celebrate our shared humanity. I have this project I work on called Cornbread and Tortillas, which you might have seen if you watched the recent special from the Music to Life organization I'm working with. But that's kind of where we just keep coming back to. Well, it's daunting all of these forces of corporate fascist, greed and oppression that we're fighting, but we're just going to keep singing and dancing.
Si Kahn [00:07:26]:
Si Kahn [00:07:27]:
Si Kahn [00:07:31]:
There's a quote from John. I don't know how to say it.
Si Kahn [00:07:35]:
Moore. Mur muir.
Carla Gover [00:07:38]:
Yeah, I'm not exactly sure who you're talking about.
Si Kahn [00:07:40]:
Yeah. So? I don't know. He says something like, you know, while.
Si Kahn [00:07:46]:
You'Re fighting for the environment, take a.
Si Kahn [00:07:50]:
Little time to enjoy it. Go walk in the mountains. Go fish in the creeks. Go watch the sunset.
Si Kahn [00:07:59]:
Go admire the trees.
Si Kahn [00:08:02]:
That I can promise you one thing.
Si Kahn [00:08:05]:
You will not only have deep satisfaction, you will outlive the bastards. It's a good philosophy.
Carla Gover [00:08:16]:
It's a great philosophy. And it relates to something that I have come to understand. You always hear the was it Nelson Mandela that said, be the change you wish to see in the world? I think at least he's credited with it sometimes.
Si Kahn [00:08:34]:
He probably didn't copyright it.
Si Kahn [00:08:37]:
Carla Gover [00:08:38]:
But I have come to believe that just just the energy that we carry with us in our hearts, the vibration of joy, happiness, love, acceptance, compassion, kindness, it's changing the world. Even if at that moment we're not marching, even if that moment we're not calling our legislator, that we're spreading in the world, it's powerful. And I think we sometimes discount it because it seems so simple and insignificant. Possibly, but it's not. It might be the most powerful thing that we as individuals can access. I'm not sure. What advice would you give to somebody.
Si Kahn [00:09:16]:
Looking at trans with that old Shaker hymn?
Si Kahn [00:09:21]:
To the gift to be simple as.
Si Kahn [00:09:24]:
A gift to be free to the.
Si Kahn [00:09:26]:
Gift to come down where we ought to be and when we have come.
Si Kahn [00:09:34]:
To a place just right by, turning will be our delight.
Si Kahn [00:09:42]:
I just think you got to keep on keeping on. I'm not saying you can't get discouraged. That's only realistic. Okay. The last time I saw Sue Massek for.
Si Kahn [00:10:02]:
The last time, we met and continued.
Si Kahn [00:10:06]:
Seeing each other when we were working.
Si Kahn [00:10:08]:
On her one woman musical about Sarah
Si Kahn [00:10:12]:
Ogan Gunning called Precious Memories, we were playing in Louisville together.
Si Kahn [00:10:21]:
Hold on, now. I forgot what it was.
Si Kahn [00:10:27]:
The Rudyard kipling.
Carla Gover [00:10:28]:
The Rudyard kipling.
Si Kahn [00:10:32]:
So I didn't know about that. And I'm like, so instead of the proprietor? Yeah, I have been hearing about this. I am so excited to be one of the chain of British Imperialist Coffee Housers, right up there with the Cecil Rhodes, Winston Churchill. I love taking sort of verbal jujitsu where you take something from them, throw.
Si Kahn [00:11:11]:
It back at them, right?
Si Kahn [00:11:12]:
So there's this poem by Rudyard Kipling, and I can't do the whole thing, but it's like, if you can stand.
Si Kahn [00:11:20]:
Your ground when those around you are falling, then you will be a man. My son.
Si Kahn [00:11:30]:
Somebody, not me, came up with a.
Si Kahn [00:11:37]:
Great parody, which I just love it.
Si Kahn [00:11:40]:
If you can stand your ground when.
