There’s a better life and you think about it, don’t you? is a joyous evening of singing and celebration featuring vocal and choral performances that share the spirit of Ruth Ewan’s High Line commission Silent Agitator. Installed on the High Line at 24th Street, Ewan’s commission is a giant clock based on an illustration originally produced for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labor union by the North American writer and labor activist Ralph Chaplin that reads “What time is it? Time to organize!”
Chaplin composed many of the galvanizing songs for the labor movement of the early 20th century, including the famous “Solidarity Forever” for the Paint Creek–Cabin Creek coal miner strike of 1912 in Kanawha County, West Virginia. Celebration and song have always played key roles in the efforts of the Industrial Workers of the World, which has come to be known as the “singing union.”
Building on this history, the performers in There’s a better life and you think about it, don’t you? use music to relieve the fatigue of organizing and celebrate labor rights victories, activists, and historical movements. For this event, Tayo Aluko will perform excerpts from his one-person show, Call Mr. Robeson, about the life and times of the singer and activist Paul Robeson; the Sing in Solidarity Chorus will sing a selection of their original choral arrangements for lyrics from the IWW’s Little Red Songbook; Lynn Marie Smith will bring her energetic covers of pop songs recast with labor organizing lyrics; NYC Labor Chorus will sing selections from their repertoire developed over the last 28 years of singing together; and Brooklyn Women’s Chorus will sing works including “We Were There” that speak to the central role of women in labor organizing. Morgan Bassichis will host the evening. Additionally, there will be live silk-screening of vintage IWW posters available on-site, provided by Shoestring Press.
Named for a line from Dolly Parton’s song “9 to 5,” There’s a better life and you think about it, don’t you? recognizes the uplifting significance of song in the exhausting work of labor organizing. This evening of fun, lively performances invites musicians and organizers from across the city—and the world—to come together in affirmation that the time we have together need not be all work and no play.
We encourage all persons with disabilities to attend. To request additional information regarding accessibility or accommodations at a program, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (646) 774-2536. Program venues are accessible via wheelchair. The closest entrance to the event is at 14th Street, accessible via elevator or stairs. There will be fold-out chairs available for guests. The closest restrooms, which are wheelchair accessible, are on the High Line at 16th Street and Gansevoort Street.
The High Line is also accessible via a ramp at 34th Street, and via elevators at 30th Street, 23rd Street, 14th Street, and Gansevoort Street in addition to stairs at those locations, the Spur, 17th, 16th Street, and Gansevoort Street.
Morgan Bassichis is a comedic performer who has been called “a tall child or, well, a big bird” by the Nation and “fiercely hilarious” by the New Yorker. Recent shows include Nibbling the Hand That Feeds Me in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, Klezmer for Beginners at Abrons Arts Center (2019), Damned If You Duet at the Kitchen (2018), More Protest Songs! at Danspace Project (2018), and The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions: The Musical at the New Museum (2017). Morgan has presented work at the Brooklyn Museum, Hirshhorn Museum, MoMA PS1, the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art
Nigerian-born Tayo Aluko is an actor, singer, and playwright based in Liverpool, UK, where he worked previously as an architect. His multi-award-winning play Call Mr. Robeson has been performed as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far south as New Zealand, with a performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in February 2012. His play Just an Ordinary Lawyer premiered in August 2016 and has already been performed in five countries. His art is dedicated to encouraging and inspiring progressive activism by showing how Black History is everybody’s history.
Brooklyn Women’s Chorus
The Brooklyn Women’s Chorus is a community chorus that was formed in October 1997 by Park Slope resident and musician Bev Grant. The chorus has a repertoire ranging from South African freedom songs to socially relevant songs by contemporary North American songwriters like Garth Brooks, Jackson Browne, Pat Humphries, and Bev Grant herself. Topics range from freedom and justice, to peace, resistance, and women’s labor history.
The New York City Labor Chorus
The New York City Labor Chorus, with 75 members representing over 20 local unions and district councils, was founded in 1991. Through song, the chorus brings the message of workers’ history and struggles for peace and justice to people everywhere. The music of this multi-cultural and multi-generational group has been heard far and wide. Their repertoire represents the great legacy of US labor music, including songs of labor struggles, protest, and social significance. It also includes a rich diversity of music from the cultures of all working people: songs in the gospel, jazz, classical, and folk traditions.
Sing in Solidarity Chorus
Whether marching to “L’Internationale” on May Day, leading a picket line in “Roll the Union On,” or performing music from The Threepenny Opera in concert, members of the Sing in Solidarity chorus use their voices to strengthen the socialist community through song. The chorus has additionally fundraised for social justice organizations in support of the migrant caravans and anti-racist actions. Begun in 2017 by members of the Democratic Socialists of America, the chorus draws its repertoire from the rich tradition of international revolutionary song: its mission to disseminate anti-capitalist music, build internationalism, and unite the struggles of working and oppressed peoples through culture and song.
Lynn Marie Smith
Lynn Marie aka The Motown Diva is a must-see-and-hear performer who inspires and agitates for workers’ power on the job. She has traveled the country and parts of the world performing for rallies, strikes, picket lines, and conferences. As an organizer, labor educator, motivational speaker, and actress, Smith educates and motivates through her timely messages that bring attention to the struggles or working people by adapting popular songs that cross generations and genres to tell workers’ stories, and then performing them with passion and pizazz. Her infectious, unwavering, positive enthusiasm and energy breathes excitement and new life into combating the struggles of working people in the pursuit of social and economic justice. In 2018, Smith was honored with the Joe Hill Lifetime Achievement Award from the Labor Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.
Project support for Ruth Ewan, Silent Agitator, is provided by Colby and Alberto Mugrabi, with research funding provided by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.
Lead support for High Line Art comes from Amanda and Don Mullen. Major support for High Line Art is provided by Shelley Fox Aarons and Philip E. Aarons, The Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston, and the Charina Endowment Fund. High Line Art is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council, under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson.