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Not enough Americans are aware that much of what we consider our patriotic culture, especially our iconic music, was created by artists and writers of decidedly left-wing sympathies, as Peter Drier and Richard Flacks have documented.
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 various experts and now can present my heavily revised and highly debatable list of Top Ten July 4th Songs.
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. Please use the comments field below to let me know what I missed.
1. Los Lobos with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir performing This Land is Your Land
This 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 Work War II with its populist evocation of everyday American life.
4. Phil Ochs, 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 by abolitionist, social activist and poet Julia Ward Howe in 1861, set to a tune written several years before by William Steffe. Sung here by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
6. Loretta Lynn, Dear Uncle Sam
This Vietnam-era plea on behalf of soldier-husbands everywhere resonated with a non- traditional, antiwar crowd when it was first released in 1968.
7. John Mellencamp, Small Town
This 1985 song distills the essence of Mellencamp’s popularity as the bard of the Midwest giving voice to the dreams and disappointments of so many 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
This song, written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, 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, 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.”
Few, if any, of the towering figures of the twentieth century inspired as many people, or as many songs, as Nelson Mandela. Artists of all genres and stripes found different ways to pay tribute to Mandela as he served twenty-seven years in prison before emerging to lead his country into a peaceful transition to majority rule. As he lives his last days at the age of 94, here are ten of my favorites presented in tribute. Please use the comments field below to let me know what I missed.
1. Free Nelson Mandela, The Specials
2. Mandela (Bring Him Back Home), Hugh Masekela
3. Asimbonanga, Johnny Clegg
4. When You Come Back, Vusi Mahlasela
5. Nelson Mandela Song, Nomfusi & The Lucky Charms
6. Give Me Hope Joanna, Eddy Grant
7. Black President, Brenda Fassie
8. House of Exile, Lucky Dube
9. Sooner Than Later, Kent O’Shea
10. Number 46664, Bono, Joe Strummer and Dave Stewart
Nobel Peace Prize nominee PFC Bradley Manning has been in prison for more than three years. He is accused of sharing documents that expose US war crimes, government corruption, and corporate influence on US foreign policies. This is the charge, but to me and millions of others, whoever did expose these crimes is a hero and a patriot. Yet the government has chosen to persecute the alleged whistle-blower rather than pursue the criminals.
Manning’s court martial started on June 3. Human rights lawyer Chase Madar, author of the invaluable The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower (Verso), is attending the proceedings and blogging at thenation.com during the course of the trial.
This impassioned appeal from Daniel Ellsberg makes clear what an injustice the US government is perpetuating on Manning. Read and share the letter and then check out the Bradley Manning Support Network to see how you can help save the life of a true American hero.
Read Chase Madar - what is in Bradley Manning's leaks anyway?
Riot police use teargas to disperse the crowd during an anti-government protest at Taksim Square in central Istanbul. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)
Thousands of demonstrators in Turkey today vowed to press on with their campaign after clashing with police around Istanbul’s central Taksim Square into the early hours of the day, the fifth straight day of protests. They were joined by the Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions, which is staging a two-day strike to show solidarity with the protesters and to demand better workplace safety and higher wages.
Turkish protesters have now taken to the popular non-profit fundraising site Indiegogo with a new campaign to build momentum on what some are calling the start of a revolution.
What if we felt the same way about Turkey as we feel about Game of Thrones? Read Michelle Dean on revolution on television and in real life.
A woman carries her child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, OK. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
In what is now officially one of the worst tornado disasters in US history, dozens of people have been reported dead in Oklahoma—many of them children—with the toll expected to rise as the search for survivors in the rubble continues. Television showed shocking destruction spread over a large area, with block upon block of homes and businesses, many in and around the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, completely demolished.
As is always the case, it’s the poor who are bearing the brunt of the catastrophe: because sub-standard housing is much more vulnerable to natural disaster, because support networks are likely to be far more impoverished and because whatever small cushions people possess are quickly wiped out in the face of disaster on this scale.
