Tonight’s post comes with a playlist. Step 11 of Gene Sharp’s 198 steps of nonviolent action emphasizes the vital role of television, radio, and music in creating effective political action. I’m posting this a few hours after CNN announced that explosive devices were delivered to the offices of CNN, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. Just a few days ago, this news pretty much stopped my heart. T– Who Shall Not Be Named talked of the need for the nation to stay united, saying that “threats or acts of political violence have no place” in the US. Then, he turned around and continued his attacks on the media during a rally in Wisconsin.
Because I feel like we could all use an anthem right now, this post focuses on the power of music. In times of political turmoil, music is about more than entertainment – it serves as a tool for voicing the political positions of the people, and it’s an effective way to engage and ignite the energy of large crowds.
It’s 9 pm here in Philadelphia and I’m posting this as a reminder to all of us that THIS WORKS. These are some of my favorites – feel free to leave yours in the comments.
“If there’s any hope for America, it lies in a revolution. And if there’s any hope for a revolution, it lies in Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara.” – Phil Ochs
“Mississippi Goddam” – Nina Simone
“Free Nelson Mandela” – The Special AKA
“Free Nelson Mandela” was a Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom for The Special AKA in 1984, and it instantly became the unofficial anthem and slogan for the international anti-apartheid movement.
“Why is Your Heaven So Small” – Susan Werner
My brilliant friend Susan Werner’s song, “Why is Your Heaven So Small” has been ringing in my ears all day. If it gets inside you, please share it.
“Get Up Stand Up” – Bob Marley and the Wailers
“Drawing from their troubled island’s political strife and its musical traditions, Marley and Tosh built their track on a bedrock of groove and a strong lyrical statement of fact: unalienable rights are not reserved for a special class or for those who wait patiently for greener pastures; rather, all human life under the sun is of equal value, right here and right now. At once a cry to rally and a call for prayer, “Get Up Stand Up” still remains an all-purpose change anthem, nearly 40 years after it was first sung.” – Paste Magazine
“March of the Women” – Dame Ethel Smyth
Dame Ethel Smyth wrote the March of the Women (1911) for the Women’s Social and Political Union, the leading organization of the suffragists in Britain. Not only was she the first woman composer ever to be made a Dame, she was the first (and possibly only) composer of any gender to conduct her own music in prison using a toothbrush for a baton.
“Quiet” – Milck
In January 2017, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Milck (real name Connie Lim) released a song that became an unofficial anthem of the Women’s March in Washington DC. “Quiet” was a reflection of Lim’s frustration over societal expectations for women to remain quiet, unseen and unheard, and a reaction to her own experiences of domestic violence and having an eating disorder. She timed its release to coincide with the series of Women’s Marches being held around the world.
“Revolution” – The Beatles
“Count me out if it’s for violence. Don’t expect me on the barricades unless it’s with flowers.” – John Lennon, 1980, about how “Revolution” still stood as an expression of his politics.
“Ohio” – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
Days after the Kent State massacre, Neil Young saw a photo of 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the dead body of college student Jeffrey Miller. He poured his rage and sorrow into the lyrics to “Ohio” and called his bandmates into the studio the following day to record the new song.
“Putin Will Teach You How to Love” – Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot is flatout badass, and their approach to protest mirrors effective practices in other nonviolent movements: the leadership and membership is fluid. Founded in August 2011, it has a variable membership of approximately 11 women ranging in age from about 20 to 33. Given the staging of this year’s World Cup tournament in Russia, it seemed inevitable that a Pussy Riot protest would take place. The group chose the final game for their protest – which was screened to an audience of millions across the world – and the group later confirmed that it had taken place in protest of human rights abuses in Russia.
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” – Gil Scott-Heron
Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (1971) protests political passiveness and is a commentary on the inability of pop culture and mainstream media to address the real concerns of the people.
“People Have The Power” – Patti Smith
Patti Smith, American singer-songwriter, artist, and inimitable poet: “People Have The Power.”
“War” – Edwin Starr
War. What is it good for?
“Killing in the Name” – Rage Against the Machine
In 1992, Rage Against the Machine released “Killing in the Name” as their debut single, a song about racism, police brutality and defiance. I admit I wrote this song off until recently, but lately its crept into my head. Rolling Stone wrote that “it has the power to stir up a crowd like virtually no other song in human history.”
Public Enemy, “Fight the Power”
Got to give us what we want (uh)
Gotta give us what we need (hey)
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say
Fight the power (lemme hear you say)
Fight the power
Fight the power
“We Shall Overcome” – Pastor Albert Tindley / Pete Seeger
“We Shall Overcome” has been a civil rights song for 50 years now, heard not just in the U.S. but in North Korea, in Beirut, in Tiananmen Square, in South Africa’s Soweto Township. But it began as a folk song, a work song. Slaves in the fields would sing, ‘I’ll be all right someday.’ It became known in the churches. A Methodist minister, Charles Albert Tindley, published a version in 1901: “I’ll Overcome Someday,” and in 1963 Pete Seeger created a version that became an anthem for the civil rights movement.
“Give Peace a Chance” – John Lennon
I almost put “Imagine” in place of this song, but tonight I needed something to stir me up.
“Give Peace a Chance” was written during Lennon and Ono’s “Bed-In” honeymoon in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. When asked by a reporter what he was trying to achieve by staying in bed, Lennon answered spontaneously “Just give peace a chance”.
What would you add? Feel free to leave them in the comments or on Facebook.