Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and more.
Bob Dylan turns 70 on Tuesday. To mark the occasion I've assembled a (highly debatable) list of what I consider his top ten protest songs with accompanying videos, a surprisingly difficult task given Sony's Music's aggressive online policing of Dylan's catalogue.
Needless to say, Dylan is far more than a protest singer, a guise he purposefully rejected early in his career, most famously with the song Maggie's Farm, commonly considered to be a protest against protest songs.
It's complicated, as the eminent historian and Dylanologist Sean Wilentz explained in a recent interview: "Politics are inescapable for any writer of Bob Dylan’s human and humane scope. His work, I think, shows that around 1963, he abandoned any idea that conventional politics of any kind could really change the world. He’s said more than once that he puts no store in the political game. But he writes, bitingly, that 'we live in a political world,' so it’s always there."
Most importantly, Dylan did write some of the most affecting and evocative songs ever conceived about racial injustice, unnecessary war and the threat of nuclear peril.
Bob Dylan's Top Ten Protest Songs
1. Masters of War
2. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
4. A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall
5. With God on Our Side
6. George Jackson (Performed here by the British reggae band Steel Pulse because Sony has made it impossible to find a video of Dylan doing the song.)
7. The Times They Are a Changin'
8. Only a Pawn in Their Game
9. Senor, Tales of Yankee Power
10. Chimes of Freedom
In 1965, the US made Medicare law. Today, Medicare provides primary healthcare for 46 million Americans, more than half of whom subsist on less than $28,000 a year. Now, Republicans, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, want to privatize the system and give more say -- and money -- to the insurance industry.
The problems with this plan are legion: It would use Medicare funds to enrich the private insurance firms that have generously donated to Ryan's campaigns through a system of vouchers and block grants to the states. Vouchers may sound like a great idea. Why not allow people to go to whatever healthcare provider they want? The catch is that there is no assurance in Ryan's plan that companies will provide insurance at a reasonable rate to everyone, especially senior citizens.
In other words, Medicare, a free-for-service program which itself pays for healthcare procedures for most beneficiaries and stipulates a range of services, procedures and cap costs, would be replaced by a privatized system to be determined by the health insurance industry.
Moreover, as Paul Krugman recently contended, Ryan's economic rationale for the plan is equally specious: "The point is that privatizing Medicare does nothing, in itself, to limit health-care costs. In fact, it almost surely raises them by adding a layer of middlemen. Yet the House plan assumes that we can cut health-care spending as a percentage of G.D.P. despite an aging population and rising health care costs."
As Erica Payne, founder and head of The Agenda Project and a good friend of The Nation, aptly summarized, “Paul Ryan’s plan will give health care decisions for elderly Americans to insurance corporations. Spreadsheets with plus and minus signs have no business being in charge of the health of our grandmothers and grandfathers.”
To further highlight the regressive nature of the plan, the Agenda Project just released a striking new video dramatically illuminating the consequences of the plan on our nation's elderly population.
After watching the video, please post it to your Facebook page and/or Twitter feed and then call Ryan's Congressional office at 202-225-3031 and politely implore him to call off his effort to eliminate Medicare.
Today, our friends at Brave New Foundation launched the 'Immigrants for Sale' campaign with a powerful animated video exposing the way private prisons profit off the passage of anti-immigrant legislation, and what that means for the democratic process.
The video is the first in an on-going series documenting the abuse, corruption and corporate influence that drives both the rush to privatize incarceration and the draconian sentencing and immigration laws that make the rush profitable.
The three largest corporate players in the industry -- CCA (the Corrections Corporation of America), The Geo Group and Management and Training corporations -- reap annual profits of more than $5 billion a year at the same time as they dole out more than $20 million annually in lobbying to (mostly rightwing) state legislators to ensure the approval of the regional anti-immigrant laws that fill their coffers.
An NPR report outlined how CCA and co. aim to translate the anti-immigrant rhetoric and political void into a long-lasting cash drive -- believing that illegal immigrants will continue to provide a fresh and highly profitable influx of new inmates to their cells if harsh anti-immigration legislation Arizona-style stays popular.
As Brave New Films' Alex Cabbellero writes at Huffington Post, "CCA founder Tomas Beasly once called his scheme 'more profitable' than selling burgers or cars -- a clear indication that any sense of justice in the prison industry will be forever trumped by cash flows and profit margins."
