Forward, March!

Some protestors broke windows on May Day. Others made music. Opalo Mekkelsen, trumpeter and founding member of the  Movitas Marching Band, explains how he and his friends hope to make change with big horns.

A lot of public space goes unused. This band is meant to show people that you can use the streets in an artistic way, that you can bring the community together through music in the streets.

We’re trying to raise awareness. A lot of us come from different backgrounds of activism. I am fighting for immigrant rights. My mother is from Mexico and I feel very strongly about that. We marched in the May Day parade for immigrant rights and a lot of us put signs on our horns to say what we are for. We’re trying to create an atmosphere that’s  more festive. We’re inviting people to understand that most activists aren’t beating up people, fighting, breaking windows.

Our first show was the Procession of Species in Olympia two years ago. There were a lot of members of punk bands that came together and wanted to put this brass band together. At first it was just a handful of people—maybe four or five original members—and we laid out a plan that led to where we are now: a community brass band for like-minded people.

Nobody in the group has a title and we shift roles quite a bit. There are a lot of talented people in the group and everyone gets their chance to put their input into what we’re doing. It feels very natural. I’ve been playing in marching bands since I was a kid. I grew up in El Paso and I was in the city marching band there.

We do some original songs, but we do a lot of covers too. We do “Grazing in the Grass” and “Matador.” And we do a medley of Fugazi and Aaliyah songs. I feel in some ways we do have an effect on people, musically, when we’re  in the streets. The music helps remind people that they’re  doing a good thing; the music brings joy and positivity to the whole atmosphere.

The main thing people need to know about how to receive a brass band is that they should be participating in it. The crowd on the street should be doing more than just listening to us, watching us go by. They should follow us. I feel like people don’t necessarily do that here on the West Coast. I used to live in the Boston area and feel that people there, when they saw a brass band, they followed the brass band. AS TOLD TO MARK BAUMGARTEN

Movitas Marching Band will perform as part of Honk Fest West, June 1–3.