August 17, 2019 | 80° F

Activists use music to strengthen protests

Photo by Lianne Ng |

Members of the N.J. Youth United Against War and Imperialism sing about antiwar and community concerns at Civic Square in downtown New Brunswick during an Occupy New Brunswick protest.

The N.J. Youth United Against War and Imperialism hosted “Occupy and Audify New Brunswick” Saturday to give a musical voice to the Occupy New Brunswick protests.

Musical groups Solidarity Singers and RAW Machine along with the Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War participated in the protest in front of the fountain at George Street and Livingston Avenue, which included collaborative performances among local musicians, group members and community activists.

The group protested various issues that affect the New Brunswick community, like deportation raids, to issues that impact the entire world, like war.

Robert Colby-Witanek, a Montgomery High School senior who founded the N.J. Youth United Against War and Imperialism with his father, Bob Witanek, said they encouraged the public to bring instruments like guitars, flutes and tambourines, but hand clapping and feet stomping were enough to participate.

Rehearsals for the songs performed at the event, which included “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan and “WAR” by Edwin Starr, were held every Sunday in March at the Douglass Campus Center, Witanek said.

“We’re going to start having a regular presence of music [and] inject a [musical] element into the people’s struggle in New Brunswick … around police issues that are going on around town, tuition hikes and the endless war — they’re all connected,” he said.

Witanek said music could help propel the Occupy movement forward and unite people through the emotions they experience while engaging with music.

“When people sing together, they may agree with the words of the song [or] they may not agree with every little angle, but they’re unifying,” Witanek said. “Ideas will be exchanged and information will be shared, and out of this we’ll grow a more unified movement.”

Jasmine LaSalle, an Occupy New Brunswick member, said music introduced another aspect to the group’s protests.

“Our marches don’t really have music, this event is to be the music for Occupy New Brunswick,” LaSalle said.

Although this was the first “Occupy and Audify New Brunswick” there are talks that it could become a regular feature every Sunday in New Brunswick, and LaSalle said more students should join in.

“We want to work with the students, we want all of us to be on the same page,” she said. “It would be our dream to have 100 students playing with us.”

But some students are already involved, like Isabel Rodriguez, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

Rodriguez feels the different type of actions highlighting music and protest songs are just as effective as a political protest with marching and chanting.

“Music has the ability to cross boundaries, people can feel connected to music regardless of who they are — young [or] old, rich [or] poor,” she said.

Rodriguez said music has a unifying quality that suits Occupy New Brunswick protests well.

“The music is here to try and bring the people together. No movement is without music — it’s something that people feel, it brings people together … on a different level,” she said.

To continue “Occupy and Audify New Brunswick,” the N.J. Youth United Against War and Imperialism will hold rehearsals led by Colby-Witanek, a pianist, which Occupy New Brunswick members fully support, Rodriguez said.

“We will be holding more rehearsals to learn these songs [and] to teach them to volunteers and the community,” she said.

By Manuela Jimenez

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