Passing The Power On

The interdependence of generations.

Source: Words and music by Pat Beck, Satch Hoff, Ellen LaFleche, Sarah Pirtle, Mary Beth Radke, Eleanor Roberts, Marguerite Sheehan, Pat Troxell, and Marcia Yudkin.
© 1980 Northampton Women for Survival, with additional lyrics by Sarah Pirtle.


We are passing the power on.
We are passing the power on.
We are strong together
And we’re passing the power on.


We make a beautiful river.
And we’re passing the power on.


Just like those before us,
We are passing the power on.


We are passing the power on.
We are passing the power on.
We are strong together
And we’re passing the power on.

Production: Engineered by Scott Sibley, Rainbow Sounds Studio. The Native American style wooden flute I’m playing was made by Jason Leyva, Anchorage, Alaska.

The Story Behind the Song

The words and tune began in 1980 in Northampton, MA, in a circle of women, a local part of Women for Survival. We formed after hearing a speech by Helen Caldicott. At a winter meeting we were feeling despondent as we worked to change the danger of nuclear war. I said -- let’s write a song to lift our spirits. We did, and the wonder of songs is that it revived us. Our group organized yearly peace marches in Northampton on Mother’s Day. We wrote:

We are passing the power on.
We are passing the power on.
We are strong women 
And we’re passing the power on.

This song had so much resonance that it has continued. At Journey Camp we have sung the basic refrain each session since the camp began 25 years ago. We stand on Pocumtuck Ridge and think of the First Nations people who lived on this same spot for generations and sing this song every session of every summer.

Like “Strongest Light,” and “Ancestors,” this song is about the supportive relationship between generations.

Workshop Suggestions
Drawing: Draw a connecting shape – a line, a river, or perhaps a vine – to show the extension thorough time of those who came before us and those who will come after. Decide where in your drawing you put yourself, your communities, your family.

Living History: Who is someone whose strength you would like to call upon?  It could be an ancestor. It could be a person alive today. It could be a person in history who inspires you. As an extension of this inquiry, each person picks a specific person and holds up a book, a picture, or simply says their name. Sing each name using the pattern in the song:

Just like __________,
we are passing the power on.

Take out the phrase “those before us” and specifically name someone.

Just like Audrey Shenandoah,
We are passing the power on.

Movement: Pantomime passing something along as you sing the song using the shape of a ball.
Or, stand close in a circle so that you can reach each other’s hands. Put out your left hand, palm up, like a table. With your right hand, tap your left and then the left hand of your neighbor.

Sending Good Wishes: As you sing, “we are passing the power on,” with your hands pretend to throw good wishes to every single person in the circle.

Change the Words: The words of that third line can be varied a number of ways. Instead of saying, “We are strong together” you can vary the repeating line in other ways by saying any of these phrases:

We are strong people.
We pass on our courage.
We are strong singers.

Heritage Day: At Journey Camp people bring in something from home that expresses their own heritage. We divide into small groups of no more than a dozen, and each person takes a turn. One girl shared a quilt that her great-grandmother had worn around her shoulders as she migrated from Sweden and crossed the ocean. One shared a book called Famous Jewish Women. Emphasize that what you bring in doesn’t have to be about your ancestor. You can share something that gives you inspiration, or something that you made yourself like a drawing.

Passing down heritage: “The people before us learned …” Name specific skills that have been passed along, as described in the song, Mama’s Weaving.
The people before us learned the healing properties of herbs.
The people before us carved arrow heads from flint.
The people before us built adobe homes.
The people before us learned how to fire pottery.
The people before us learned how to catch fish.
The people before us learned how to talk out arguments.

Then respond after every phrase: We are passing the power on.