Didn't We

“don’t let them tell you that it can’t be done.”

By Jim Page

As far as I’m concerned no political movement can be called “authentic” without music, theater, poetry, dance, the whole thing. Revolution is not just a mental exercise. For most of my life I have pursued a musical career that carries the details of reality with it. I’ve traveled and lived in places that became the songs I sing. I play acoustic guitar, which makes it easy. You can take it out anywhere, at any time. Music is the landscape, song is the form, and the guitar is the tool.

Before the WTO got to Seattle I had become cynical. I didn’t expect much. That was an obvious mistake on my part, and I should’ve known better. I had a friend from Oakland staying at my house for those days – she was doing a literature table at one of the convergent points downtown. I gave her a ride on Tuesday morning to where she was going to be working. I turned the radio on and they were talking about tear gas and people blocking the intersections and how whole streets were unusable. I dropped her off and immediately went to the Pike Place Market to park my car. I figured they had more to worry about than parking tickets. I crossed First Avenue on Pike Street right into the middle of everything. There was somebody climbing up the face of Nike Town, there was a burning dumpster at 3rd Ave, there was a police line facing off to a line of demonstrators with linked arms, there was an IMC under siege, there was a marching band – absolutely every square foot of the city center was occupied by somebody doing politics. It was the first time I heard the phrase, “This is what democracy looks like,” and it made complete sense.

I made up my mind to spend the next three days swimming in over my head, soaking up as much as was humanly possible – mining for songs.

People say, “Why do you sing political songs?” And I say that’s the wrong question. The correct question is, “Why don’t you sing political songs?” Or, “Why don’t you sing more political songs?” Because, as an artist, you not only have the right but the obligation to address the world that you live in. That means all of it – sports, economics, love, war, political scandal, comedy, tragedy, fascism, religion. Everything. If you can talk about it you can sing about it.

So that’s what I did. I tried to be everywhere at once. I wore out my shoes and got no sleep. I was booked to play at the Showbox on Tuesday evening, but Bill Clinton was in town and they had declared a state of emergency. There was a lot of gas outside and the word had gotten around that there was an enforced curfew, so that the venue security people didn’t come to work and the owners were afraid they would lose their license if they went ahead with the show. So the gig was moved to Pioneer Square. The next day I played at a church on 5th Ave, in behind the no-go lines. They had said that nobody was allowed on the streets but I went around anyway, it was porous. I carried my guitar with me everywhere.

I felt fortunate to have been a part of those events, even in the limited capacity that I was. It was an actual political victory, and those don’t happen very often. My main takeaway lesson was that cooperation, variety of tactics, and unity of vision is what leads to success. And most importantly, “direct action gets the goods.” Whoever said that hit the nail right on the head.

AND -- don’t let them tell you that it can’t be done.

“Didn’t We” Song

After the WTO events were over I waited a month before writing the song. I wanted to make sure that it was actually as important as it seemed. I monitored the international press – India, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Canada – and read endless commentaries, editorials, and reports. Once I understood that yes, it was a real big deal, then I went to work.

I wanted a song that was a celebration of victory.

The lyric is constructed as a rap. Not like an actual rapper would do it, but like I would. You can speak the words without music and they work. It’s also written like a movie script. It begins with the camera’s eye up in the air, circling over Seattle, laying the groundwork for the opening scene: the way big money pulls the strings, the poison in water and air, how profit is king, and how they don’t like it when you stand up to them but we did it anyway.

Then the camera begins to swoop down around the tops of the buildings, introducing the WTO – it comes to town and the people come to meet it. The police and the National Guard, the activists with their variety of tactics. And the “bombs bursting in air.” The camera is still above street level but closer now, it’s the millennium that everybody was afraid of but it’s different - giant puppets, the unions, and the delegates who can’t get in. Then the camera is at street level, at the police lines - the pepper spray and the handcuffs, the busses and the holding cells, and the unbeatable will of the people who are coming alive.

Then the music comes, soaring with a kind of nobility, giving you time to reflect on all that’s been happening and what it means. And the camera is above ground again, reflecting on things. The media, the politicians, the police chief. Things have changed and there’s no going back. And now the camera goes higher still – even than at the beginning of the song – it’s global now. It’s David and Goliath. It’s changing the world, and it’s taking the inspiration of Seattle and carrying it outward. The music plays out to honor the people who did the deeds of those days. Because we did, didn’t we.

Didn’t we (Lyrics)

By Jim Page

November 30th, ‘99

history walkin’ on a tightrope line

big money pullin’ on invisible strings

gettin’ into everything

so deep, it’s hard to believe

it’s in the food and the water and the air you breath

and the chemistry, the bio-tech

the banker with the bottomless check

the corporations and the CEO’s

and the bottom line is the profit grows

the money talks, you don’t talk back

they don’t like it when you act like that

but didn’t we

shut it down

didn’t we

November 30th, ‘99

it was a Tuesday mornin’ when we drew the line

it was the WTO comin’ to town

and we swore we’re gonna shut it down

and they stood there with their big police

they had the National Guard out to keep the peace

with the guns and the clubs and the chemical gas

but still we would not let them pass

and they raged and roared and their tempers flared

and there were bombs bursting in the daylight air

and they’d run us off, do us in

but we came right back again

yeah, didn’t we

shut it down

didn’t we

November 30th, ‘99

millennium passing as the numbers climb

and the people came from everywhere

there musta been 50 thousand out there

there were farmers, unions, rank and file

every grassroots has it’s own style

there were great big puppets two stories tall

there were drummers drummin’ in the shoppin’ mall

there were so many people that you couldn’t see

how that many people got into the city

and the WTO delegates too

but we were locked down, so they couldn’t get through

yeah, didn’t we

shut it down

didn’t we

November 30th, ‘99

lockdown at the police line

and they’re hittin’ you with everything they got

but you ain’t movin’, like it or not

and they’re tyin’ your wrists with plastic cuffs

and they’re loadin’ you up on a great big bus

and they’re takin’ you down to the navy base

pepper sprayin’ you right in the face

try to break you down, try to get you to kneel

but you got the unity and this is for real

and they can’t break a spirit that’s comin’ alive

that’s the kind of spirit that’s bound survive

didn’t we

shut it down

didn’t we

the media loves all the glitter and flash

and the newspapers talkin’ out a whole lot of trash

about the violence of the people in black

and how the cops were so tired they just had to attack

and the secrets hidden in that deep dark hole

of what they call City Hall may never be told

the mayor’s out doin’ the spin

the police chief quit so you can’t ask him

well they can swear to god and all human law

but I was there and I know what I saw

and the visible stains’ll wash away in the rains

but this old town’ll never be the same

‘cause didn’t we

shut it down

didn’t we

it’s the greatest story ever told

David and Goliath, how you be so bold

standin’ up to the giant when the goin’ gets hot

and all you got is a slingshot

well they tell me that the world’s turned upside down

you gotta pick it up and shake it, gotta turn it around

you gotta take it apart to rearrange it

I don’t want to save the world I want to change it

don’t let ‘em tell you that it can’t be done

‘cause they’re gonna be the first ones to run

just take a little lesson from Seattle town

WTO and how we shut it down

yeah, didn’t we

shut it down

didn’t we