We have a huge, multi-layered problem with incarceration in this country. The US prison population has exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million in a few short decades. Moreover, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than two-thirds of released prisoners are re-arrested within three years, and returned to the system much more quickly than in the past. This unusually high recidivism rate, a travesty, is directly linked to a decrease in programs aimed at rehabilitation.
Prison privatization just makes this problem much, much worse because recidivism is actually a good thing from the financial perspective of a corporation operating private prisons. The "Immigrants For Sale" campaign is one attempt to stem the tide. Sign the pledge and become part of the nationwide network of Prison Watchers that is following and exposing the players, the money and the victims in this corrupt, anti-democratic rush to mass privatized incarceration.
In a highly unusual move, the trustees of the City University of New York voted on Monday to deny an honorary degree to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Nation editorial board member Tony Kushner.
The vote came after a CUNY trustee, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, said that Kushner had disparaged the State of Israel in past comments, a characterization that Kushner passionately disputed in a moving and angry open letter he released to the CUNY trustees.
As my colleague Laura Flanders reports, Wiesenfeld is a trustee at the pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and an organizer of the Salute to Israel Day Parade Committee but his views are not considered controversial or problematic.
What Kushner's views on Israel have to do with receiving an honorary degree at all has yet to be explained. As it happens, his positions on the Middle East are rational and humane but not especially radical (he opposes the BDS movement, for instance), and his life's work and public engagement make him an ideal candidate for an honorary degree.
A Pulitzer Prize winner and recipient of honorary degrees from fifthteen other universities and colleges, Kushner is one of our generation's most commanding moral voices in the tradition of Arthur Miller and Eugene O'Neil. It would have done CUNY more honor to give him the award than he would have garnered by receiving it.
Nation columnist Katha Pollitt elaborates on the travesty of the decision in a strong open letter of condemnation she sent to the CUNY trustees.
Join the campaign to tell the CUNY board that this sort Israeli litmus is simply unacceptable. You can find email addresses, other tips and constant updates at the "Good Enough for a Pulitzer, but Not for City University New York?" Facebook page.
Extremists in the House of Representatives won a vote to approve an anti-choice bill yesterday that would effectively end all insurance coverage of abortion-related services, and even "redefine rape." The final vote was 251 to 175 with seventeen Democrats joining the entire Republican caucus.
As an excellent post at Mother Jones by Nick Baumann detailed, H.R. 3 would sharply reduce access to safe, legal abortions for women in this country by virtually eliminating insurance coverage for abortions. The redefinition of rape could be used to block women who were victims of incest involving statutory rape from using Medicaid to pay for an abortion. And in some cases, the bill would force women who were sexually assaulted into the hellish scenario of proving to IRS agents that they were victims of "forcible rape" or incest.
This video from Planned Parenthood makes clear why the stakes are so high.
Click here to see how your representative voted.
The House plans to vote on its anti-abortion bill as soon as tomorrow. The White House has threatened to veto the bill.
To help ensure defeat of this effort, sign on to Credo's petition to those members voting in favor of the bill underscoring that you consider their vote part of an assault on women's rights, and check out Planned Parenthood's activist tool-kit to learn how you can help push back this regressive legislative effort.
Nearly two decades ago, the UN General Assembly proclaimed May 3 as World Press Freedom Day as a reminder that free, independent press is essential to democracy and is a fundamental human right.
In honor of that occasion, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has organized a conference today at the Newseum in Washington, DC, with a focus on how Internet and digital platforms are contributing to freedom of expression, democratic governance and sustainable development across the globe.
Today is also a good time to remember that, according to Reporters Without Borders, 145 journalists were imprisoned and fifty-seven killed in 2010 alone, while the numbers for 2011 are sure to be higher.
Sad examples are legion. My colleague Richard Kim writes of investigative reporter Shane Bauer's continued imprisonment in Iran after twenty-one months.
Just last week, Dorothy Parvaz, a Canadian-American-Iranian journalist with Al Jazeera arrived in Syria's airport on Friday for a reporting assignment and has not been seen or heard from since. A regional official of the Committee to Protect Journalists said there was "strong evidence" to suggest the journalist had been detained on arrival at Damascus airport on a flight from Qatar. She has US, Iranian and Canadian citizenship, and formerly was a reporter and columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
As repression in Syria has increased in turn with growing democracy protests, some Syrian journalists have been detained for weeks as part of an effort by the government to limit media coverage of the unrest. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that scores of Syria’s most prominent intellectuals and activists have gone into hiding as government forces continue to carry out raids and arrests across the country.
