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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

Top Ten Veterans Day Songs

Arlington Cemetery.

I’ve always thought that the best way to support our troops is to make every effort to keep them out of harm’s way. That means avoiding unnecessary wars and engaging in military action only as a true last resort. In this vein, here are my Top Ten Veterans Day Songs paying tribute to those who serve. The list is highly debatable; songs about war and attendant suffering cut across musical genres. Old-timers will rightly bemoan the omission of classics l[ike “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Give Peace A Chance.” Others will fairly say I’ve neglected an important sub-genre of vintage heavy metal antiwar anthems like Metallica’s 1989 classic “One,” while also giving short shrift to the rich history of punk rock treatment of war. Please use the comments field to help create a new list of all the great songs I’ve missed.

Top Ten Veterans Day Songs

1) Bill Withers, I Can’t Write Left-Handed

2) Bob Dylan, Masters of War

3) Phil Ochs, I Ain’t Marching Anymore

4) Edwin Starr, War

5) Eric Bogle, The Green Fields of France

6) Freda Payne, Bring the Boys Home

7) Pink Floyd, Corporal Clegg

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8) Bob Marley, War/No More Trouble

9) Loretta Lynn, Dear Uncle Sam

10) Stiff Little Fingers, Tin Soldiers

Bonus Track: Vera Lynn, White Cliffs of Dover

Read Next: How Did Education Measures Fare in the Midterm Elections?

How Did Education Measures Fare in the Midterm Elections?

Schoolbus

Students board buses at Shaw Visual and Performing Arts Elementary School, a Magnet school in the St. Louis public school system. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

One of the few (non–dope smoking) silver linings of yesterday’s election was Tom Torlakson’s narrow victory over charter champion Marshall Tuck in the race for state superintendent of education in California. Tuck’s loss will slow down efforts in the Golden State to gut teacher tenure, divert more public money to charter schools and increase high-stakes testing.

In most of the state school superintendent races beyond California (Arizona, Michigan, Oklahoma, Idaho, South Carolina), Republican champions of neo-liberal corporate school reform won handily.

Beyond the superintendent races, millions of voters in eleven states had the chance to vote on numerous education-related state initiatives, referendums and amendments. The number of education measures this election cycle was dwarfed in comparison to 2012, but the initiatives will significantly impact school funding, class sizes, the use of technology, teacher evaluation and tenure systems.

So how’d it go?

It’s a pretty grim landscape, albeit with one significant positive for progressives from the great state of Missouri, where the proposal to enshrine value-added assessment of teachers into the state constitution failed. Amendment 3 would have ended teacher tenure and put teachers on renewable contracts, with future employment tied to test scores. It went down by a large margin.

In other good news, Illinois voters passed Question 3, which will increase taxes on incomes greater than $1 million to help fund education; In Hawaii, voters turned down a proposed amendment to the Hawaii Constitution that would have permitted the state to spend public money on private preschools; Seattle’s Proposition 1B, which will institute a $58 million tax increase in the city to create a preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds passed by a wide margin, and in New York, Proposal 3, which will authorize up to $2 billion in state bonds for school capital projects in three categories: beefed up technology, new pre-K classrooms and the replacement of classroom trailers, narrowly passed. (Though critics have charged, rightly in my view, that this bill is a boondoggle for the Common Core curriculum, I supported it as a way to get more money into the public school system.)

Now, the bad news.

Nevada voters turned down an education funding ballot measure that would have marginally increased taxes on large businesses in one of the most expensive ballot campaigns ever in the state. Support for the measure largely came from teachers and unions frustrated that Nevada ranks near the bottom in the nation in per-pupil spending. That will now continue.

In Colorado, voters approved Proposition 104, a measure that will require contract negotiations between school districts and employee unions to be held in public; and two anti-teacher incumbents held onto their seats on the State Board of Education in Tuesday’s election, leaving the board’s 4-3 Republican majority in place.

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In Washington State, a bill that would have directed state lawmakers to increase education spending to help schools decrease class size and hire support staff went down in flames.

Most damaging and depressing, in numerous states where education was a major campaign issue, extreme conservative governors were re-elected despite having presided over vast cuts to their states’ education budgets and repeated efforts to roll back the collective bargaining rights of teachers’ unions. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida and Sam Brownback in Kansas are the poster boys here.

As I’ve been saying, this was the grimmest midterm election of my life.

Read Next:My Generation: The Change That You Really Can Believe In

If These Videos Don’t Convince You to Vote, Nothing Will

The spectrum of allowable electoral choices in this country could hardly be more limited and uninspiring. It’s hard to get excited about many candidates we have to choose from this Tuesday. But the only alternative to voting is not voting. And that’s an even worse option. These videos, culled nationally from the current electoral cycle, make clear why it’s so important to cast your ballot. Polls open 6 am in each state on November 4. Check canivote.org for info on your polling place and registration status.

