Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

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

Harry’s Last Stand: Message From a D-Day Veteran


Soldiers arrive on the beaches of Normandy during World War II.  (AP Photo/US Coast Guard)

“As one of the last remaining survivors of the Great Depression and the Second World War, I will not go gently into that good night. I want to tell you what the world looks like through my eyes, so that you can help change it.”

In November 2013, 91-year-old Yorkshireman, RAF veteran and ex–carpet salesman Harry Leslie Smith wrote an article for The Guardian that went viral and quickly sparked a charged debate about the state of society, austerity budgets and what future generations owe to the past.

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Leslie’s generation not only helped to liberate Europe, it also founded the Western European welfare states, giving the world the ideas of nationalized healthcare, universal education, decent housing for all and proper pensions for the aged. Now he brings his unique perspective to bear on social service cutbacks, benefits policies, political corruption, food poverty, the cost of education—and much more. From the deprivation of Depression-era Barnsley and the terror of war to the creation of the modern-day welfare state now so under siege, Leslie has seen a great civilization rise from the rubble. But now, at the end of his life, he cautions against its steady erosion.

Read Next: Bowe Bergdahl and the honorable history of war deserters

Top Ten Memorial Day Songs


Army 1st Sargeant Shelly Jenkins places flags on graves at Arlington National Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Memorial Day, first known as Decoration Day, originated in the North after the Civil War to commemorate fallen Union soldiers. By the twentieth century the holiday had been extended to honor all Americans who have died in all wars. I’ve always thought that the best way to honor the fallen is to make every effort to prevent needless deaths in the future by avoiding unnecessary wars and engaging in combat only as a true last resort.

In this vein, here are my Top Ten Memorial Day Songs. The list is highly debatable; songs about war and attendant suffering cut across musical genres. Though I proudly claim some hippie roots I’ve omitted played-out classics like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,“ “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Imagine” and “Give Peace A Chance.” I’ve also given short shrift to an important sub-genre of heavy metal antiwar anthems like Motorhead’s “1916” and Metallica’s 1989 classic, “One,” and ignored the rich history of punk rock odes to the insanity of war. Please use the comments field below to tell me what else I’ve missed.

1. Loretta Lynn, Dear Uncle Sam

2. Bill Withers, I Can’t Write Left-Handed

3. Bob Dylan, Masters of War

4. Curtis Mayfield, We Gotta Have Peace

5. Joni Mitchell, The Fiddle and the Drum

6. The Jam, Little Boy Soldiers

7. Freda Payne, Bring the Boys Home


8. Bob Marley, War/No More Trouble

9. Eric Bogle, The Green Fields of France

10. Paper Lace, Billy Don’t Be a Hero

Bonus Track: Nick Lowe, What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding

Tell LeBron James to #SlamJunk

LeBron James

LeBron James goes in for a field goal in a game against the Wizards. (Keith Allison/Flickr)

Fast food corporations like McDonald’s have virtually mastered the use of childrens’ role models to convince kids that junk food is cool. Fabulously wealthy NBA basketball players have been especially quick to take McDonald’s lucre in return for shilling for food their teams would never let them eat. (Perhaps that’s why the current commercial featuring LeBron James hawking a “Bacon Clubhouse Sandwich” never actually shows him taking a bite.)

James, the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player, receives millions of dollars annually from McDonald’s in return for helping hook young people—kids who seriously admire him—on greasy, fatty, unhealthy foods. This insidious marketing isn’t new. James is following in the unholy footsteps of former NBA greats Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in contributing to the global epidemic of food-related health problems.

Food activist Anna Lappé, founder of Food MythBusters, recently wrote about the tactics used by the fast-food industry—including McDonald’s—to build brand awareness among their youngest customers. And while she argues that parents need to set their own nutritional boundaries with their children, “the ways the food industry now targets kids are so pervasive and the tactics so deceitful that even the most diligent parent cannot prevent their kids from being inundated at the most impressionable stages in their development.”

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Fortunately, kids like 9-year-old Hannah Robertson, who scolded McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson at last year’s shareholders’ meeting, are starting to call out celebs for their shameless shilling and demanding that their role models instead promote healthy food. In this video released today and produced by Corporate Accountability International, Hannah and her friends explain how you can help, including adding your name to this petition imploring James to drop his McDonald’s sponsorship.


Read Next: No one cares if you never apologize for your white male privilege.

Georgia’s ‘Guns Everywhere’ Bill and How to Fight Back

Nathan Deal

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal speaks in Marietta. (Public Information Office/Flickr)

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed legislation today that will vastly expand the places where Georgia residents can legally carry firearms, a proposal that has drawn both praise and scorn from outside groups.

“People who follow the rules can protect themselves and their families from people who don’t follow the rules,” said Deal, adding: “The Second Amendment should never be an afterthought. It should reside at the forefronts of our minds.”

House Bill 60 allows Georgians to legally carry firearms in a wide range of new places, including schools, bars, churches and government buildings. The law, which takes effect July 1, also legalizes the use of silencers for hunting, allows school staffers to carry guns in school zones and lets leaders of religious congregations choose to allow licensed gun holders inside. It also allows gun owners to carry their weapons in government buildings—including parts of courthouses. Critics have dubbed it the “guns everywhere” bill for its broad scope, and opponents including former Representative Gabby Giffords and Georgia law enforcement tried to block its passage. The National Rifle Association lauds the bill as “the most comprehensive pro-gun reform bill in state history.”

If you’re like me and think expanding gun rights will actually make society less safe, then this law looks pretty awful. The other side of the coin, though, is the increasing support for regulation of firearms propelled in part by an angry grassroots disgusted by the more than sixty school shootings since Newtown and, in part, by elite opinion and financing on the part of power brokers like former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The convergence of these forces can be felt most recently in the launch of Everytown for Gun Safety, a joint project of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Everytown is a movement of moms, teachers, survivors, gun owners, mayors, faith leaders, law enforcement officials and other responsible citizens who believe we can do much more to keep our families and communities safe from gun violence. For the first time in history, a disparate group of Americans are mobilizing to create a counterweight to the NRA to fight for effective regulation at the federal, state and local level.

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Everytown will address issues like background checks, domestic violence, suicide prevention and safe storage of guns. Every day, eighty-six Americans are killed by gun violence. Who knows how high that number will go with bills like what Georgia has passed today. To learn how to resist this lethal trend, visit Everytown.org.


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