Al Jazeera has demanded immediate information from Syria on Parvaz's whereabouts but has so far been rebuffed. In the United States, Senator Patty Murray has made a formal inquiry to the State Department asking for help in locating Parvaz. Join this Facebook page, created to update supporters on news and ways to help, as a way of marking today's World Press Freedom Day.
The continuing fear of atomic safety in Japan after the March 11 earthquake brings added weight to today's twenty-fifth anniversary of the worst nuclear power plant accident in history—the meltdown in Chernobyl, Ukraine that has caused tens of thousands of cancer deaths, and showed just how far-reaching the ramifications of a serious nuclear accident could be.
To mark the occasion our crack web intern Kevin Gostolza took the lead in assembling a top ten anti-nuclear song list with videos. I did cheat with the Peter Tosh tune, but aside from the late, great reggae singer's "No Nuclear War," the rest of these songs all deal specifically with the perils of nuclear power. (We'll save the nuclear war list for August 6.) Please use the comments field to let me know what I missed.
Top Ten Anti-Nuclear Songs
1. Gil Scott Heron, "Shut 'Em Down"
2. Peter Tosh, "No Nuclear War"
3. The Byrds, "I Come and Knock at Every Door"
4. Pete Seeger, "Talking Atom"
5. Gil Scott-Heron, "We Almost Lost Detroit"
6. The Cramps, "Uranium Rock"
7. Kraftwerk, "Radioactivity"
8. Ryan Adams, "Nuclear"
9. Crosby, Stills & Nash, "Barrel of Pain"
10. John Hall, "Plutonium is Forever"
Dorian Lynskey's comprehensive new book, 33 Revolutions Per Minute, details the history of the protest song in America and around the world.
Defining a protest song as one that "addresses a political issue in a way which aligns itself with the underdog," Lynskey starts his story with Billie Holiday's harrowing 1939 anti-lynching ballad, "Strange Fruit," and ably takes us through the historic tunes that helped sustain and promote the civil rights, labor and anti-Vietnam war movements as well as non-American music from The Clash in Britain, Victor Jara in Chile and Fela Kuti in Nigeria.
It's a bracing and informative survey, even if you're familiar with the topic, and it sent me thinking and talking to people about all-time favorite protest songs. A quick poll of Nation staffers and friends of the magazine produced an eclectic play list:
Nation Publisher Emeritus Victor Navasky offered "Peat Bog Soldiers," one of Europe's best-known protest songs that became a Republican anthem during the Spanish Civil War and a symbol of fascist resistance during World War II. Executive Editor Richard Kim cited Sinead O'Connor's "Black Boys on Mopeds." Managing Editor Roane Carey undoubtedly spoke for many when he insisted on Bob Dylan's classic " Masters of War." Publicity Director Gennady Kolker contributed John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth." Blogger, author and former Crawdaddy editor Greg Mitchell's tentative short-list includes Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come," Woody Guthrie's "Vigilante Man," Steve Earle's "Jerusalem," Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello's live version of "Ghost of Tom Joad," Bob Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom", Louis Armstrong's "Black and Blue," Leonard Cohen's "Democracy," Billy Bragg's version of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy and Neil Young's "Shock and Awe."
Mother Jones Publisher Steve Katz wrote to say that Steve Goodman's "My Name is Peggy Evans" is the song that's stuck with him all these years. Free Speech TV's Don Rojas votes for Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." Care2's Cindy Samuels couldn't pick just one among vintage classics "Union Maid," "Bread and Roses," and "We Shall Overcome." GritTV's Sarah Jaffe lauds Patti Smith's "Radio Baghdad" and the Dropkick Murphys' version of "Which Side are You On." Nation Institute Investigative Editor Esther Kaplan counters with what she argues is the "ultimate version of the song," featured in the film Harlan County USA and sung by Florence Reece, who wrote the ballad during a coal mining strike in the 1930s. Alternet's Washington, DC editor Adele Stan cites the Isley Brothers' "Fight the Power" and Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." TruthOut editor Jason Leopold argues for Barry McGuire's version of PF Sloan's "Eve of Destruction," and FAIR founder and Head of the Park Media Center at Ithaca College Jeff Cohen named a too-often-ignored 1970 song "What About Me?" from the San Francisco band Quicksilver Messenger Service. "It has almost everything -- environment, media criticism, class, youth rebellion, repression, optimism."