Top Ten GOTV Videos

1. Ferguson, MO—Vote on November 4

2. Bad Reputation

3. Lewis Black Says F#%! Voter Suppression

4. Who’s Gonna Stand Up, #NoKXL

5. Artists for 47

6. #WTFweVote

7. It Matters NC

8. Ohio Needs to Get Out The Vote!

9. Get Out the Native Vote

10. Rock The Vote Presents: #Turnoutforwhat

Joan Jett Gets Out the Vote

Joan Jett.

If anyone is producing hipper, more lively Get Out of the Vote videos than the Department of Peace, please let me know who they are! An art collective geared toward creating consciousness-raising content and aiming to inspire young people to engage politically, The DoP urges both community-oriented action and electoral participation.

Today, the collective released a new video with the help and blessing of legendary badass Joan Jett riffing off her feminist anthem “Bad Reputation” to hammer home the point that Republican victories this election day will threaten what many consider basic freedoms and rights. In 2013, there were more laws passed limiting women’s reproductive rights than in the entire previous decade combined. That is sure to be accelerated if the GOP does well in next week’s midterm elections.

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Many women in New York City, from where I write, have access to reasonable health care, but women’s rights shouldn’t depend on a zip code. The most regressive, anti­-woman, anti-voting, anti-equality laws are being passed on the state level. This is why the midterms are so important nationwide.

Polls open 6 am in each state next Tuesday, November 4. Check out canivote.org for info on your polling place and registration status.

Read Next: Rock the Vote Redux

Top Ten Songs About the Environment

People's Climate March poster art.

Every good movement needs its music. This weekend, in New York City and around the world, environmental activists are making their voices heard days before President Obama and world leaders attend a Climate Summit at the United Nations. This playlist is presented in tribute. The list is highly debatable—songs about ecology, nature and the environment cut across musical genres and generations—and the category is a bit reductive, if not trite. But there’s nothing trite about the people in the streets this weekend. These songs are for them.

1. Marvin Gaye, Mercy Mercy Me

2. Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

3. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, This Land is Your Land

4. John Prine, Paradise (Muhlenberg County)

5. Mos Def, New World Water

6. Malvina Reynolds, What Have They Done to the Rain?

7. Ziggy Marley, Dragonfly

8. Eliza Gilkyson, Before the Deluge

9. REM, Fall on Me

10. Lou Reed, Last Great American Whale

Bonus Track: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Texas Flood

The People’s Climate Weekend: A Guide

People's Climate March poster

Poster designed by Josh MacPhee.

You may have heard that what is expected to be the largest rally for an environmental cause in US history is happening this Sunday, September 21, in Manhattan. More than 100,000 people are planning to join a historic march for climate action two days before President Obama and world leaders attend a Climate Summit at the United Nations.

In Europe and Australia growing numbers of people are joining the Fossil Free divestment movement. In Asia and Africa groups are organizing for a new development paradigm powered by renewable, community-based energy, not coal. In Latin America communities are resisting fracking and the vested interests opposing progress on climate change. And in the Pacific, nonviolent warriors are rising up to blockade the largest coal port in the world. Now activists in the US are calling on America to get with the program.

The march begins at 11:30 am at 59th Street, Columbus Circle. The front of the march is expected to reach the end of the route at about 2 pm. At the end of the day, in keeping with the day’s emphasis on inspiration and resilience, a massive climate block party on Eleventh Avenue between 34th Street and 38th Streets will commence. At the center of the close will be a massive tree installation created by Brooklyn-based artist Swoon.

Get all the info you need about Sunday’s events and how you can get involved at the People’s Climate site.

There are also a host of actions, events, educational events and protests being planned across New York City this weekend.

The good folks at The New School are hosting a climate action week featuring not just Naomi Klein’s US book launch but also a diverse set of programming directed towards the university and wider community showcasing the creativity, solidarity and collective action of the growing climate movement, and highlighting the New School’s longtime committment to supporting climate justice and action. Check out the offerings.

On Saturday, September 20 at 8 pm, the All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan will host a forum on the way forward in fighting climate change with Senator Bernie Sanders, Naomi Klein, Kshama Sawant, Bill McKibben and Chris Hedges.

On the morning of the climate rally, Naomi Klein will be interviewed about her new book on climate and capitalism by Nation executive editor Betsy Reed to kick-off the annual Brooklyn Book Festival. (The talk is at 10 am and the nearby A train can get you to the march in thirty minutes.)

My colleague Muna Mire has been researching the more grassroots events of the week and suggests taking part in these ten actions over the next few days.