Si Kahn [00:11:42]:
Those about you are falling all around.
Si Kahn [00:11:45]:
You, then you don't understand the situation. Right? So I just think, here's one of the things I learned. This is a longtime union organizer for the Textile Workers Union.
Si Kahn [00:12:01]:
At the Bio Workers Union, there were.
Si Kahn [00:12:04]:
Many organizing campaigns when we were sure.
Si Kahn [00:12:12]:
We had lost, and we got together as an organizing team and said, okay.
Si Kahn [00:12:19]:
Clearly this has been a losing campaign.
Si Kahn [00:12:23]:
Let's call a shift meeting for after first shift tomorrow afternoon.
Si Kahn [00:12:27]:
We're going to have to tell the workers and our members that we just can't stay here. We're going to have to shut the.
Si Kahn [00:12:33]:
Union office, and maybe we could come back in four or five years. But let's face it, we've lost. At eight in the morning, the plant manager called up and said, okay, you guys win. We're ready to sign a contract.
Carla Gover [00:12:52]:
Si Kahn [00:12:53]:
I've also been through campaigns where he said, oh, this one's so easy. No way we could lose.
Si Kahn [00:13:01]:
And guess what? To me, the lesson is that you never actually know whether you're winning or losing.
Si Kahn [00:13:13]:
No matter how long you've been at it, no matter how savvy, how true.
Si Kahn [00:13:18]:
In fact, no matter how skillful you.
Si Kahn [00:13:20]:
Are, you actually never know.
Si Kahn [00:13:23]:
So therefore, you should never give up now. You should take rest breaks, like you said, Carla. You should dance, you should make love. You should spend time with your kids.
Si Kahn [00:13:36]:
Your friends, your grandkids, your grandpa, your grandma.
Si Kahn [00:13:43]:
Just because we're fighting for justice doesn't.
Si Kahn [00:13:48]:
Mean we can't have good lives.
Si Kahn [00:13:51]:
And we don't want to set an example for other people, young and old. We're thinking, yeah, maybe I should be an activist, maybe I should be an organizer. We don't want to lead such sacrificial lives that anybody would want to be like us. I lead a deeply good life. I don't remember who it was that said to me, science just wonderful how.
Si Kahn [00:14:23]:
You have sacrificed yourself all your life for justice.
Si Kahn [00:14:29]:
And I said, Listen.
Si Kahn [00:14:33]:
I never sacrificed anything. I have a great love, I have a great life.
Si Kahn [00:14:39]:
I've got kids, I got grandkids, I've got a union pension, and I've got Social Security. I play music, I listen to music. I'm not a good dancer, but every.
Si Kahn [00:14:53]:
Once in a while I rock, I.
Si Kahn [00:14:55]:
Visit with my friends, and I fight passionately for justice. My father was a rabbi, and he was the campus and community rabbi at.
Si Kahn [00:15:10]:
Penn State during the great football years. Yeah, there was this coach, Joe Pastrano whatever.
Si Kahn [00:15:19]:
Pastrami whatever. It wasn't him. It was my old man who's a.
Si Kahn [00:15:26]:
Working class kid who loved contact sports, and he had the direct line. When he gave it down, they started winning. When he left, they started losing.
Si Kahn [00:15:37]:
I'm just saying. And Pomp had this great Sabbath. He was what we call Schumacher shoppice. If you've watched John Goodman in The.
Si Kahn [00:15:48]:
Great Lembowski, you've heard him say, that.
Si Kahn [00:15:51]:
Just means I keep the Sabbath religiously. And I once asked Bob, because I'm not I'm profoundly secular, I'm profoundly gratefully Jewish in terms of the good politics.
Si Kahn [00:16:07]:
Not the bad politics every faith, every religion shares.
Si Kahn [00:16:11]:
They said, did you find it hard.
Si Kahn [00:16:15]:
To keep the Sabbath? And he said, yes, I kept the Sabbath.
