So, I’ve been not blogging and not writing and not even really listening to music for the past month or two, largely because I’ve been busy being totally obsessed with the Occupy movement. (Also I’ve been working a lot. Hire me!) From the bridges of New York to the corners of Oakland to the tiny towns in between, this 99% thing is happening, and sometimes in order to let something happen, you have to push reflection to the side for a bit and participate.
The only thing I am certain of at this point is, I’m a part of this.
When I was small enough, I climbed inside the cool orange velvet of my mother’s acoustic guitar case and sat inside it. From this textured shell I listened to roughly strummed versions of Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, and I thought that’s what protest was.
In the protest songs of my remembering, the narrative is simpler and more direct than I’ve seen it be in my adulthood. The oppressed rise up promptly upon being put down. Small acts always have historical effect. Hope is clear and so is the opponent. Change is a pinpointable effect we achieve together, unified, from the first chords to the last strains with maybe just a bridge or two of confusion thrown in for mood, most likely in the shape of E-minor/G plucked loosely on guitar strings.
What I’ve seen and experienced in the past month or two has not been so neatly proscribed. Often it’s also raw and scary and exhausting, and at this point it would make a terrible song. But what I understand the more I see is that it’s probably going to stick around for a while. Its songs have time to be composed. As my friend Kevin said of his 4-year-old daughter after the Children’s Brigade march in Oakland on November 2: “Ingrid is a member of the 99% generation!”
My parents sang protest songs. First in protest, then as lullabies. They were students in the 60s, they protested the Vietnam war, and they raised kids in the California redwoods in the 70s, so the legend of that era’s social movements was deeply embedded in my upbringing.
I was a child of the Reagan generation, and by the time the 80s came around, I viewed the movements and their songs as historical: romantic, but ultimately dragged down by difference and economy. It was nice to be a hippie, I thought, but ultimately you have to get a job. Buy stuff. Send me to ballet class. Slap a “no nukes” sticker on the station wagon and pick me up after school. I never expected, in my lifetime, to feel the urgency people must have felt when they thought they were changing the world, for real. I never really listened to the words:
They say: We are unstoppable. Another world is possible.
So for now, until I can at least rein in my to-do list a bit, I’m going to let the protest inhabit the music and vice versa. I’ll share a couple of my favorite protest songs with you.
And yes, I’m taking requests.