Seriously picking a top-ten is an impossible task, but in the interests of getting the conversation started, here are my choices. The criteria includes musical quality as well as topicality and I tried to stray some from the totally predictable. Hope you enjoy the videos!
1) Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up"
2) Stiff Little Fingers' "Suspect Device"
3) Steel Pulse's "Ku Klux Klan"
4) Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"
5) Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes"
6) Phil Ochs' "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore"
7) Billy Bragg's "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward"
8) Bob Dylan's "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"
9) Aretha Franklin's "Respect"
10) Boogie Down Production's "Stop the Violence"
We also want to hear from Nation readers! Use this form to tell us what you consider your all-time favorite protest song. Please include a link to a video, if you have it, but just tell us the name and artist if you don't. We'll be publishing a survey of readers' choices next week.
With Tax Day hard on our heels, David Cay Johnston has done a tremendous service by boiling down and unpacking what he calls the nine things the rich don't want you to know about taxes.
There aren't really nine discrete items in his list but the main points are:
1) Poor Americans pay taxes
2) Many rich people actually avoid paying any income tax at all
3) Many corporations also avoid taxes
4) Republicans like taxes too
and, my favorite, 5) Other countries do it better
Read former New York Times-man Johnston's deep debunking of some of what he considers the most pernicious media-perpetuated tax myths.
Because of its symbolic power and resonant history, Tax Day has always occasioned grassroots protests from both the left and right. For decades, the American Friends Service Committee and the War Resisters League have organized volunteers to distribute informational flyers detailing where your tax money really goes and Noam Chomsy and Howard Zinn famously organized a tax strike in 1968 to protest US involvement in Vietnam. These days the Tea Party likes to use the day to express what its members argue is excessive federal spending and government run amok.
People have protested taxation at numerous times in US history, sometimes violently. The American Revolution originated with protests against the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts by which Britain sought to tax the American colonies. In 1794, settlers in western Pennsylvania reacted to a federal tax on liquor with the Whiskey Rebellion. The adverse effect of the Tariff of 1828 on southern commerce led South Carolina to reject the tariff and threaten secession. In each of these cases, opponents of the tax(s) in question contended that it was a question of government over-reach.
In this tradition, in Portland, Oregon on April 15, the Oregon Community of War Tax Resistance and War Resisters League will once again "publicly redirect federal taxes to a few of the (many) organizations that serve the common good." The goal is to recognize tax redirection as a legitimate form of nonviolent direct action against war.
Much of the rest of the most vibrant Tax Day activism is being fueled by the US Uncut movement, which my colleague Allison Kilkenny has been regularly chronicling in her superb Nation guest-blogging. This week, US Uncut is sponsoring a national series of actions marking tax weekend, many targeting Bank of America branches coast to coast. (Why BoA? It received $45 billion in government bailout funds while funneling its tax dollars into 115 separate offshore tax havens.)
There are more than thirty US Uncut events nationwide planned for Friday, including a rally and direct action scheduled in New York City's Union Sq. Park, virtually right outside the doors of The Nation's office; a "civilized and peaceful" demonstration and outdoor teach-in at the main Bank of America branch in Tempe, Arizona; in New Haven, CT a coalition of students and area workers will collaborate on a demonstration and leafletting in front of the Bank of America office, at the CT Financial Center; in Seattle, there's going to a be lunchtime party with free food for anyone who wants to come down and close their Bank of America accounts and in Sacramento, activists are planning a non-violent occupation of the State Capitol grounds to be followed by a mass "shout-out."
Check the US Uncut website for information on when and where protests will take place and consider joining demonstrators to demand an end to the corrupt system that allows corporations to go untaxed while services and programs for low- and middle-income Americans are severely cut.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated forty-three years ago today.
The speech Dr. King gave the night before he was killed was typically powerful, highly patriotic and particularly prophetic:
"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight."
King was killed while in Memphis defending the rights of the largely African-American sanitation workers to collectively organize. Today, the right to bargain collectively for a voice at work and a middle-class life are under attack as never before.
In response, local activists coast to coast are fighting back in King's name. Learn more about how you can join this growing movement.