When I was in high school in Bethlehem, Pa., I had some ideas about the Vietnam War and race relations in America that didn't seem to be appreciated by too many of my peers or teachers. I wasn't sure if anybody else was offended by the treatment of African-Americans or found governmental justification for military activity in Southeast Asia so sorely lacking.
There were, of course, news stories about dissent (we only had 15 minutes of network news then; the 24-hour news cycle was not yet even a glint in Ted Turner's eye) around these issues but they usually featured people in places like Philadelphia or even Washington, D.C.
And then one Sunday night I tuned into an FM station from Philadelphia that was hesitatingly audible on the giant Magnavox radio in our living room. The host was playing something called "folk music," and there was a guy singing a song about all the ways you could try to get out of the military draft, like telling the draft board: "I'm only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen, and I always carry a purse. ... [W]hen the bombshell hits, I get epileptic fits, and I'm addicted to a thousand drugs." You get the picture - and a few of you may recognize these lyrics from Phil Ochs' "Draft Dodger Rag."
It took me months to track down this album, but I did eventually find it at Speedy's Record Shop in Allentown. One spin and I was hooked: Somebody else out there was saying very publicly the kind of things I was thinking.
I've come to believe that art, music and films are sometimes a very powerful vehicle for communicating important ideas. These media can appeal to something in us that effectively bypasses intellectual analysis. You can feel it first and figure it out later.
That's why on Sept. 28-30 Americans United will be sponsoring a series of concerts nationwide called "Voices United for Separation of Church and State." The idea is to stand up for the importance of church-state separation at a time when that constitutional concept is under withering attack. We also want to raise awareness about AU's work - all while having a great time.
Americans United isn't new to this. We used music as part of a project a few years back that was called "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Separation of Church and State ... But Were Afraid To Ask." (Maybe you've seen the DVD.) It occurred to me that AU could partner with singers who care about church-state separation and provide a weekend of music.
Then, to make it something nobody to my knowledge had ever done before, we'd make sure that one of the events occurred in every state in the union (and the non-state District of Columbia). …