Si Kahn [00:16:22]:
But it's even more true that the.
Si Kahn [00:16:26]:
Sabbath kept me that the Sabbath kept me.
Si Kahn [00:16:31]:
Carla, this is how I feel about.
Si Kahn [00:16:34]:
Having been in the movement all my life.
Si Kahn [00:16:37]:
I tried to keep the faith.
Si Kahn [00:16:39]:
I hope that I did. But the movement kept me. It gave me a life of meaning. I don't doubt that I tried hard to live a good life and to work for justice. I'm not saying I always succeeded.
Si Kahn [00:16:59]:
I know that I sometimes succeeded.
Si Kahn [00:17:03]:
But I am grateful to have been.
Si Kahn [00:17:06]:
In this beautiful movement for justice.
Si Kahn [00:17:10]:
What Dr. King called the beloved community in my life is better for it, and I didn't sacrifice a damn thing.
Carla Gover [00:17:23]:
Well, amen. I feel the same way. And even though my journey looks different than yours, I feel like I've been in this community of folk music and social change and social justice action since I can remember growing up in the coal fields of eastern Kentucky. And I feel so blessed and fortunate mainly by just the people, the inspiring people that also never give up and that continue to fight in their own ways. They write poems, they write books. I mainly hang out with a lot of artists. But I think it's important to remember and this is kind of what you were saying reminded me of it, is that we all have to find our own way to engage with justice, and fighting for our collective liberation is really what we're talking about. But somebody who works in banking or finance might approach it very differently than somebody that is a folk singer.
Si Kahn [00:18:29]:
Well, of course, one of the reasons that I've been helpful as a strategist in a number of corporate campaigns is.
Si Kahn [00:18:39]:
I've got friends who work for corporations and I have friends who work for the agency that sells stocks and stuff.
Si Kahn [00:18:51]:
And a lot of them have been very happy to leak material to me.
Si Kahn [00:18:56]:
That I could pass on.
Carla Gover [00:19:01]:
Well, I know one thing. I introduced you as a songwriter, and of course, I'm aware of your deep history and connection with labor organizing and unions and that sort of thing. But for me as a songwriter, and especially because I grew up in Whitesburg with the Apple Shop organization and you had that early album with them. So my first introduction to what you do, obviously, was as a songwriter and your powerful songs that are really in the voice of common people and reflecting the struggles of common.
Si Kahn [00:19:37]:
Si Kahn [00:19:37]:
That's what I am to do. Yeah, that's a compliment.
Carla Gover [00:19:42]:
I'm just wondering if you can think of an instance or two or just anything that you would care to share about a moment or a time when a song or music has really made a big shift or a big difference in the kinds of work and activism that you do, whether your own song or someone else's song. I mean, I'm sure there must be many. I'm putting you on the spot, you guys. This is just like we are literally we made a coffee date and then I was like, hey, why don't we.
Carla Gover [00:20:12]:
Record this as a podcast?
Carla Gover [00:20:13]:
So this is our impromptu.
Si Kahn [00:20:18]:
It didn't put me on any spot. It's totally reasonable. Okay.
Si Kahn [00:20:26]:
Si Kahn [00:20:27]:
Si Kahn [00:20:29]:
This is not a visual podcast. Right?
Carla Gover [00:20:31]:
It's not. So what does your shirt say? Musicians United to protect Bristol Bay.
Si Kahn [00:20:37]:
Si Kahn [00:20:40]:
So I'll try to do a short version, but in the south since.
Si Kahn [00:20:45]:
I was 21, and being Jewish, short stories are not my strong point. Okay?
Si Kahn [00:20:54]:
So back in, I think, 2010, I get an email that says, sigh. You don't know me, but I know your music. I'm a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay, Alaska. You probably don't know where that is.
Si Kahn [00:21:08]:
But give me a call.
Si Kahn [00:21:11]:
I'm curious enough to clue name is Dan Strickland. He's been a commercial fisherman all his life. He's also a folky, I find out letter.
