Like many people, I became the public adult that I am while undergoing the life changes of leaving home to go to college, being graduated and moving again for a first job, and establishing new friends in a new city. For me, it was in that temporary move to Boston that I found both Clara Shear, my voice teacher, and Maxine Klein, a professor of theater at Boston University and artistic director of Little Flags, the theater company which would be the center of my life for over a decade. (That temporary move, buy the way, ended up being 26 years long!)
Little Flags was a company that was creating new works for the stage. We would tour throughout the northeast and eventually even to Europe. We were blatantly political. At the start of each performance we offered a kind of manifesto. “We dedicate our theater to a new culture,” we would declare, “and a society free from oppression by race and sex, by ability and age, by sexual orientation, and most importantly by class.” It was, for me, a heady time of creativity and activism, of shared responsibility and solidarity, of artistry and working-class spirituality.
One of the new songs that James Oestereich and Maxine Klein created was an homage to Salvador Allende, the democratically elected President of Chile whose democratic socialist government was undermined by the economic machinations of the Nixon White House. The turmoil unleashed on Chile culminated in a military coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power. The coup commenced on September 11, 1973—50 years ago, this month—and is remembered for a defiant speech broadcast as the presidential palace was overrun. There Allende took his own life. The declaration of the coup was followed by days of rounding up thousands of leaders and community activists. Many were detained in Chile Stadium in Santiago. Among those activists were cultural figures like Victor Jara, a teacher of theater at the Technical University. Jara had provided more than a decade of leadership in developing a national theater and music culture that resisted imperialism and elevated the lives of workers and peasant farmers.
Jara was tortured for several days before being killed on September 16. The Core Group of Little Flags strongly identified with Jara and his story. Hoped to do in our country what he had achieved in his.
In the musical revue “To the People,” I sang the song “Salvador,” recorded below. Composer James Oestereich plays the guitar. The last time I sang this salute to the nueva cancion movement was weeks before I entered seminary to begin a new career. We strolled on the Avenue of the Presidents in Havana and saw statues to Benito Juarez and Simon Bolivar. I stopped to sing in front of the statue of Salvador Allende. I hope you enjoy this salute.
Rev. David Carl Olson