So how to help?
Here are some Oklahoma groups on the ground doing relief on behalf of the state’s most impoverished residents. They desperately needed our help before this storm was even glimpsed, but now more than ever, support is critically needed. I'll keep updating this list so use the comments field below for suggestions and check back later.
The Oklahoma Regional Food Bank was established in 1980, and has grown into the largest non-faith-based hunger-relief organization in the state of Oklahoma. It already had its hands full trying to feed the estimated 675,000 Oklahomans not getting enough to eat; now it has established special outposts near Oklahoma City to provide immediate food to those rendered homeless by the tornado.
Occupy Norman is acting as a clearinghouse for information about indie relief efforts and coordinating housing and medical supplies for those urgently in need.
Feeding America, whose mission is to “feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks,” says it will deliver trucks of food, water and supplies to communities in Oklahoma, and will also “set up additional emergency food and supply distribution sites as they are needed.”
Team Rubicon’s Operation: Starting Gun is mobilizing volunteers to go directly to the communities to help assess damages and expedite home repair. Your support will help get these volunteers where they need to be as quickly as possible.
Set up through the non-profit, grassroots-supporting Global Giving, the Oklahoma Tornado Relief Fund is raising dollars for both immediate needs, as well as long-term rebuilding goals.
The Red Cross has set up shelters in various, affected communities. Donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief fund; the organization also suggests giving blood at your local hospital or blood bank. If you’re searching for a missing relative, check the Red Cross Safe & Well site.
Students at Green Mountain College. (Courtesy of Divest Green Mountain.)
Kudos to Green Mountain College for its announcement this week that it is committing to divest its $3.1 million endowment from companies profiting from fossil fuels. GMC is the fifth college nationwide and the second in Vermont to commit to divestment as part of a nationwide campaign that has spread to over 300 colleges and universities and more than 100 cities and states across the country.
The GMC Board of Trustees voted on Friday, May 10 to immediately divest from fossil fuels and establish a process for aligning future investments with social, environmental and governance goals. GMC has a $3.1 million endowment, only 1 percent of which is currently invested in the 200 fossil fuel companies that own the vast majority of the world’s coal, oil and gas reserves. So it’s a symbolic victory, yes, but one that demonstrates the increasing traction of the divestment movement.
“We’re pleased with the conversation that has occurred this semester between students and administration, resulting in the divestment from the list of the most destructive 200 fossil fuel companies,” said a statement issued by Divest GMC, the student group on campus who led the divestment campaign. “As students of an environmental liberal arts college we look forward to continuing the dialogue of authentic sustainability, both environmentally and socially. In this way we are strengthening student voice in all aspects of institutional education.”
Students at GMC began their divestment campaign last February. In March, a number of students participated in Mountain Justice Spring Break, traveling to West Virginia to witness the devastation of mountaintop removal firsthand. In April, the GMC Student Senate voted unanimously to support divestment and more than 50 percent of the student body signed on to a petition supporting the move.
“A heartfelt thanks to the handful of students of Club Activism at Green Mountain College who never lost hope and to the administration and board of trustees at Green Mountain College who listened as the murmur became a broad movement across the college community,” said Dr. Paul Hancock, professor of economics and director of the Sustainable Community Development Center at GMC. “This small place has accomplished so much to sound the alarm about climate change and overhaul the way we work and live. As we blow past 400 ppm let’s hope the folks in our nation’s capital respond to the demands of these young leaders.”
The GMC announcement provides a boost of momentum for divestment campaigns at other Vermont colleges including Goddard, St. Michaels, Johnson State, Middlebury and the University of Vermont. “This puts huge pressure on Middlebury’s Board of Trustees to divest,” said Middlebury College sophomore Teddy Smyth. “Our school’s reputation for environmental leadership is lagging behind our neighbors at Green Mountain College.”