1) FRACK OFF: Indigenous Women Leading Media Campaigns to Defend Our Climate
2) Decolonize Climate Justice: A Free University
3) Climate Justice Teach In: Harlem/Uptown Manhattan
4) Rockaway Climate Justice Bash!
5) Queer Planet: A Participatory Art Project
6) Reporting on Climate Justice: A Workshop for Journalists
7) Cowspiracy: Film Screening
8) Climate Satyagraha: Revolution on the Ecosocialist Horizon
9) On the Geneaology of Patronage in Museums
10) Grassroots Solutions From Peter Yarrow and Nahko Bear

If you’re not in NYC this weekend, there’s an open-source action to provide people around the world who can’t be at a march in person with an easy way to show solidarity and join the masses in telling world leaders it’s time to #walkthewalk on climate change. Post a video of yourself walking wherever you are and say why you #walkthewalk on climate change. Personal testimony can be a powerful organizing tool. Organizers will be pulling in the video content in real time to create a virtual march experience living across social media.

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It’s also useful to click here to tell President Obama and Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern to support the goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050 at the Climate Summit. Whatever you do this weekend, do something!

Top Ten Back-to-School Songs

A school bus back on the job (cc)

For many students, September is an exciting time—new friends, new teachers, new experiences. For others, it’s a dreadful month: the resumption of homework, detention and cafeteria food. Songs/laments about school have likely been sung by students for as long as there has been formal schooling. Wikipedia reports that examples of such literature can be found dating back to medieval England. Here, we’ve tried the highly dubious task of trying to highlight ten of the best such songs ever written. Please use the comments field below to let us know what we’ve missed.

1) Pink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall

2) Dolly Parton, Coat of Many Colors

3) The Clash, Mark Me Absent

4) The Ramones, Rock and Roll High School

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5) Belle & Sebastian, We Rule the School

6) The Replacements, Fuck School

7) The Smiths, The Headmaster Ritual

8) Chuck Berry, School Days

9) Pete Seeger, What Did You Learn in School Today?

10) Vampire Weekend, Campus

Top Ten Labor Day Songs

Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie (CC)

In honor of the Labor Day holiday, I’ve revised a previous attempt at the impossible task of naming the best songs ever written about working people. The list is highly debatable; songs about working and working people cut across musical genres and generations. I know it’s a travesty to not include “Which Side Are You On?” or Johnny Paycheck’s classic “Take This Job and Shove It.” I also feel terrible neglecting Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Nina Simone and John Mellencamp and giving short shrift to the rich history of punk rock odes to the insanity of wage slavery. Hopefully, these songs will get you thinking about your own favorite musical celebrations of the blood, sweat and tears that exemplify the working condition. Please use the comments field below to let me know what I missed.

Top Ten Labor Day Songs

1. Pete Seeger, Solidarity Forever

2. Sweet Honey in the Rock, More Than a Paycheck

3. The Clash, Career Opportunities

4. Tennessee Ernie Ford, Sixteen Tons

5. Judy Collins, Bread and Roses

6. Dolly Parton, 9 to 5

7. Woody Guthrie, Union Burying Ground

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8. Phil Ochs, The Ballad of Joe Hill

9. Hazel Dickens, Fire in the Hole

10. Gil Scott-Heron, Three Miles Down

Bonus Track #1: The Kinks, Get Back in Line

Bonus Track #2: Paul Robeson, Joe Hill

Read Next: Michelle Chen on the new computer-aided exploitation at Starbucks.

Top Ten July 4th Songs

American Flag

(Timo Kohlenberg/CC 2.0)

Not enough Americans are aware that much of what the country considers our patriotic culture, especially our iconic music, was created by artists and writers of decidedly left-wing sympathies. Three years ago, I posted a list of what I called the Top Twelve Most Patriotic Songs Ever. I’ve rethought those selections, consulted with experts and can now present my heavily revised and highly debatable list of Top Ten July 4th Songs, presented in random order. To me, these songs, taken together, help distill the American experience and make clear both what’s great about the US and what still needs critical attention.

Top Ten July 4 Songs

1. Los Lobos with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir performing This Land is Your Land
This rambling version of the iconic Woody Guthrie song was performed in July 1989 backstage at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin between sets on that summer’s Los Lobos/Grateful Dead tour.

 

2. Bruce Springsteen performing Chimes of Freedom
Sony Music has made it impossible to watch Bob Dylan performing his classic ode to “the refugees on their unarmed road of flight.” Fortunately, Bruce Springsteen acquits himself well in this live 1988 cover.

 

3. Paul Robeson performing The House I Live In
Written in 1943 by Abel Meeropol under the pen name Lewis Allen and the blacklisted Earl Robinson, this tune became a patriotic anthem during World War II with its populist evocation of everyday American life.

 

4. Phil Ochs performing The Power and Glory
One of the songs that established Ochs’s reputation, he saw it as a patriotic hymn combining the American dream with selfless faith-based ideals.

