Moving Our Feet – Putting Radical Politics to Music
By Peter Shapiro. Posted September 10, 2022.
Moving Our Feet was started by Mary Ann Heimann, a talented writer and musician who worked with the Tenants Action Group in San Francisco and had already written several songs about housing struggles in the city, including “The I-Hotel Song” and “Speculation Shuffle.”
I jammed with her a few times on my banjo, then she got the idea of organizing a group that would perform at rallies. We were joined by Carl Wingo, who sang tenor and played clarinet; Bob Kass, guitar player and prolific lyricist; Lucy Clarke, Ray Hing, Carol Eng, who had a lovely voice, and Pam Tau Lee when she had time. Our name came from a phrase from Mao’s Yenan talks on literature and art. Apparently, besides rallies and programs, we also sang at weddings. “My 95 year old mom distinctly remembers Moving Our Feet singing at our wedding. If she remembers, well, I have no argument with that!” – Lucy Clarke.
Most of our songs were parodies. Bob’s musical polemic against the Bakke decision borrowed the tune “Adelita” from the Mexican revolution. Ray rewrote the lyrics to “Sixteen Tons” to reference the Stearns miners’ strike. Lucy introduced us to Bertolt Brecht’s “United Front, sung by the ant-fascist International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. Lucy tinkered with the master’s lyrics to make them less sexist.
One day on my break at the Oakland post office, sitting atop a pile of empty mailbags with the Motown hit “So Fine” going through my head, I wrote new words about the anti-eviction struggle in Nihonmachi, San Francisco’s Japantown. Nowadays this would be labelled “cultural appropriation;” we would have said we were just good internationalists.
Snap, snap, snap, snap
So fine (women)
Snap, snap, snap
So fine (women)
Snap, snap, snap
SO FINE, YEAH, YEAH (women and men together_
Our Japanese community
That is where we want to be
RDA can’t make us leave
This time yeah, yeah
Sometime when the war was on
The bourgeoisie threw us out from our homes
They put us in camps took all we owned
What a crime
What a crime
What a crime yeah, yeah
We returned to our community
We still had to fight with the bourgeoisie
The real estate sharks and industry
RDA yeah yeah
RDA said they had the power
To steal our belongings and to lock our doors
But we won’t be scared anymore
We’ll fight, yeah, yeah
We’ll fight to defend our home
National oppression has got to Go
The masses are with us and this we know
We draw the line
Draw the line
We draw the line, yeah, yeah
They tried to make us move away
Jacking up the rents that we had to pay
Tearin’ down the houses where we want to stay
to keep us down
Keep us down
To keep us down, yeah yeah
To keep us down & under their control
They forced us to live here and we made it our home
Now they’re saying that we got to go
But We’ll stay
We’ll stay, yeah yeah
We’ll stay in our community
Nihonmachi is where we want to be
RDA says we have to leave
“Looking back at our wedding reception, Moving Our Feet’s debut of the RDA song was a huge and pleasant surprise. It especially aroused the crowd. The lyrics by Peter were and continue to be right on. Moving Our Feet is a wonderful legacy of our movement times.” – Mickey Imura.
Carl had some musical training and Mary Ann went on to perform in several bands, but the rest of us were rank amateurs. It occasionally showed. The kinder members of our audience said we made up in spirit for what we lacked in musicianship. Part of the problem was that we were so busy with other political work that we never had time to rehearse. We were at our best when Pam and Carol performed with us–a couple of strong sopranos can make even a mediocre band sound decent.
“When I would go to various meetings at the Chinese Progressive Association, Moving Our Feet and many other Asian, Filipino and white activists would sing. More than speeches or even organizing efforts that drew me to the heart of what the movement was trying to accomplish.” – Denise Teraoka.
Author’s Bio: Peter Shapiro is a retired letter carrier. He served as labor editor of Unity and currently sits on the board of Healthy California Now, a statewide single payer coalition. He is a delegate to the Alameda Labor Council, representing the California Alliance for Retired Americans.
Japantown photographs courtesy of the Committee Against Nihonmachi Evictions (CANE) Archive.