© 2024 91.9 KVCR

KVCR is a service of the San Bernardino Community College District.

San Bernardino Community College District does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, creed, religion, disability, marital status, veteran status, national origin, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

701 S Mt Vernon Avenue, San Bernardino CA 92410
Where you learn something new every day.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Local musicians bring folk music to Inland Empire labor movement

Do Re Mi performing at a workshop in Riverside.
Madison Aument
Do Re Mi performing at a workshop in Riverside.

MADISON AUMENT, BYLINE: A group of musicians here in the Inland Empire wants to use music to connect the hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers in the region. The group, called Do Re Mi I-E, is rewriting traditional folk songs to reflect the struggles of workers who are fighting for better conditions.


AUMENT: About a dozen people gathered one evening last fall at a union hall in Riverside. They sit around folding tables in a multi-purpose room with white boards and a few AFL-CIO flags on the walls. It’s a songwriting workshop.


AUMENT: Becca Spence Dobias and Jonny Miller Jr. are the teachers and founding members of Do Re Mi I-E. They tune their guitar and banjo. Dobias grew up in West Virginia and says she was around folk music all the time.

BECCA SPENCE DOBIAS: And then I moved out here and I saw, okay, the coal mining industry in West Virginia is so much like the logistics industry out here.

AUMENT: The logistics industry here employs some 200-thousand people. Many workers in the region have been fighting recently for safer workplaces and higher pay. They've been out on picket lines and Miller, who’s Do Re Mi’s lead vocalist, has joined them. He says music was once an important part of the labor movement, but he doesn’t hear much singing out there.

JONNY MILLER JR: So if we could bring the songs back and show the pickets and teach them to everybody, and we'll get this kind of revive going again, it would really like, invigorate and revitalize the movement, I feel.

AUMENT: Dobias says she hopes the workshop helps empower people to write their own songs.

DOBIAS: “A lot of people think that they can't write, they can't sing. But this music is all about the folk and how everybody should be able to do it.”

AUMENT: At the workshop, Dobias and Miller talk about songwriting techniques like rhyme and alliteration.

MILLER: Can anyone think of a call and response song?

Miller shares an example of how to add a new verse to an old song…like he did with Pete Seeger’s Which Side Are You On…


AUMENT: Then, Miller and Dobias tell their students to take a stab at writing their own songs…


AUMENT: Balgis Muhammad, who’s a labor organizer, jots down lines and brainstorms aloud. Muhammad says the labor movement in the Inland Empire is disjointed… people on strike at one warehouse often don’t have opportunities to connect with people on strike elsewhere.

BALGIS MUHAMMAD: Everything moves so fast and you don't really get a chance to sit down and have those conversations so I think music is a really beautiful way to do that.

AUMENT: Do Re Mi hopes to collect new labor songs into a songbook and add them to their repertoire as they perform at picket lines throughout the Inland Empire. For KVCR News I’m Madison Aument in San Bernardino.