We Shall Overcome Redux

 

I’ve mentioned this a couple of times before, but I am not satisfied I made my point.

“We shall overcome” is a love song masquerading as a protest song. Of course, it is a protest song. But it has origins before that as a hymn, or two, or perhaps more than two. While it is a protest song, it is pretty imprecise as a protest song. What exactly is it a protest against? Nothing, really. It is an anthem of unity to bring protesters together.

“We” as in “all of us gathered” and not the royal “We.” But those of us here, together, right now. We shall overcome.

But it is clearly not a love song as most people think of a love song. It certainly does seem to reflect any of the seven steps in writing a love song as described in this wikiHow article. When I hear this song, or when I sing it, I feel an act of defiance against the universe in the name of love. Whatever happens, I will stand by your side and we will overcome whatever we face.

Take a traditional wedding vow:

“To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish ’till death do us part. And hereto I pledge you my faithfulness.”

Is this any different than saying “we shall overcome”?

Regardless of the difficulties we face – health, loss, challenge, and poverty – we shall overcome these things to love one another, to each meet the needs of the other.

It really sounds like a love song to me. The first stanza sets the stage – we shall overcome.

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
Where we go, we go together. We are one.
We’ll walk hand in hand,
We’ll walk hand in hand,
We’ll walk hand in hand, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
We will live in peace, together. The absent word “together” (implied by the “we”) tells us all we need to know – we are going to make our life together, and it will be one of peace.
We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
Whatever happens, we face it together and we are not afraid to do so.
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid, TODAY
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
Our love is in the world, and for the world. Together.
The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around some day
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
It is not just a love song between two people. It is just as easily something bigger. A love song for a community. A love song to the world. I will stand in defiance on behalf the world as an act of love. Because love is action every bit as much, and more, as hope is action.
There are probably billions of definitions and examples of what love is. Every day people enact love in small ways and big ways. For me, love is hope – action as an act of defiance. Defiance of a universe that barely acknowledges your existence. Defiance of loneliness. Defiance of all the things that prevent unity. Defiance of all things that cause sorrow.
“We shall overcome” is a statement of defiance, but all the rest of words are commitments of love as defiance.
We stand in defiance and we shall overcome, we stand united against all who would tear us apart. We two. We three. We, the many. We stand in defiance and love, and we shall overcome.

Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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