Si Kahn [00:21:23]:
He later's got a couple of Martins, much better than anything I've ever hoped.
Si Kahn [00:21:28]:
But he fished in Cordova, the Exxon Valdez spill.
Si Kahn [00:21:36]:
Now, I am old enough to know that most of the things I remember.
Si Kahn [00:21:41]:
Most of the people I know and.
Si Kahn [00:21:44]:
Work with weren't born yet.
Si Kahn [00:21:47]:
So I explained everything. Axon All Valdez was an oil tanker that spilled oil. Guess who it belonged to?
Si Kahn [00:21:55]:
Exxon Valdez. Right.
Si Kahn [00:21:57]:
And destroyed the commercial fishing and fishing for subsistence and fishing for sport in Cordova, probably for several lifetimes. There's so much oil on the bottom that nothing can lift up. Dan and his family, all of whom fish commercially, moved to Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay is in the Inland Ocean.
Si Kahn [00:22:25]:
In the southwest corner of Alaska. If you imagine that necklace of islands.
Si Kahn [00:22:32]:
Called the Illusions that stretches out towards Russia, by the way, Sarah Palin was wrong.
Si Kahn [00:22:41]:
You can't see Russia from her living room.
Si Kahn [00:22:44]:
I was up in her daughter town, but guess of some Freddie dance and I said, I can't see Russia, so you got to get up on this chair. Don't look real safe. So I didn't get up, but I.
Si Kahn [00:23:03]:
Never got to see Russia.
Si Kahn [00:23:05]:
So Bristol Bay is the source of the richest remaining wild fishery of wild.
Si Kahn [00:23:17]:
Sockeye salmon in the entire world.
Si Kahn [00:23:22]:
It's sustainably managed. This last year, 90 million salmon 90.
Si Kahn [00:23:31]:
Million salmon were caught in Bristol Bay after some 8 million were allowed to escape so they could spawn, and there would be 90 million next year.
Si Kahn [00:23:45]:
So a Canadian mining corporation decided 20 years ago they wanted to build the world's largest open pit gold and copper.
Si Kahn [00:24:01]:
Mine, right near the headwaters where the salmon spawn.
Si Kahn [00:24:08]:
There has never been that kind of.
Si Kahn [00:24:11]:
Mine in the history of the world that doesn't eventually destroy everything downstream.
Si Kahn [00:24:20]:
And from the beginning, primarily the indigenous people of Alaska.
Si Kahn [00:24:26]:
Alaska is 25% Indigenous, started fighting against the mind.
Si Kahn [00:24:32]:
So dad says, he explains to me the great fight that brings together people who fight, who fish commercially, people who fish for subsistence, for survival, people who fish for sport, environmentalists, political leaders. And he says, it's a great campaign, but we don't have a theme song. He said, if you will come into Alaska and write us a theme song, we're not going to pay you for this, and you're going to have to get yourself here.
Si Kahn [00:25:07]:
We will give you all the homemade.
Si Kahn [00:25:11]:
Beer you can eat, you can drink.
Si Kahn [00:25:19]:
And all the smoked salmon you can eat.
Si Kahn [00:25:23]:
Straight to my Jewish heart.
Si Kahn [00:25:27]:
Si Kahn [00:25:28]:
So I went, and that great song Maggie may not the one from Rod.
Si Kahn [00:25:39]:
Stewart, but the one from the great maritime JD. Corbier about a book called The Maggie Mae. He talks about this kid who starts as a decade, and that day turned into 30 years.
Si Kahn [00:25:57]:
That phone call turned into a dozen years, going back and forth to Alaska.
Si Kahn [00:26:03]:
Writing not a theme song, but an entire cycle of songs about the struggle to stop the mind and protect the native languages, cultures, ways of life, subsistence.
Si Kahn [00:26:20]:
The economy, the boats, the history, the culture of this amazing part of the world. Carla I think of myself in some.