 

5. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing The Battle Hymn of the Republic
The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written in 1961 by abolitionist, social activist and poet Julia Ward Howe, set to a tune written several years before by William Steffe.

 

6. Loretta Lynn performing Dear Uncle Sam
This Vietnam-era plea on behalf of soldier-husbands everywhere resonated far beyond the traditional, antiwar crowd when it was first released in 1968.

 

7. John Mellencamp performing Pink Houses
This 1985 song distills the essence of Mellencamp’s popularity as the bard of the Midwest giving voice to the dreams and disappointments of small communities coast to coast.

 

8. Rosanne Cash performing 500 Miles
This song, originally written by Hedy West, became popular in the US and Europe during the 1960s folk revival and was part of a list of 100 essential American songs that Johnny Cash famously gave his daughter Rosanne in 1973. In 2009, she produced a brilliant album featuring her versions of 12 of the 100.

 

9. Leontyne Price performing America the Beautiful
Written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, this song not only speaks to the natural beauty of America but also expresses Bates’s view that US imperialism undermined the nation’s core values of freedom and liberty. In this version, opera star Leontyne Price sings it at a 1992 benefit.

 

10. Gil Scott-Heron performing Winter in America
One of Scott-Heron’s most well-received compositions, this bluesy lament mouns America’s lost promise: “And ain’t nobody fighting, Cause nobody knows what to save.”

 

Bonus Track: Sarah Ogan Gunning performing Come All Ye Coal Miners
Giving voice to the frequently forgotten workers who built the foundation of America, this song makes clear the trials of the mining life.

When Jonathan Schell Introduced Me to Robert McNamara

Jonathan Schell

(Credit: David Barreda)

I guess I’ve probably known a nicer, more humble human being than Jonathan Schell. But certainly no one who approached Jonathan’s stature or legacy. I’ve also met a handful of more accomplished writers, but absolutely no one who came close to approaching Jonathan’s humility.

Schell passed away on March 25. Last night, friends, colleagues and admirers gathered in All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan to pay tribute to his life and legacy and to affirm our commitment to carry on his work. His death left a tremendous void. There are precious few activist/writers who combine Jonathan’s stylistic skills, his elegant and accessible manner, his acute humanity, his strategic sense, his reverence for history and his amazing, unfailing optimism.

Jonathan’s journalistic credits for The New Yorker in his early years and later as The Nation’s peace and disarmament correspondent are prodigious and singular and have been well chronicled in numerous places, including here by David Remnick and here by Katrina vanden Heuvel. I’m going to talk about the time that I knew him, just a small slice of his remarkable life.

When Jonathan’s monumental bestseller The Fate of the Earth was published in 1981, it was lauded by The New York Times as “an event of profound historical importance” and quickly became the bible of the anti-nuclear movement, American’s most potent progressive force at the time. Seventeen years later, he came back to nuclear abolition with a special issue of The Nation called The Gift of Time, later published in book-form by Metropolitan. At that time, I was working as The Nation’s publicity director.

Jonathan’s unique contribution was to build bridges with the most unlikely allies. In a series of conversations he conducted for the book with generals and defense officials who helped to make nuclear policy during the cold war, Jonathan found surprising common cause with newly converted anti-nuclear advocates like Robert McNamara, General George Lee Butler, a former commander of the Strategic Air Command, and eventually that paragon of radicalism himself, Henry Kissinger. Jonathan used these conversations and conversions to strengthen his impassioned plea for action and The Gift of Time made indisputably clear that nuclear abolitionism was far from a strictly left-wing cause.

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As part of The Nation’s campaign to amplify Jonathan’s call, I was tasked with organizing a small speaking tour with stops in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The idea was to put Jonathan together publicly with some of those unlikely allies to make the case for nuclear abolition. McNamara and the late Democratic Senator from California, Alan Cranston, both agreed to participate.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself at dinner with this august trio. At first I was uncharacteristically quiet, content to listen in as these elder statesmen talked politics, baseball and—oddly, I remember thinking—gardening. The next opportunity, though, I got up the gumption to tell the extremely disarming McNamara a little about myself. While concerned about what the unfailingly polite Jonathan would think of me hectoring his new ally, I told McNamara that it was a little surreal for me to be organizing a speaking tour for him twenty-five years after my parents used to trot me out to antiwar rallies as a little kid where we denounced him by name. I was unsure how the former secretary of defense would react, and I’ll never forget his rueful smile as he quietly told me that my parents did the right thing. And I’ll always remember Jonathan’s Cheshire-cat grin and vigorous nods of approval following the exchange.

To me, this conversation symbolized what was so special about Jonathan: his unique ability to build bridges which brought together in common cause this lefty child of a red-diaper baby with a core member of LBJ’s war cabinet.

Thank you, Jonathan.

 

Read Next: “Remembering Jonathan Schell: 1943–2014

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