Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.
Memorial Day, first known as Decoration Day, originated in the North after the Civil War to commemorate fallen Union soldiers. By the 20h century the holiday had been extended to honor American casualties of all wars. I’ve always thought that the best way to honor the fallen is to prevent needless deaths in the future by 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 subgenre 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. Use the comments field to tell me what I 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
When Lois Sasson confirmed on February 16 that her longtime partner, Lesley Gore, a non-smoker, had died of lung cancer at the untimely age of 68, feminists, freedom fighters, humanitarians and Catwoman lovers of all stripes mourned the passing of an iconic ally and inspiration.
A singer-songwriter who topped the US charts at the age of 16 in 1963 with “It’s My Party” Brooklyn-born Lesley Sue Goldstein was discovered by Quincy Jones (before he was discovered) and produced hits like “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” “She’s A Fool,” “That’s the Way Boys Are,” “Maybe I Know” and the Oscar-nominated “Out Here On My Own” from the 1980 film Fame.
Her best-known song, the feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me,” has been and will continue to be covered by scores of musicians and celebrated by an untold number of fans and will remain an indispensable legacy to both the annals of music and the fight for women’s equality. (In 2010, Gore summed up the song’s power: “I don’t care what age you are—whether you’re 16 or 116—there’s nothing more wonderful than standing on the stage and shaking your finger and singing, ‘Don’t tell me what to do.”) She also cemented her cult status with a 1967 turn as Pussycat, Catwoman’s musical minion in the hit TV series, where she mimed to “California Nights” and “Scat! Darn Catwoman.”
Gore didn’t come out publicly until 2005 though she never really hid her sexuality and it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone who’d been more than casually following her career. She devoted much of her life to progressive causes, volunteering for Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign; speaking out against the death penalty, hosting episodes of the pioneering LGBT PBS show In the Life; participating in countless benefit concerts for reproductive rights and, most recently, working with rock ’n’ roll cabaret act Citizen Band to produce the 2012 “You Don’t Own Me” Voter Call to Action PSA featuring hipster feminists like Lena Dunham, Alexa Chung and Tennessee Thomas channeling Gore’s legacy in what became one of that election cycle’s most widely-viewed videos.
It’s hard to overstate Gore’s impact on the lives of the extraordinary number of people whom she reached.
Lesley Gore’s Top Five Videos
“You Don’t Own Me”
“It’s My Party”
“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts”
“Judy’s Turn to Cry”
“You Don’t Own Me” (PSA)
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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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
7. It Matters NC
8. Ohio Needs to Get Out The Vote!
9. Get Out the Native Vote
10. Rock The Vote Presents: #Turnoutforwhat
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.
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.
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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
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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
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
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