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    From Marvin to Melissa: Mercy Mercy Me – Wake Up!

    By Andrea Shorter–

    Ah, oh mercy, mercy me

    Ah things ain’t what they used to be, no no

    Radiation under ground and in the sky

    Animals and birds who live nearby are dying


    Oh mercy, mercy me

    Oh things ain’t what they used to be

    What about this overcrowded land

    How much more abuse from man can she stand?

    “Mercy Mercy Me (Ecology Song)” by Marvin Gaye

    Nearly a decade before arguably his last greatest hit “Sexual Healing” in 1982, the late great Motown icon Marvin Gaye released “Mercy Mercy Me (Ecology Song).” A single on the legendary 1971 What’s Going On album, “Mercy Mercy Me” rocketed to #1 on the R&B and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts.

    Legend has it that Motown founder and mogul Berry Gordy vehemently protested Gaye’s veer away from the tried and true popular gleeful songbook branded the Motown Sound to venture into serious-minded, “protest” songs that spoke to and reflected the social and political turmoil of the day: the Vietnam War, burgeoning urban and racial strife, environmental concerns, and political corruption of the ill-fated Nixon era.

    Of course, once the song “What’s Going On” parted the air waves to a number 1 hit, Gordy’s resistance subsided. Gaye’s album went on to revolutionize popular music, becoming a mainstay to this day at the top 100 on nearly every “must hear before you die” or “songs and albums that changed the world” lists.

    We need a new ecology song. And, by “we” I mean every living being, creature, body of water, land mass, crevice, canyon, mountain, and ant hill of planet Earth.

    Even a robust, earnest remake of the “Mercy Mercy Me (Ecology Song)” would do. Marvin Gaye estate foe Robin Thicke need not apply, but, should a remake or re-release happen sometime soon, it would be even more timely and necessary than a half a century ago as a common, popular mantra to help galvanize against red-hot alerts of the out of control climate crises we now face. 

    For the most part, the song’s lyrics remain relevant, hitting every mournful note about the now heightened red-hot alerts of an out of control climate crisis we now face. Forty-eight years later, temperatures have since risen to unimaginable, but predicted, record highs. There are ongoing threats of drought, flooding, and glacial dissolves that are displacing humans and animals from indigenous habitats. Such events are also increasing exposure to viral disease, hunger, and unrest. It’s a bad, bad state of affairs indeed. Scientists consent that we have about another 10 years to set major do or die course correction or face irreversible, catastrophic consequences.

    Along the LGBTQ diaspora, the “L’s” have been singing about love for and on behalf of Mother Earth for millennia. Well, at least since the old Women’s Music Festivals. The last major come to Jesus anthem and toll bell about climate change was courtesy of Melissa Etheridge. Her Academy Award winning theme song, “I Need to Wake Up” at the end credits of former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, provided the ultimate mega Cassandra public education campaign about global warming and was a powerful, soulful sendoff from the theater. It was not as memorable as “Mercy Mercy Me,” but only Etheridge can belt out “I Need to Wake Up” in her distinctive, full-throated voice.

    LGBTQ people have been at the forefront of environmental and environmental justice movements for decades, and we continue to lead in the fight to save Mother Earth and her billions of inhabitants. Go to the website QueerBio ( ) and you’ll see that the global environmental movement was founded by an LGBTQ person: scientist and marine biologist Rachel Carson of the U.S.

    Carson authored the groundbreaking book Silent Spring (1962), based on her scientific studies into the effects of the chemical DDT and other pesticides on natural habitats around the world. At Autostraddle ( ) you can learn about 6 queer women (including Carson) who have spearheaded the fight for environmental justice. Today there are literally hundreds if not thousands of either LGBTQ led or well represented organizations, movements, and thought leadership that are articulating the intersected dynamics between race, economics, poverty, gender, health, capitalism, and power to advance meaningful environmental justice. I urge us all to seek them out and to keep these important issues at the forefront of our policies and national dialogue.

    Meanwhile, I remain hopeful that aside from the political debates, dry policy papers, and more frequent news reports of record-breaking rising temperatures, hurricanes, and other canaries in the coal mine, someone will gift us all with another anthem that will inspire us, encourage us, and give us hope to meet environmental challenges today and into the next decade. Time is ticking, and we could use a good song along the way.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights and marriage equality. A Co-Founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.