Si Kahn [00:26:33]:
Parts of my songwriting as a musical.
Si Kahn [00:26:36]:
Journalist, as a translator. I told Dan, as the only human being I knew in Alaska, suzanne Little.
Si Kahn [00:26:51]:
State senator and bluegrass fans, leader, who.
Si Kahn [00:26:57]:
I actually checked, called her up and said, hey, this guy Dan on the level. I'm not going to go there with $100,000 that, of course, keep handy and get mugged. He said no. He's great.
Si Kahn [00:27:12]:
You should come.
Si Kahn [00:27:13]:
So I told him, I won't be.
Si Kahn [00:27:16]:
Your musical journalist, I won't be your translator, but you have to introduce me to the people who tell me their stories.
Si Kahn [00:27:26]:
I'll bet I listened to 60 different people.
Si Kahn [00:27:30]:
I sat in a third grade classroom.
Si Kahn [00:27:35]:
In one of those tests. My knees will never be the same. And I said to these Indigenous kids who were, like, 1011 and twelve, I will be your messenger if you tell me what you believe people in the lower 48 need to know. I will try to put that message into a song, and when I've written it, I will send it back to your teacher, and she will sit down with you and you'll listen again and again. And if I've got stuff wrong, you'll tell me, I'll try to fix it. If I can't fix it, we'll just throw it out.
Si Kahn [00:28:18]:
So I wrote 30 songs, made an.
Si Kahn [00:28:23]:
Album as a fundraiser with Anna Suzanne, built an international organization of musicians, also.
Si Kahn [00:28:31]:
Wrote songs, who also contacted their fans.
Si Kahn [00:28:35]:
And friends because, hey, as musicians, we're in internal communication systems. You did this beautifully. You said that you're Cornbread Express just before breakfast with so many good things to eat so many good things to smell and to taste. But you got a lot of people.
Si Kahn [00:28:56]:
You could communicate with. All of us.
Si Kahn [00:28:59]:
All of us. Musicians and other artists, we're an automatic communication system. So we used musicians united to get.
Si Kahn [00:29:08]:
The word out in places where the word wasn't getting.
Si Kahn [00:29:12]:
And I field tested the songs we had. Dan and Suzanne lived in different parts of Alaska. We had gatherings in each of their homes. And I always sing a song and then we would discuss it.
Si Kahn [00:29:28]:
Did I get it right? Did I get it wrong?
Si Kahn [00:29:31]:
Is there something that needs to be changed? Does it make sense? So that was like a first step in giving the songs back to the.
Si Kahn [00:29:43]:
People that they were about. They're not my songs. They're not my stories. They're their songs. They're their stories.
Si Kahn [00:29:52]:
And I will tell you there were some fights. I have a song called well, I.
Si Kahn [00:29:59]:
Can never remember the name. Out on the lake.
Si Kahn [00:30:04]:
And I originally wrote it as a Cajun song and it was out in the swamp. And then my friend John Fisner had just lost his father. So we changed it to an Upper Minnesota song and then I rewrote it as a Bristol bass song. And there's a line that said, as.
Si Kahn [00:30:25]:
I cast my lore towards the early morning.
Si Kahn [00:30:31]:
The next thing I know, some.
Si Kahn [00:30:33]:
Guy these are the guys that get us in the fights. Don't always.
Si Kahn [00:30:41]:
You know, real people who fish.
Si Kahn [00:30:44]:
We don't use lures.
Carla Gover [00:30:46]:
Si Kahn [00:30:47]:
We don't use lures. It's easy to follow bass with something that looks a little bit like a bass and flaps and make a lot of noise. The real skill is in presenting a hand tied fly to a trout. So you got to change it. I cast my fly towards the early.
Si Kahn [00:31:10]:
Morning all right, other side of the room. Somebody stands up. Hold on there, buddy. Fly looks like a fly. Floor doesn't look anything like a fish. Doesn't look like anything at all. It takes skill to make it move and imitate the movement of a fish.
