Once an activist, always an activist? Not necessarily, since a lot of baby boomers who were immersed in politics in the 1960s and ‘70s have long since stopped marching. But after hanging up her own spurs, Rosanne Ullman, a freelance writer and writing coach from the Chicago area, recently got involved in politics again, and now has redirected her inner activist.
Perhaps you remember Birch Bayh, the governor of Indiana who made a modest bid for the 1976 Democratic nomination for president. Fresh out of college and working in Washington, I decided Bayh would be my pick over the eventually successful Jimmy Carter, so I spent some lunch hours volunteering at Bayh’s D.C. headquarters. They did not have much for me to do.
It was 2004 before I again felt compelled to volunteer for a political campaign. By this time I was living in the reliably blue state of Illinois, so I rode up to Milwaukee with a small group to canvass for John Kerry. I didn’t enjoy going door to door, but I made the pilgrimage to Wisconsin twice.
After that I gave up activism, instead serving three elected terms on my local school board and figuring that was close enough. Then, in 2017, the immigrant abuse began. I grew up as American as apple pie, but I am only second generation— all of my grandparents were born in Europe. When the newly elected administration began limiting immigration, that old thread of activism stirred inside me. Still, I didn’t go march with immigrants. I wrote a poem which, in my mind, was lyrics.
Determined to compose one song in my life despite being unable to keep a new melody in my head, I sat down at my piano, recorded what I was playing, and documented the notes. Before long, a tune emerged, each note paired with a word. So now I had a pro-immigration song called “Dark Lamp,” and I didn’t hate it.
Not long before, I had signed up with an online video-creating program to teach myself how to make a marketing video for my business. It offered an extensive library of images and videos. I started looking for visuals to match my immigration song. Within a few days I had a full music video.
A friend fashioned sheet music, but it was my brother who took a real liking to my earnest little project. Boasting a more impressive musical pedigree than mine— he had, after all, been a member of the Cornell University Glee Club— my brother programmed and recorded a piano accompaniment for the song. Now all I needed was a singer.
The video languished as the administration’s disdain for immigrants grew more aggressive. Finally I hired a friend to sing along to the piano recording. But I’d also always pictured “a girl with a guitar,” so I also found a musician on the freelancer website Fiverr who developed a guitar accompaniment and added her vocal.
I suppose it’s art, but somehow it feels like activism— an activism that proves a better fit for me than canvassing or xeroxing flyers. We all have activist potential; we just have to find the right path.
Rosanne’s children’s book is “The Case of the Disappearing Kisses.”