The way in which we, the rank and file citizens of the United States, react to mass shootings in this country has become depressingly predictable. Our initial feelings of shock and grief almost instantly give way to all-consuming anger over botched or warped media coverage. That, in turn, is quickly set aside in favor of the sharing of pertinent Onion articles and the inevitable somber Jon Stewart clip. And after that…not much. We move on, content to resume worrying about reality TV stars and shows about dragons. Our leaders refuse to do anything in the wake of these horrific tragedies—why shouldn’t we do the same?
So kudos to Milwaukee singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey for doing something. Two days after the racially-motivated shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Mulvey wrote a song entitled “Take Down Your Flag” and posted it to YouTube. “Every flag over Charleston is at half-mast today except one,” Mulvey sings in the stark opening verse, referring to the Confederate flag that flies near the South Carolina capitol building. “Take down your flag to half-mast.” Later, the musician turns the song into a tribute to one of the nine victims of the shooting, Susie Jackson. “She is survived by her children and her grandchildren,” Mulvey sings. “Her name is Susie Jackson / She was eighty-seven years old.”
Since Mulvey posted the song last Friday (and performed it an hour later before an Ani DiFranco show in Northampton, Massachusetts), it has garnered multiple covers, some with additional verses dedicated to other victims. Milwaukee’s own Chris Porterfield pays tribute to Cynthia Hurd in his version, while singer-songwriter Pamela Means salutes Emanuel A.M.E. pastor and South Carolina senator Clementa C. Pinckney in hers. [Update: Ani DiFranco has posted a version here.] Though different, each version contains this lyric: “It will take all of the love in all of our hearts / And it will also take something more.” Here’s hoping for that something more. [h/t Milwaukee Magazine]