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Unplanned anthem

We spoke to the woman who united the Women's March in song

This woman’s unplanned anthem united the Women’s March in song

As millions of women turned out in cities across the world Saturday in protest of Donald Trump, and in solidarity with each other, they exceeded initial expectations of the Women’s March. Now, a Los Angeles area singer-songwriter’s unplanned video leading Washington, D.C. crowds in song has unexpectedly turned into an anthem for what many hope will become a widespread equal rights’ movement. 

Connie Lim, a 30-year-old first-generation Chinese-American singer-songwriter from the South Bay area of Los Angeles, performs under the name MILCK. She initially wrote the song, “Quiet,” in response to her own history of physical and sexual abuse, alongside pressures to fulfill society’s standards of beauty. After the results of November’s election, MILCK released “Quiet” on Jan. 18 against the advice of her management company, which wanted her to wait until signing with a label.

While she had always planned to attend the Women’s March in D.C., after brainstorming with her friend Krista Suh, co-creator of the Pussyhat Project, MILCK came up with the idea of recruiting a few women to perform the song acapella in what she calls “guerrilla flash mob”-style.

The group, 26 women in all, performed seven times at the Women’s March on Washington D.C., breaking out in song in the middle of a crowd of 500,000 when they felt the urge. Filmmaker Alma Har’el captured one of their performances on his camera phone, despite having a low battery. It was Har’el’s video that went viral Sunday and turned the song into a relatable anthem against oppression around the world.

We spoke to MILCK by phone Sunday, a day after the Women’s March when the performance of her leading a flash mob singing her song “Quiet” began to go viral. As of Tuesday morning, the video hit 13.2 million views. 

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

VICE News: What’s today been like for you?

MILCK: (Laughs). It’s been a lot of screen time, responding to a lot of tweets and Facebook messages and interviews. I didn’t expect it to go this way. I just wanted to do something hopeful and giving and give something to the march.

VICE News: First off, how and why did you come up with the stage name MILCK? It includes your last name spelled backward and your first and middle initials?

MILCK: I wanted to literally and figuratively turn myself inside out because I felt like I was still operating, musically speaking, from a place where I was concerned with what others thought good music is or what type of music others thought I should be doing, and I got to a point where I was feeling tired of it. I also wanted to use my name. My father’s an immigrant. He’s the classic American dream. He built his home from nothing, so I wanted to take what he gave me and make it my own as he did with his parents. It kind of freed myself from some expectations.

VICE News: You recorded the song in November in response to the election. Can you talk about how that came about — and how fast you were able to write and record it?

MILCK: I had written the song earlier because I needed to process my own experience from my teenage years and come to terms with some of the pain I had. It wasn’t until the election that I felt like I had to release the song. Everything kind of got triggered from that day — I don’t think it was so much a political thing, although I do think everything a minority woman does is political in terms of art. I felt like I didn’t have time to play the game, waiting for corporations to figure out if I was worthy of getting signed. Trump seemed like the face of corporations, and it felt like “I need to not play this game.”

VICE News: Next, you reached out to your friend Krista Suh, who is the co-creator of the Pussyhat Project, to come up with the flash mob idea, right?

MILCK: Yeah, we were brainstorming in November. We were going to the march and asked each other, “What do you want to do? How do you want to give back to the march?” I wanted to spread my song and do the a cappella performances. Krista’s great because she challenges me to think bigger. She was like, “Why don’t you get a choir?”  I responded by saying, “We’ll see” but then did reach out to a bunch of women. It was going to be with ten, but by the first week in January, we had 25 committed.

VICE News: And you all practiced together on Skype and most didn’t meet until the day before the march — some the day of?

MILCK: Yeah. We had a rehearsal on Thursday but a lot of us couldn’t make it. The complete crew met on Saturday morning.

VICE News: Despite this, you didn’t have a plan to film it? The story is that filmmaker Alma Har’el just happened to be there and filmed it on her phone.

MILCK: It was kind of crazy. I didn’t know Alma before this, but I learned today that her phone had died, and she lost her friends in the crowd, and when we started singing, her phone started working. It was crazy because we were lost as well, trying to find the Pussyhat Project and sing for them, but we were blockaded at Independence and 4th Streets and decided to just sing where we were. And that’s how we intersected with Alma.

VICE News: So it wasn’t that there wasn’t a plan to film it, albeit maybe not a formal plan, but Alma’s footage is the one that has gone viral.

MILCK: Yeah, yeah. I think she has a cool following. I think after she posted it Emma Watson shared it, and then Amy Poehler. Whatever circle she’s connected with was receptive to it. She was at the right place at the right time. It was creepy actually. [Laughter]. I’ve read about these types of stories, and it’s really amazing.

VICE News: One of the lyrics of the song, you call yourself a “one woman riot.” Has this experience made you and others feel like you aren’t alone?

MILCK: Yeah, totally, in a very immense way. I was just talking to some of the marchers who were all feeling so emotional and so at peace. I think some people had anger and some people had fear, and I think doing something like this, even if there is a lot of work to be done, we know that we’re not alone.

VICE News: You’ve called “Quiet” your thesis and said the “guerrilla style” performance at the march is the first project of I Can’t Keep Quiet project. Can you talk about the project?

MILCK: My gut is that it’s going to be a long term thing that I’m always working on and always investing some energy into. What I was thinking was that I’d start one in D.C. and Los Angeles, and maybe some people would be inspired and start one in Texas or in some red states. I wasn’t thinking all over the world when I started this, but I’ve gotten at least 20 requests from Australia, Belgium, and all over for the learning kit of how to sing the song. Today, I actually made it public today. People can download the sheet music and start their own choirs. The other side of it is that I want people to share their stories. I’m going to collect stories of people who survived their abuse. I’m going to make a collage of it, but I’m not sure yet how I’m going to do it, what form it will take place.

VICE News: Yes, I was going to ask you about that. You plan to collect the stories of everyday people who have braved “extraordinary distances to speak up and speak out” and post them on the site. That’s what you’re referring to, correct?

MILCK: Yes. I was thinking I could take stories about people surviving adversity and create art out of the pain. I think down the road it can be different workshops or things like that. I really like interacting with others because it helps me too. We have some merchandise, and the proceeds will go to the Los Angeles chapter of Step Up. I experienced domestic violence when I was 14, and I feel that’s a very vulnerable age and this group has programs for girls from 13 to 18. I want to support what they are doing because I think it’s very important.

VICE News: At this point, do you consider yourself more of an activist or an artist?

MILCK: Oh, that’s interesting. I feel like being an artist in this era right now is being an activist. I feel like they are synonymous right now. Maybe it’s because I’m an activist and don’t know it yet. [Laughter]. I was feeling it yesterday, especially when people were saying that the march is just the beginning — that’s been in my head. It’s such a good question. I really felt inspired by seeing all these different women at the march.

Cover: Rachael Lee Stroud

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