Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.
The first concert I ever saw was Pete Seeger playing Carnegie Hall in 1970 when I was a toddler. (“What took your parents so long?” my friend John Nichols asks.) Since then, I was privileged to see him sing at numerous shows, labor rallies, anti-apartheid protests, annual Clearwater Festivals, an environmental fundraiser, an early Farm-Aid benefit, after breakfast at my lefty summer camp and, most recently, on the streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan at an Occupy rally in the fall of 2011.
Seeger, who died on January 27 at the too-young age of 94, was everywhere. It’s a cliché, but wherever people were struggling for their rights and their dignity, Seeger was there. He spearheaded an American folk revival while championing a long litany of social justice causes and lived an extraordinary life marked by hard work, skilled musicianship and kindness,
Musically, Seeger was both a songwriter and, like his idol Woody Guthrie, a great interpreter of America’s deepest folk traditions. He didn’t write “We Shall Overcome,” the iconic anthem of the civil rights revolution, but no one played a greater role in popularizing the song. His most famous original compositions, “If I Had a Hammer,” an immortal tale of perserverance and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” a haunting lament over the absurdity of war, are now and forever a core part of the culture of protest in the United States and around the world.
Seeger’s life and legacy resonated deeply with generations of artists and activists of all stripes and inspired considerable musical tribute; this list is meant simply as a starting point for discussion (and listening!) Please use the comments field below to let me what I missed.
Pete Seeger’s Top Ten Songs
1. If I Had a Hammer
2. Where Have All the Flowers Gone
3. Midnight Special with Arlo Guthrie
4. What Did You Learn in School Today
5. Little Boxes
6. Turn, Turn
8. This Land is Your Land with Bruce Springsteen
9. We Shall Overcome
10a. Worried Man Blues with Johnny and June Cash
10b. Kisses Sweeter than Wine
In honor of today's national holiday marking the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., I embarked on the impossible task of selecting a top ten list of songs about civil rights. The theme has resonated deeply with generations of artists of all stripes and inspired considerable musical tribute; this list is meant simply as a starting point for discussion (and listening!) Please use the comments field below to let me what I missed.
In Fairly Random Order:
1. Mavis Staples, We Shall Not Be Moved
2 The Impressions, People Get Ready
3. Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come
5. Phil Ochs, Here's to the State of Mississippi
6. Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A Changin'
7. Sweet Honey in the Rock, Eyes on the Prize
8. Gil Scott-Heron, 95 South (All of the Places We've Been)
9. The Roots, Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round
10. The Staple Singers, Freedom Highway
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, the architect of the ANC’s resistance strategy, as he served twenty-seven years in prison before emerging to lead his country into a peaceful transition to majority rule. As the world mourns the loss of Mandela, 95, here are ten of my favorites presented in tribute. Please use the comments field below to let me know what I missed. RIP.
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
This one commercial should be enough to make every parent vow to never ever again shop at Toys“R”Us. The spot, airing in numerous markets coast to coast, suggests that trees are boring and nature sucks while a stroll through the plastic corridors of Toys“R”Us is just what young minds need to stimulate their inner creativity and happiness. It views like satire but it’s no joke. Join Climate Parents in telling Toys“R”Us to stop pushing anti-environmental messages on our kids.
Typhoon Haiyan, the Category 5 mega-storm that pounded the eastern Philippines on November 8, has left at least 10,000 people dead and many more injured while destroying critical water, electricity and transportation infrastructure. Towns and villages are leveled in an already impoverished region. There’s little water to drink or food to eat. According to all accounts, the need for outside assistance is urgent.
Here’s an incomplete list of groups on the ground working to immediately aid the victims. Please use the comments field to let me know what other relief groups deserve support.
Oxfam’s work combines immediate, practical assistance post-disasters with an intelligent, tough-minded approach to the longer-term needs for development, justice and sustainability. Oxfam aid teams are on the ground in the Philippines and reporting urgent needs of food, clean water, medicine and shelter. Communication lines between some provinces are cut and many areas are experiencing total black outs. Oxfam teams are assessing the extent of the damage now and are ready to deploy water and sanitation materials to those affected but urgently need help to scale up.
The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) has created a disaster relief fund for victims in the Philippines.
The American Jewish World Service, which has worked extensively in the Philippines, is collecting funds to provide urgent aid to local groups in the country that know their communities and what they need to help survivors.
Shelterbox is providing tents, kitchen equipment, blankets, water purification systems and classroom supplies to refugee families in the Philippines. You can help with an online donation or by using one of these methods.
The UN’s World Food Program has allocated an immediate $2 million for Haiyan relief, with a greater appeal pending. The organization is also sending 40 metric tons of fortified biscuits in the immediate aftermath, as well as working with the government to restore emergency telecommunications. Americans can text the word AID to 27722 to donate $10 or give online. Learn more here.
World Vision has a long history of relief and anti-poverty work in the Philippines and is mobilizing nearly 500 staff around the country to respond to the disaster. Donations are accepted online and the organization also lets you sponsor a child in the Philippines.
US Representative John Conyers Jr., Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and actor Maggie Gyllenhaal join a chorus of prominent voices calling for an end to mass suspicionless surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) in a new short video released by the StopWatching.us coalition.