Si Kahn [00:31:34]:
That's what a real person who fishes.
Si Kahn [00:31:38]:
Who'S fished for years, that's what we use.
Si Kahn [00:31:45]:
I've got my hand over my face and thinking, how did I get into this?
Si Kahn [00:31:49]:
How do I get out of this? But I don't have to. So Suzanne little's husband, Bob Owens who's the assistant city attorney for Anchorage, capital of Alaska I'm sorry, Anchorage?
Si Kahn [00:32:03]:
Juno is the capital of Alaska?
Si Kahn [00:32:07]:
Yeah, I've even got a song about that, Carla.
Si Kahn [00:32:12]:
I got a song about everything in a long time.
Si Kahn [00:32:15]:
You got to do that. Bob says, Gentlemen he says, Gentlemen, I think we need to find a compromised position here.
Si Kahn [00:32:25]:
Tom, when you use that fly, what.
Si Kahn [00:32:32]:
Do you attach it to? He says, Bob, don't be an idiot. Attire onto a line.
Si Kahn [00:32:37]:
Ed, that lawyer.
Si Kahn [00:32:40]:
What do you tie it onto? Bob, everybody knows you tie a lawyer onto a line, gentlemen, I believe we have a solution. How would you feel? I would say, as I test my.
Si Kahn [00:32:53]:
Line towards the early morning, that's how I recorded it. Right.
Carla Gover [00:32:58]:
That's consensus building right there.
Si Kahn [00:33:00]:
Carla Gover [00:33:01]:
That's consensus building.
Si Kahn [00:33:04]:
Exactly. Ringing my hands.
Si Kahn [00:33:10]:
And then Susan and I took it.
Si Kahn [00:33:13]:
All over the state.
Si Kahn [00:33:14]:
Right? We played in schools with her band, Foods for the Soul, sometimes just the two of us, we played in it.
Si Kahn [00:33:24]:
Gatherings of people who fished. We were hosted by indigenous leaders.
Si Kahn [00:33:32]:
I think my favorite was right before the salmon season opened and everybody was running in to get settling for their torture, get a new sump up or new rings for their VA maritime engine. And we were there outside the maritime supply store with our amps and with a young woman who was registering people to vote, and they're like, hey, guys, I'm sorry. I don't have time to listen. We're like, we know that. Just register to vote. Okay, I can do that now. I got to go. So I think we did interviews on the radio.
Si Kahn [00:34:14]:
We showed up.
Si Kahn [00:34:16]:
So I think when people say, well, you guys sure won that one, I'm like, no, actually, we were not at.
Si Kahn [00:34:26]:
The front of the fight. We were in the back of the fight.
Si Kahn [00:34:30]:
We were maybe 1% one and a.
Si Kahn [00:34:33]:
Half percent of the victory. But victories are won by tiny margins.
Si Kahn [00:34:41]:
And it is just true that every vote counts, and it's just true that.
Si Kahn [00:34:47]:
There are no small jobs in the movement for justice.
Carla Gover [00:34:53]:
Well, I like that story for a lot of reasons, but also because I think it points to the fact that really worldwide, a lot of the environmental movements are being led by indigenous peoples in Brazil, South America, because in some cases still, they're the ones that live most closely with the land and and see and are affected by most immediately the devastation that can occur when unchecked industry is allowed to do whatever it wants to our natural system. So I think it's a great thing to as a songwriter or as a person with white privilege or whatever, or as a person with resources to throw our efforts many times behind already existing movements. Instead of feeling like that, we've got to start from scratch. That's one thing I've learned in working with the Latinx communities here in Kentucky is just I feel like part of my job is helping to create stages and experiences where I can amplify voices.
Si Kahn [00:36:03]:
And we have a podium. We do.
Si Kahn [00:36:08]:
Si Kahn [00:36:09]:
So I've been married for 40 something years to Elizabeth Minnick, who is a philosopher.
