The world has seemed a little grayer lately, and it hasn’t been just the weather (although the weather hasn’t helped). While November’s presidential election and the victory of Donald J. Trump brought joy and a sense of empowerment to some people, it left many others feeling angry and confused and disheartened.
It left me mostly numb, but yearning to understand. I had a difficult time believing we lived in a nation where a majority—okay, not a majority, but enough—were willing to overlook Mr. Trump’s profoundly un-American statements and un-presidential behavior and elect him to the highest office in the land. If we were that divided, I really wanted to know what could bring us together.
So I read. I read Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, which illuminates the deep stories underlying many white Americans’ distrust of the federal government and their belief that others have jumped the line and pushed their American Dream out of sight. I read J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir about growing up in Appalachian culture by a conservative writer who ends up imploring his kith and kin to take hold of their own bootstraps and give them a tug. Both books provided some insight, but I still didn’t know what to do next.
Then a couple of weeks ago, I got a text from Matt Mays that read:
Let’s create a flash mob video doing What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding with like 200 of us.
He didn’t have to tell me twice.
What’s that song about, anyway?
It seems Matt had been chatting with Tom Coryell, a long-time Second Helpings and Tonic Ball volunteer, who suggested the idea. The song “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” written by Nick Lowe and made famous by Elvis Costello, was perfect: an expression of anxiety and uncertainty and disappointment, with a pleading, hands-in-the-air chorus everybody knows.
According to an interview with Lowe in The Blade, “(The song) was written, initially, from the point of view of an old hippie who was still sticking to his guns and seeing his kind of followers all suddenly wearing pointy-toed shoes and drinking cocktails. … It’s like they had come to their senses, rediscovered alcohol, and cocaine. … They were rather embarrassed that they’d ever been hippies … and thought the hippie thing rather funny.
“And he’s saying to them: ‘Well, you all think I’m an idiot. You’re sniggering now. But all I’m saying — and you can’t argue with this — is what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?'”
Nothing we could think of. Peace, love, and understanding all sounded like pretty good, apolitical ideas to us.
How it all went down
A small group—including Matt, Ben Shine of the Indianapolis Art Center, Statia Murphy of Second Helpings, and a few of us at Well Done— mobilized the forces of good. We secured the Pioneer Fountain Plaza in Fountain Square for Friday afternoon and evening. Brian Deer and the Achievers cut a great rendition of the song with Eric Klee Johnson at The Pop Machine. We named the event Sweet Harmony: A Celebration of Peace, Love & Understanding and created a Facebook event page to invite all our friends, who invited all their friends. Christy Glesing alerted the media, who helped us spread the word (thanks, David Lindquist) and spread the love (thanks, Bob Scheer and Fox 59).
On that gray Friday afternoon, a crew of Indy’s finest audio/visual wizards set up a stage with a huge American flag backdrop, surrounded the plaza with lights, and got ready for the crowd to appear.
As the six o’clock hour approached, attendance was pretty sparse. Was everyone just too tired, too upset, too disappointed to come out? Did too many of us actually care too little to make a statement of togetherness?
No. As it turned out, the plaza filled up nicely. We cranked up the music and the Achievers took the stage and mimed their hearts out, American Bandstand-style. (Actually, Brian and Matt Wilson and Brett Cantrell were playing, just not through amps. Matt McEllhiney was hitting those drums. Hard.) In under an hour, we dispersed.
But the good feelings hung around. Which is really what this whole thing was about: not politics, not sticking it to anyone, just letting the world know that we still believe in peace and love and understanding, and that we are all in this together. If you made it out that evening, we imagine you’re still feeling the afterglow.
And if you didn’t, check out the video and share the good vibes. It’ll definitely make your day a little brighter.