This song was born out of the line “don’t let them tell you it can’t be done,” from Jack Layton’s letter to all Canadians. Written as a goodbye as he reached the end of his battle with cancer, this letter brought me to tears as I read and re-read it, and that line remains etched in my mind all these years later. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done. Layton was one of a very small number of politicians that have given me hope for the future, and his passing was a profound loss. Reading his letter will help you understand why, even if you knew nothing more about him or his politics.
Did I know from the outset that “don’t let them tell you it can’t be done” would be part of a song? No. It lay back there dormant in some recess of my mind, blissfully ignoring my regular attempts at writing. What did come one day was the section:
“This is how it started
And this is how it’s going
And this is how it’s always been.”
An incomplete idea, yet there was something in there that I wanted to tease out. I just wasn’t sure what it was. So I went for walks, wrote my morning journal pages, and generally tried so hard that my creative flow hid from my efforts. I really worked for this song, and that didn’t really work. This one took her time.
I have spent the last year and a half getting deeper and deeper into the climate justice movement, spurred on by concern for my children’s future, fear about the fragility of the family farm we call home, and my deep love of the natural world and the peace and happiness it has given me. I have spent hours in meetings, writing letters to political officials, and organizing groups of friends to talk about the crisis. I have felt the intense sadness and anxiety of working hard toward a goal that feels unattainable. I have felt the crushing disappointment of petitioning a politician who turns around and does the exact thing that makes the situation worse. I know the heaviness of this work.
One morning I had ten minutes before a zoom meeting so I brought my guitar into my office and started strumming. The Jack Layton line had kicked itself up out of the dust and was rolling around behind my eyes. I knew that I wanted to talk about the apathy, the giving up, the hopelessness and helplessness we can all feel when faced with huge problems and powerful people telling us things can’t be the way we want them to be. I was feeling heavy, and I needed some light.
I decided to write about how individuals are often SO good and have so much capacity to be loving and helpful and careful and considerate. I decided to invite you to challenge the idea that the larger system or the “way things are done” is for the greater good. I decided we the people can and must and will be the force that brings about change and that we need to trust ourselves and one another and stop letting ourselves be made to feel helpless.
I believe in community and the goodness of people. I believe the government and corporations have dumped a mess at our feet and they want us to think it’s our fault. But as I say in Don’t Let Them Tell You, “I believe we have the answers and the power, and they want us to stay quiet but we’re only getting louder.”