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Which Side Are You On? (A May Day Demo)

by Wychwood

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A physically-distanced demo for May Day.

"Which Side Are You On?" was written by Florence Reece in 1931. She scribbled the lyrics on a calendar after anti-union thugs terrorized her family during the Harlan County War (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlan_County_War). She set the lyrics to the tune of “Jackie Munro,” which told the tale of a woman who went to war “dressed like a man” to save her lover. The song ends with the two getting married, over the objections of a general and priest who think two male-presenting people shouldn't be permitted to marry.

We're working on an arrangement of this song that will incorporate "Jackie Monroe" and more modern versions of "Which Side Are You On?" We'll play that version for our upcoming Roots of Resistance livestream (Part 2, appearing here once details are determined: www.youtube.com/channel/UCLKlJd5R6Ffdea1nODZf2Ng)

In the meantime, we thought a simpler recording of some of Florence Reece's original verses would be perfect for May Day.

Other May Day (or any day) funtime activities:
- Check out the great documentary "Harlan County, USA" (up on youtube for free and probably many other platforms) to see Florence Reece sing her song – and for an incredibly powerful story of another union struggle a generation after she wrote her song.
- Learn about the origins of May Day and the Haymarket Massacre (there's always wikipedia and Thoughtslime made a typically funny and informative youtube video about it)
– Join organizing for a general strike (www.genstrike.org)
– Learn and get inspired by the Winnipeg General Strike (1919) or the Saint John General Strike (1976)
– Support essential workers fighting for a living wage and basic safety, and ordinary people who can't pay rent
- Here in Ottawa/Kitchissippi, connect with orgs like 15 & Fairness, the Workers Rights Action Project, the Herongate Tenant Coalition, and the COVID-19 Rent Strike.
– This also being an ancient spring festival, enjoy the beauty of the earth coming alive and having some space to breathe.



Come all you good workers, good news to you I’ll tell
Of how the good old union is coming here to dwell
Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on?

Dm – F C / F Dm – A7 // Dm – A7 Dm / "

They say in Harlan county, there are no neutrals there
It’s either be a union man, or a thug for J. H. Blair

Don't scab for the bosses, don't listen to their lies
Us poor folks haven't got a chance unless we organize

Chord Key: Slashes show line divisions, ditto mark means repeat the previous line's chords, squished chords mean two chords in the time you do one unsquished chord.


released May 1, 2020
Tim played banjo and sang into his phone.
Chrissy played Tim's recording on one device and recorded herself singing and playing guitar, washboard, and slide guitar on another.

We also made a (sorta) black metal remix of this song:

The photo is by Robert Gumpert in 1974, of striking mineworkers and supporters confronting state police and strike breakers in Harlan County, Kentucky.

Learn more about Robert Gumpert's photography in Appalachia here:

Robert's still doing great work – he has a photo-essay caled "Home: Coronavirus Edition" on his homepage now:

As of the fall of 2019, Harlan County miners were still fighting extortionist mining companies, this time by blocking coal trains demanding they actually get paid for work they have already done:




Wychwood Ottawa, Ontario

We're a duo (Chrissy Steinbock & Tim Kitz) who identify only half-jokingly as “the world’s first blackgrass band.” We both sing & play guitar or banjo, while mixing in accordion, bass, saw, dobro, harmonica, glockenspiel, etc. Some days we’re acoustic purists. Some days we like to corrupt traditional folksongs with bits of black metal, ambient, & noise, trying to make folk music dangerous again. ... more

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