A few months ago, my mother sent me a link to a YouTube video and told me to look for her among members of the choir. I watched the video. In it, folk singer Tony Turner sings a protest song against the Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The song is called "Harperman." It's a sendup of the misadventures of Stephen Harper and most of the choir members are from a Unitarian Church.
The song is irreverent and silly. A sample of the lyrics:
Who controls our parliament?
Who squashes all dissent?
The Duffy handout incident,
No respect for the environment,
Harperman, it's time for you to go!
I posted the video on my Facebook feed with a message to my friends to look for my mother in the background.
The view counter on the YouTube video was fairly modest, in the low hundreds.
The Canadian federal election is coming up in November of this year. The song was recorded in June. It seemed like a playful but small contribution to the conversation about the election.
Then in mid-August, Tony Turner, who, as well as being a folksinger, works for the federal government as a scientist in habitat planning, was suspended without pay from his job. Why? Because of the song.
An article in the National Post explained that "The suspension of Tony Turner ... for writing and performing the song has opened a Pandora's box of colliding views over public servants' political rights, freedom of expression, government control, and the very tradition of a non-partisan public service."
The same article claims calls Turner a folk hero. And suggest that public servants' political rights could become an important election issue.
Suddenly, I was hearing the song on radio news programs. I tried to find my mother's voice during the chorus. My father saw my mother's face on the TV at the gym. The video was being played on the television news as well.
My Facebook feed was suddenly full of Harperman. "#Harperman" was trending on Twitter.
"Tony's punishment tuned out to be a huge gift. ... It is totally in keeping with the song and backfired by drawing massive attention to the song they didn't want anyone to hear," said Chris White, who collaborated on Harperman, told the National Post. "The core issue is all about freedom of expression and political control over someone working for the government and the extent of that control, and that is exactly what the song is about. That is the beauty of this situation."
More than half a million people have watched the Harperman video on YouTube. And though that number might not seem very high, in a country with a population of about 30 million, reaching 500,000 voters is significant.
To maintain the media attention, Harperman.ca is publishing new verses of the song written by the members of the public. You can download a Harperman ringtone for your phone. As well, there is an event planned for September 17th, where people will gather on Parliament Hill to sing the song.
Comments on the Harperman.ca site as well as on the YouTube video suggest that Harperman is super catchy and a good song to sing in the shower.
It seems like the federal government may have made a public relations misstep in suspending Turner because it has brought so much attention to his message. And it might just be a little inspiring to see a silly political song become nationally relevant.
I haven't asked my mother if she is going to Parliament Hill to sing the song again. I imagine that she'll be there. With bells on.