When Paddy Nash stepped forward to sing “We Shall Overcome” at the end of the recent annual Bloody Sunday march, the spirit of Pete Seeger could be felt fluttering above Free Derry Wall.
The song began life as an African-American spiritual dating back to slavery, was borrowed as a picket-line anthem in South Carolina before being adapted and carried into the mainstream by Seeger. That’s what made it particularly appropriate on the march.
The range of concerns expressed on the anniversary was unprecedented. Bloody Sunday families, Ballymurphy families, families of the Disappeared. Paddy Hill sent a message appealing for support for the families of the victims of the Birmingham bombs. Kate Nash spoke on radio of the common suffering of the families bereaved by the Kingsmills massacre and the families left bereft in the Bloody Sunday atrocity.
Banners along the way referred to the plight of Republican prisoners in Maghaberry, to the Rossport campaign against Shell, to anti-fracking, gay pride and right-to-choose campaigns, to the movement for Palestinian rights, for an end to torture at Guantanamo, for exposure of the role of the army top brass in bringing Bloody Sunday about.
These are not contradictory causes. They are all one. The sectarian structure of Northern politics can make it seem that a step forward for the Ballymurphy families would leave the families of the Disappeared a step further behind. But the opposite is the case. We will all go move together or we won’t move forward at all.