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'Quiet': A Global Anthem For Victims Of Sexual Harassment And Abuse


It's International Women's Day today, and we are marking the occasion with a song that urges women to speak up.


CHOIR! CHOIR! CHOIR!: (Singing) I can't keep quiet. No, no, no. A one-woman riot - no, no, no.

MARTIN: "Quiet" sung here by the group Choir! Choir! Choir! was written by the artist MILCK. That's M-I-L-C-K. After she and a group performed the song on the streets of the Women's March on the National Mall in 2017, it became a global phenomenon. In this encore broadcast from our American Anthem series, NPR's Elizabeth Blair has the story.


ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Connie Lim, who goes by MILCK, co-wrote "Quiet" in 2015 to help her cope with being sexually assaulted and abused when she was a teenager. It's a song about speaking out no matter what people might think.


MILCK: (Singing) They may see that monster. They may run away, but I have to do this. I can't keep quiet.

BLAIR: MILCK says she always viewed "Quiet" as her personal therapy song. Then the 2016 presidential election happened.

MILCK: You know, the rhetoric that was used to describe women really enraged me and just kind of brought me back to those feelings of when I was younger. And I was told I need to sit properly, and I need to speak less and smile more and lose weight and just be this perfect little girl.

BLAIR: She says she channeled her rage with an idea. Teach "Quiet" to other singers and perform it at the Women's March the day after President Trump's inauguration. MILCK lives in Los Angeles. So about a month before the march, she recruited a cappella singers in D.C. to perform it with her. After lots of emailing and Skyping to learn the song and some in-person rehearsing, she and 26 other women put on their winter coats and pink hats and headed to the march.

MILCK: We had no idea how crowded it was going to be.

BLAIR: On January 21, 2017, an estimated 470,000 people flooded the National Mall and the areas around it.


GLORIA STEINEM: You look great. I wish you could see yourselves. It's like an ocean.

BLAIR: Dozens of artists and activists were there, including Gloria Steinem, who told the crowd people were marching in streets all over the world.


STEINEM: In every state in this country and on six continents.


BLAIR: MILCK, an unknown artist, and her group of singers from D.C. were not on the main stage. They squeezed their way through the crowd, finding different spots to sing for anyone who would listen. And they did. A filmmaker captured their last performance of the day on her iPhone.


MILCK AND UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) 'Cause no one knows me. No one ever will if I don't say something. Take that dry blue pill.

BLAIR: Tessa O'Rourke is a soprano with the George Washington University Sirens, one of the groups MILCK recruited. She said she's never experienced anything like it.

TESSA O'ROURKE: And every time we sing and we saw people watching - and there would be people, like, looking right at us, crying.


O'ROURKE: And then we would look at each other and start crying, and it was all just so emotionally charged.

ALMA HAR'EL: This was one of those moments that, I think, everybody that was around just felt something very extraordinary is happening.

BLAIR: Filmmaker Alma Har'el was trying to make her way through the crowd when she stumbled upon the singers. That night, she shared her video on social media. Within two days, it had some 8 million views. Commenters wrote that the song gave them the chills and called it an anthem for the Women's March.


MILCK AND UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Let it out. Let it out. Let it out now.


MILCK AND UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) There must be someone who understands. Let it out. Let it out. Let it out now.

BLAIR: Now, remember, the Women's March of 2017 was several months before the #MeToo movement hit the mainstream. Har'el says MILCK's song was exactly what was needed at the time.

HAR'EL: MILCK really gave voice to a lot of women with that song, and that's why it became so viral.

BLAIR: So viral so quickly around the world. The singers were invited to perform on the show "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee." MILCK was inundated with requests for the sheet music, which she posted online. Soon people were recording their own versions of "Quiet." The Austonettes from Austin made "Quiet" sound almost sacred.


AUSTONETTES: (Singing) But no one knows me. No one ever will if I don't say something, if I just lie still.

BLAIR: There were flash mob performances, including one in Sweden that attracted hundreds to the Stockholm train station.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) I can't keep quiet. No, no, no.

BLAIR: And a group of women in Ghana standing in a circle facing each other sing "Quiet" like it's the release they've been waiting for.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) I can't keep quiet for anyone. No, not anymore.

BLAIR: In Ghana, activist Love Nyaaba says it was a thrill to find a song with the words I can't keep quiet, especially for women like her who live in Northern Ghana. Via Skype, Nyaaba says women there do not have the same political or economic opportunities as men do.

LOVE NYAABA: For the most part, we are told to keep quiet and make it work.

BLAIR: She and her fellow activists even translated "Quiet" into the local language Dagbani.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #3: (Singing in Dagbani).

BLAIR: As for MILCK, she still can't quite believe the life the song has had since she performed it that day at the Women's March two years ago. She believes it shows what can happen when people sing together.

MILCK: They can feel completely immersed as a collective, but they also can feel like an individual at the same time.


CHOIR! CHOIR! CHOIR!: (Singing) I can't keep quiet. Let it out. Let it out. Let it out now.

MILCK: And there's space for this cathartic release.


CHOIR! CHOIR! CHOIR!: (Singing) Let it out. Let it out. Let it out now. Must be someone who will understand.

BLAIR: Without any promotion or marketing, MILCK's "Quiet" filled an enormous space full of people who wanted to be heard. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.


CHOIR! CHOIR! CHOIR!: (Singing) Let it out. Let it out. Let it out now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.