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‘I can’t keep quiet’: Watch this stirring performance of what some call the Women’s March anthem

A group of women from different states rehearsed a song called "I can't keep quiet" online ahead of the Women's March on Washington. (Video: Alma Har'el)

Connie Lim grew up in a conservative Asian American household where she said she was urged “to be quiet and not to be goofy.”

“I was told that women who had smaller mouths are considered more beautiful because they were more quiet and demure and polite,” said Lim, whose artist name is MILCK.

So she wrote the song “Quiet” a year ago as a way to put a voice to the pain and trauma she suffered in an abusive relationship and as a commentary on the unreasonable expectations that society places on women. “Shut up and smile/don’t spread your legs,” she sings. “I can’t keep quiet no/a one-woman riot.”

But the song was never released. Until now.

After the election of President Trump, and after the plans were set for the Women’s March, Lim saw a new purpose for “Quiet.” Over two days and sleepless nights in December, she composed the song for a cappella singing — without instrumental accompaniment — complete with a seven-part harmony, and began recruiting women from around the country to perform it with her at the march in “flash mobs.” She envisioned the song being both a source of healing for women unsettled by the election and a call to action.

“This song is perfect for, like, the anger and frustration,” aid Lim, who is based in Los Angeles. “I feel like the song can be the beginning of a call to action and it can heal.”

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So she assembled a group of 25 women, one from Orange County, Calif., and several from two D.C. based a cappella groups — the GW Sirens, of George Washington University, and Capital Blend. Because it was logistically impossible to gather people for in-person rehearsals, Lim individually recorded each part and sent it to the women who would be singing it. They met for the first time Thursday, two days before the march, to rehearse.

The group performed seven times during the march, and in the mass of humanity occasionally lost a member or two. One version was missing the group’s vocal percussionist — “Wait, did we not have beat boxing? Where was Ali?” — because she had gotten separated from the group. When it was all over, Lim wondered if anyone had heard.

As it happened, Alma Har’el, a director and filmmaker from Los Angeles, was wandering around near the stage looking for friends — her cellphone had died — when she came upon the group early Saturday. She immediately whipped out her phone to capture the performance and “it literally sprung to life.”

“I was just trying to try to pass through the crowd,” Har’el said. “Then I found myself in this pocket of air around these girls and they just started singing … it was the most elevating and harmonious and beautiful thing.”

Har’el tweeted the video and posted it to Facebook. By the end of the day, actor Emma Watson had retweeted it and it began to spread like wildfire. As of Monday evening, Har’el’s tweet had been shared 68,000 times.

She also posted her video to Facebook, where it has been viewed 11 million times.

Har’el is the founder of Free the Bid, an initiative to increase opportunities for women directors and she said the song evoked for her the power of working with other women.

“I think it was so symbolic of the way the people in this march came together,” Har’el said. “I have to keep finding my voice and keep harmonizing with other women.”

Now, choir directors and a cappella groups from around the country and one in Belgium have reached out to Lim, asking if they can perform the song. (She posted the arrangement on the “I Can’t Keep Quiet” website). Lim said a middle school girl also got in touch, asking if she could write a “kid-friendly” version. Some are calling it the “anthem” of the march.

Monday evening, Lim planned to head to a friend’s home in Virginia to record the song. She plans to sell it and proceeds will go toward yet-to-be disclosed organization.

“Anthem is such a grand and big word,” Lim said. “It was something to heal myself. For it to be so big just coming from one person’s story, it’s just blowing my mind.”

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