Si Kahn [00:36:19]:
I know you're a broomstraw philosopher.
Si Kahn [00:36:25]:
Elizabeth has multiple heritages, including Appalachian, and one of the many things that I've.
Si Kahn [00:36:35]:
Learned from her is that we actually don't know how many things we've stopped.
Si Kahn [00:36:46]:
We know there's some of them, but we don't know how many wars never happened. We don't know how many atrocities never took place. We don't know how many environments were preserved because of our work, she says. And I believe we've been far more successful than we'll ever know, because often the people on the other side I.
Si Kahn [00:37:17]:
Don'T mean to generalize, but the evil people, they think. One time, our youngest son, Gabe, named after my grandfather, was about two years old, and Elizabeth and Gabe and I were walking through the woods, and Elizabeth, who's tall and strong and looks like where she came from, or at least part of her family came from, she looks mountainy tripped over root and fell totally uncharacteristic.
Si Kahn [00:37:59]:
And Gabe said, I didn't know big people fell down. Another time, Gabe and I used to.
Si Kahn [00:38:12]:
Wrestle at night, and I had pulled.
Si Kahn [00:38:14]:
Some muscle, and I said, Honey, I just can't.
Si Kahn [00:38:18]:
I'm hurting too bad. And Elizabeth said, well, I'll wrestle with you. And he said, I'm not wrestling with you. You're a big woman.
Si Kahn [00:38:32]:
Right, okay, maybe there's some gender bias in there and maybe not, but I think oftentimes the people who want to do devastating things look at us and say, now, it wouldn't be wise to take them on. Wouldn't be wise to take them on.
Si Kahn [00:38:55]:
They've got a history, they've got courage, they've got strength, they've got smarts, and.
Si Kahn [00:39:01]:
They'Re going to organize in a heartbeat. It's going to hurt us, it's going to hurt us. So let's just do that somewhere else. And I think Elizabeth's point is we never see that. We don't know that.
Si Kahn [00:39:20]:
But I think she's right.
Carla Gover [00:39:22]:
Oh, I love it, because since I was a child, I've always been obsessed with those places in history, those moments, those stories that you read about where you can see that one individual really made a difference. Rosa Parks or somebody like that. I've always loved those kinds of stories. And that's kind of what you're talking about is just this idea we never know when there's been some kind of critical cusp or nexus point exactly. That came down in the side of best outcomes for all concerned that we played a part in. And we don't know. And we'll never know exactly.
Si Kahn [00:40:05]:
But the fact that we'll never know.
Si Kahn [00:40:06]:
Should not discourage us.
Carla Gover [00:40:09]:
Right. I'm going to add professional troublemaker to my tagline, I think, kind of what.
Si Kahn [00:40:16]:
We'Re talking about, right?
Si Kahn [00:40:18]:
Yeah. Well, you know, you'll find another Elizabeth.
Si Kahn [00:40:24]:
Story, you'll get lots of them.
Si Kahn [00:40:26]:
So I wrote this book about I've.
Si Kahn [00:40:29]:
Written a bunch of books about organizing.
Si Kahn [00:40:32]:
And then most of them are the model for I think the second one was the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. You know, it cookbook you can look up. Yeah. Elizabeth and I actually have four editions.
Si Kahn [00:40:52]:
Going back 50 years because recipes keep changing.
Si Kahn [00:40:56]:
So if you go in the back.
Si Kahn [00:40:58]:
It'S like, oh, cauliflower. How do you prepare cauliflower?
Si Kahn [00:41:03]:
And then it sends you to the.
Si Kahn [00:41:05]:
Recipe page, and it says, first you do this. Right.
Si Kahn [00:41:10]:
So I wrote all these.
Si Kahn [00:41:13]:
Step by Step Organizing Handbooks.
Si Kahn [00:41:16]:
And then I thought, that's actually not.
