Hands Across the Hills

Dialogue brings us together.

Words and music by Sarah Pirtle, © 2017, Discovery Center Music BMI

Lyrics

Chorus:

We’re taking a chance, we’re taking a chance

to join and sit down together,

and I can see better by the light in your eyes,

and that light will lead us back home.

 

Refrain:

Hands across the hills, hands across the hills,

joining hearts and joining wills, hands across the hills.

 

1. Before we met you, we pictured your faces,

we studied your names and planned where you’d stay.

And now we can see all the strengths that you carry,

as you work and you build and you pray.

as you work and you build and you pray.

 

Chorus and Refrain

 

2. When you piled in the vans and took to the highway,

we hope you could feel our hearts pulling you here.

Nervous, excited, all hands are open

and these hands reach over the hills.

and these hands reach over the hills.

 

Chorus and Refrain

 

3. When you’re in Letcher County, and you look at your mountains,

we’re in the same circle, we’re on the same team.

We look at the same moon, we look at the same sky.

We look in our hearts and find the same dreams.

We look in our hearts and find the same dreams.

 

Chorus and Refrain

Production: Engineered by Fred Bashour, Leverett MA.

About This Song

This song highlights a model dialogue project. It was written for the Hands Across the Hills Project connecting the small town of Leverett near Amherst in Western Massachusetts and Letcher County, KY (2017-2018).

You can learn more about the Hands Across the Hills dialogue project at their website: handsacrossthehills.org

According to Paula Green, one of the team of Leverett citizens called the Leverett Alliance who spent six months preparing, the project is a “meaningful grassroots learning experience between people from different parts of the country who are taking a risk for understanding and connection. During the weekend of Oct. 27-29, a small group of concerned citizens in Leverett welcomed 11 Kentuckians from Appalachian coal country into their homes—and hearts. A van arrived in the dark after a 15-hour journey. We think they are brave to come into our homes and community, and Leverett citizens were there to welcome them. Their culture and politics vary vastly from ours—yet both groups are committed to discovering our common dreams and ways to realize them that serves all of us.” Paula Green described the project in this article from the Hampshire Gazette in advance of the event.

“Time is now for dialogue by Americans” by Paula Green
How did this weekend come about? When the Leverett Alliance formed out of the despair over the 2016 election, one subgroup, the Bridging Committee was determined “to bridge” with Americans whose histories and perceptions are different from our own. We found a remarkable partner in Appalshop, a nonprofit community and cultural organization in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Eighteen of us in Leverett and 15 in Kentucky have been planning ever since and have named our endeavor “Hands Across the Hills.”

We plan to enhance our understanding of each other in a series of structured dialogues, as well as share activities that include participatory theater, an art project on ancestry, music jams, meals, sightseeing in the Pioneer Valley, and home stays.

On Oct. 28, a full day of events is open to the public, including a morning community forum where our guests will first present their history, culture, and challenges, and then engage with the audience in small groups. In the evening, everyone is invited to a contra dance. ...Next spring, our Leverett group will make a reciprocal visit to Whitesburg.

We began this effort hoping for camaraderie and connection for all 33 participants over the weekend, as well as increased awareness and learning for the public that participates on Oct. 28. Over the months, however, this project has unexpectedly grown in dimension. Now some of us ask if our coming together, our exploration, and our documentation of the project can be a model for dissemination and encouragement for others to try a similar experiment in their own communities.

For decades, I have worked with people in war-torn countries who afterward learn to interact effectively and rebuild their communal lives. If it can happen in those circumstances, I believe people-to-people programs here in our own fragmented country can do the same, using this model or one like it.

We understand the vast gaps in our lives and views. We do not expect to agree with our guests and we will not avoid the difficult topics, but we expect to listen and be listened to. We seek a way to find common purpose before we fracture even further, and that is what we hope our project will accomplish.

This bridging project offers an alternative to the despair and disempowerment we have been feeling—that we are helpless in the onslaught of history rolling over us. So often it seems like there is nothing we can do. But here is something we can do. The process and the growing connections feel right, healthy, and empowering. We now live in anticipation of their arrival, our dialogues and our shared three days of activities.

Transformation? Do I expect others may change? First of all, I’ve changed. For the first time in my life I’ve read a half dozen books about Appalachia and watched relevant videos. I’ve also had many conversations with my Kentucky counterpart Ben Fink and become sensitized to their issues and concerns. I am in deep transformation and I believe our Bridging Committee is too. This transformation gives me hope that we can move from demonization to humanization, first with our fellow citizens from Trump country, and later with others.

Paula Green, of Leverett, is founder of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding in Amherst and professor emerita of the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. She has worked extensively in conflict transformation in Asia, Africa, the Mideast and Eastern Europe.