Activists are also pushing for divestment at the state and city level. Mor than 957 people have signed a petition, to date, calling on the state legislature to pass legislation to divest the state’s pension funds from fossil fuels.
“Vermonters want to align the state’s financial holdings with our strong environmental ethic,” said Maeve McBride, an organizer with 350 Vermont. “The Vermont legislature has banned fracking and set ambitious efficiency targets, but our state pension funds are invested in companies that frack, drill and pillage. We were the first state to ban fracking, and we can lead again by divesting our state pension funds from fossil fuels.”
Over the coming weeks, students across the country will continue to meet with their boards of trustees to push for divestment. This summer, the Go Fossil Free campaign aims to expand the divestment movement and lay the groundwork for an even bigger fall of organizing on campus.
Read Emily Crockett on why the millennial generation isn’t just a bunch of narcissists, as a recent Time article suggests.
The voices of family members of those killed by the NYPD have been surprisingly absent from recent organized calls for police accountability. On May 10, family members who have lost loved ones to the NYPD will come together at Police Plaza in lower Manhattan with elected officials, community leaders and grassroots organizations to call for police accountability and changes to how cases of police killings are handled. The group of mothers is also asking artists to create music dedicated to the parents of those killed by the NYPD. (Instructions here.) Check out the Justice Committee site and learn how you can join and support its efforts to redress and reform police violence against minority populations in New York City.
Bill McKibben's April 28 climate change sermon delivered at New York City's historic Riverside Church was both brilliant and inspiring. But was it too late? In a sane society, his call would be required viewing coast to coast and urgent action would immediately follow. Do your bit and and share this video, then join the growing fossil fuel divestment movement and make every effort to get your school, municipality, company and/or organization on board.
I was lucky to recently see a screening of Robert Greenwald’s new film. It was different that what I expected, not just because it’s a full-length feature, different from many of Greenwald’s earlier, shorter political docs, but also because the film doesn’t champion political activists or progressive heroes, as a series which The Nation collaborated on with Greenwald’s shop did. And it doesn’t take on traditional left targets like Fox News, the Koch brothers and Walmart, as previous Greenwald productions have done.
What the War on Whistleblowers does is shine a light on normal people, conservative and traditional people, who acted with extraordinary courage, conviction and clarity when presented with information they just couldn’t live without revealing. These are people who believed in all that America promises and then sacrificed their reputations and livelihoods and risked imprisonment by the very government they swore to protect.
Their names are Franz Gayl, Thomas Tamm, Michael DeKort and Thomas Drake. Their stories have been told in pieces in the press and at least Drake has achieved widespread notice due largely to a magisterial investigative report by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker. But to hear them telling their own stories, not just the details of their whistleblowing and what led them to finally decide to go public, but the ways the state fought to silence them, is both inspiring and disillusioning in equal measure. And it’s infuriating to hear about the the worsening reality for whistleblowers who are being persecuted simply for exposing the truth.
The film is now showing theatrically in NY and LA, and Brave New Films is giving as many people as possible the opportunity to see it by offering a free DVD of the film to anybody who offers to host a house screening with their friends. Take BNF up on its offer, download and share this related Whistleblower Action Guide and help Brave New Films expose the undemocratic and inexcusable way that the Obama administration is treating this current generation of truth-tellers.
On April 18, people converged in Nebraska to speak out about the Keystone XL Pipeline at the State Department’s only public comment session. Farmers, ranchers, climat activists, and people of all stripes and colors spoke out in opposition to the pipeline.
It’s still entirely unclear if the Keystone XL pipeline can be built and managed safely. Moreover, its construction would delay the critical conversion to a non-fossil fuel based economy on which our future depends. Secretary of State John Kerry, who once spoke out bravely against the Vietnam War and who has stressed the dangers of climate change, could stop it. Sometime soon, the State Department will issue a final environmental impact statement on the pipeline, followed by a determination on whether it is “in the national interest.”