Si Kahn [00:41:20]:
How I help people learn how to organize for power, for change.
Si Kahn [00:41:27]:
I sort of turn them back on their own experiences because anybody who's raised three kids is a natural organizer. They just have to take that experience and translate it to a different arena. And I don't tell people that stuff. I tell stories. I sing songs.
Si Kahn [00:41:52]:
Si Kahn [00:41:53]:
Not exclusively. Sometimes you just have to say, no, it's like this. So the next book I wrote on organizing was Just Stories from the Road, right. And I believe that when you are.
Si Kahn [00:42:12]:
An organizer, you think like an organizer in that corner of your life.
Si Kahn [00:42:17]:
Just like if you're a musician, you hear songs differently than most people hear them.
Si Kahn [00:42:22]:
Si Kahn [00:42:23]:
So I told all these stories, included all these songs, and because I do things as an organizer, I wrote to about 75 of my friends across a.
Si Kahn [00:42:41]:
Really wide range of things they do.
Si Kahn [00:42:44]:
Said, here's a description of a book I've just written. I need a title and a subtitle.
Si Kahn [00:42:51]:
What do you think?
Si Kahn [00:42:53]:
So the quite wonderful artist musician Marilyn and her mother stayed up all night.
Si Kahn [00:43:02]:
And came up with Creative Community Organizing.
Si Kahn [00:43:07]:
The great blues musician Scott Ainsley, who.
Si Kahn [00:43:10]:
Almost always tours with an African American partner, came up with a Guide for Rabble Rousers and Activists.
Si Kahn [00:43:24]:
Okay. I thought creative Community organizing.
Si Kahn [00:43:28]:
Si Kahn [00:43:29]:
A guide for rabble rousers and activists.
Si Kahn [00:43:33]:
Si Kahn [00:43:36]:
So I opened a manila folder, took out a Sharpie. Not a sharpe. Sharpe is a dog. I took out a Sharpie and I.
Si Kahn [00:43:49]:
Wrote Creative Community Organizing. Big letters.
Si Kahn [00:43:55]:
And then underneath it, somewhat smaller, but still legible letters. I wrote a guide for grabble, rousers and activists. Went and knocked on the door for Lizzie's home office. She said, Come on in. I said, you know, I'm trying to get a title for my book. What do you think of this?
Si Kahn [00:44:16]:
And I held it up and she said, It's wonderful. And what about all of us, Wyatt? Lovers of justice?
Si Kahn [00:44:29]:
So that became the title.
Si Kahn [00:44:31]:
Right. Creative community organizing a guide for Gravel Rousers activists and quiet lovers of justice. I will say that Elizabeth happens to be a superb organizer, and while she is sometimes a quiet lover of justice, sometimes she is a very eloquent organizer for justice. Lover of justice.
Si Kahn [00:45:01]:
I think that's the role that all.
Si Kahn [00:45:05]:
Of us artists can play, because I think we help people learn both from our experience and from their experience, and I think that's something that actually works.
Carla Gover [00:45:24]:
Yeah, well, I love that title, so I'm excited to read that. Okay, well, it's been so great to talk to you today, and I'm going to put a link where people can go read more about you and listen, and hopefully we can just do it again soon. It's so wonderful to reconnect.
Si Kahn [00:45:38]:
Oh, no, we have to do it again soon.
Carla Gover [00:45:41]:
Okay. All right, well, you have a great day.
Si Kahn [00:45:44]:
All right. You too, Carla. Take care. Be well.
Carla Gover [00:45:46]:
Okay, bye bye.
Carla Gover [00:45:48]:
Thanks so much for listening along today. And I will be sure to put links to Si's music as well as his book in the show notes, so check that out. And we will be back soon with.
Carla Gover [00:45:59]:
More interviews from Kentucky poet laureate Silas.
Carla Gover [00:46:02]:
House, author Bobby Conn, dancer Matthew Ollwell, and many more. Meanwhile, keep dreaming.