Sweet Athens, Georgia

"Sing it out, y'all!"

"Sing it out, y'all!"

happened in Athens, Ga., this past weekend. I can't say exactly what,
but I was there, I heard it, I felt it. At one point, I swear, the '60s
erupted out of the sweltering night, full blown, as a band called Abbey
Road lit up College Avenue. What was happening was the town's 32nd
annual Human Rights Festival -- its 32nd annual fusion of politics,
music and spirit. "Stop All Wars!" proclaimed the banner on the stage.
This was about the creation of peace, profound and joyous, you heard
me, smack dab in the middle of Georgia.

It was a
festival of rock and roll and blues and bluegrass, of folk music,
hip-hop, jazz and dance; it was also a festival of immigrants' rights,
animal rights, gay rights, universal health care, environmental
sustainability and, of course, justice for all, peace on Earth, and
activism, activism, activism. And each cause, separate and distinct,
glowed as part of a larger whole.

"Put your
feet in the street!" long-time radical lawyer Millard Farmer cried from
the stage, as he has done at the festival for years. This was what I
felt come alive during the festival: a fearless and joyous, born-again,
unapologetic, naive belief (and I mean "naive" in a good way, unbroken
by the hard lessons of politics and life) that citizenship equals
participation; that the world belongs to us, not to the high financial
rollers and corporate elite; and that the time to take a stand is now.

I asked Ed
Tant, one of the festival's organizers and a long-time columnist for
the Athens Banner-Herald, if the space-time continuum had been altered
to allow the '60s to show up suddenly in all its youthful enthusiasm
(after all, one of the bluegrass bands that played, led by Tommy
Jordan, was called String Theory). Ed's response: "Here in Georgia, the
only '60s that usually erupt are the 1860s, so events like the Human
Rights Festival are important anywhere, but especially here in the

I was down
there because I'd been invited to speak from the venerable old wooden
stage that's been reassembled every year for a generation, for most of
the duration of the festival: the same stage graced by Dave Dellinger
and Bill Ayers and Jesse Jackson and many other uncompromised,
defiantly controversial activists and pacifists over the years, who
have kept alive a belief in the world that is to come, that must come,
if the human race is going to survive and grow up.

"Sing it out, y'all!"

This is
what one of the members of Caroline Aiken's band shouted out to the
audience at one point, and the words were so clear, so right, so
Georgia, I still feel them calling to me. Maybe peace has to be set to
music -- made to vibrate -- before it can come into being.

I don't say
this simply. The festival contained plenty of hard-edged commentary,
plenty of outrage and analysis, and if you were only casually present
at it you might not have felt or cared about the connection between the
words and the music, or you might have distinguished in some automatic
way between performance and lecture, heart and head. But I began to
feel a continual hum at the festival, magnifying and unifying
everything that was going on -- and the hum wasn't emanating from the
sound equipment.

The hum was
the passion we ourselves brought with us to the festival. The hum was
human rights, a fair world, a just world, a world without war. And it
was more than that as well. It was more than idealism: a mocked,
damaged word, no longer fit to describe the heart's biggest yearnings.
The hum was love.

"According to Plato," writes Diarmuid O'Murchu in Quantum Theology, "love is the pursuit of the whole. Our broken, fragmented world yearns to be whole again."

So this
brings me back to Abbey Road, a band that -- how can I put this? --
doesn't merely play Beatles music but seems to channel the Beatles
themselves, with a driving energy that evokes the original music in all
its complexity. They were the final act on Sunday night, and the last
song they played (before their extended, non-Beatles encore) was the
one that ruptured the space-time continuum.

"All you need is love, all you need is love,

"All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

"All you need is love (all together now)

"All you need is love (everybody)

"All you need is love, love, love is all you need."

And that's
my last memory of Athens, with people of all ages dancing and swaying
in the street in front of the stage on a perfect night, arms
interlocked, singing out at the top of their voices. The whole weekend
was fused into that word, "love," and it was all we needed.

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