The video is a call to action released in support of the Stop Watching Us: Rally Against Mass Surveillance being held in Washington, DC, on Saturday, October 26, the twelfth anniversary of the Patriot Act. Formed in June 2013, the StopWatching.us coalition comprises more than 100 public advocacy organizations from across the political spectrum demanding that Congress investigate the full extent of the NSA’s spying programs.
The protest should be the largest privacy protest in the history of the republic. The demand is for a full congressional investigation of America’s surveillance programs, reform to federal surveillance law and accountability from public officials responsible for hiding this surveillance from lawmakers and the public. Sign the coalition’s petition and find out how you can support the campaign, whether or not you can get to DC on October 26.
There may be no family in the history of the republic which has done more to promote culinary awareness, sustainability and food justice than the indefatigable Lappé clan.
Frances Moore Lappé’s seminal and best-selling 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet, launched one of the first substantive critiques of the industrial food industry and was groundbreaking for arguing that world hunger is not caused by a lack of food but by an unfair system of resource allocation.
Lappé’s husband, the late toxicologist Marc Lappé, was an early, persistent and perceptive critic of the agrichemical industry and what its products do to human beings.
In 1975, Lappé and Joseph Collins launched the California-based Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) with a mission to end the injustices that cause hunger, poverty and environmental degradation throughout the world. Having evolved into the country’s leading food think tank, Food First currently sponsors countless projects coast to coast aimed at building local agri-food systems.
Building on the success of Food First, Lappé later founded the Small Planet Institute in 2001 with her daughter Anna Lappé to reveal how people on every continent are creating living democratic models to establish their own food security and power to remake societal rules and norms to serve widely shared values.
Then, in 2006, Anna Lappé took Small Planet a step further with her book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, in which she revealed the disturbing connection between food production and climate change and outlined how we can eat food that’s better for both people and the planet.
Delving deeper into the myths that lead so many people to eat against their own interests, as it were, the younger Lappé’s latest campaign and series of short movies, Food Myths, seeks to unpack the often stealth marketing of junk food to kids and counter the billion-dollar annual investment by the fast-food industry in shaping the public conversation about our food system.
In the second and most recent movie, Lappé debunks one of the most pervasive myths propagated by the junk food industry—the myth of personal choice—and calls into question the industry’s defense of its marketing: that parental authority is the sole factor in deciding what kids eat. Citing a range of studies and reports, Lappé explaines how junk food industry marketing is designed to undermine parental authority and exploit children’s vulnerabilities.
Lappé explains how children like her daughter, Ida (and my daughter, Claudia!), are inundated with marketing throughout their lives—from the Internet to the classroom to the sports field—despite the best efforts of their supposedly enlightened parents. Today, the food industry reaches our children far beyond commercials during Saturday morning cartoons. Big Food marketing pops up in the classroom and lunchroom; on sports leagues jerseys and playground equipment; on branded websites and social media platforms. This constant onslaught shapes our childrens’ habits and preferences, undermines parental guidance and helps drive the nation’s growing epidemic of diet-related disease.
“For decades, McDonald’s and its junk food cohorts have worked to convince Americans that bad parenting, not aggressive marketing, is the reason for exploding rates of diet-related disease,” said Lappé. “It’s time we stood with parents to end the tsunami of marketing that targets kids and creates an environment devoid of healthy choices.”
In conjunction with the campaign launch, Lappé cobbled together a Food MythBusters coalition and, as its first campaign, its members are calling on McDonald’s to shut down its flagship website for kids, HappyMeal.com.
Happy Meals are a staple of McDonald’s youth-targeted playbook, featuring toys from children’s movies and cartoons. To reach young people, McDonald’s has enlisted role models like Olympic Champion Gabby Douglas and cartoon characters like Shrek. As parents and health professionals become increasingly critical of such tactics, the fast-food giant has moved to digital marketing aimed at reaching kids in spaces where parents often exercise less vigilance.
This new video, narrated and produced by actress, activist and author Evangeline Lilly, details how the National Security Agency surveillance programs really work and urges concerned citizens to speak out at the upcoming StopWatchingUs rally in Washington, DC. “The government has turned the Internet we love into something it was never intended to be: a tool for surveilling everyone,” Lilly says.
Last night, a crowd of nearly 300 people gathered in Washington Square Park were the first people to view the short film, produced by Fight for the Future and Demand Progress, which was projected onto the side of a building in bustling lower Manhattan. The massive projection was done in coordination with The Illuminator, an NYC collective that uses huge projections to make political statements.
Numerous pedestrians stopped to watch the spectacle, as volunteers from the internet freedom group Restore the Fourth roamed the crowd handing out free popcorn and flyers for the Stop Watching Us rally in Washington, DC—a protest scheduled for the anniversary of the USA PATRIOT Act, October 26, that has been endorsed by a coalition of more than 100 groups from across the political spectrum.
The protest’s demand is for a full congressional investigation of America’s surveillance programs, reform to federal surveillance law, and accountability from public officials responsible for hiding this surveillance from lawmakers and the public. Sign the coalition’s petition and find out how you can support the campaign, whether you can get to DC on October 26 or not.
The Columbus Day holiday has always been controversial. Observances are far from uniform across the country. South Dakota marks the occasion as “Native American Day.” In Denver, Colorado’s annual Columbus Day parade is met by protesters decrying the genocide of indigenous peoples. In upstate New York, a Native American poetry festival pays tribute to Columbus’s victims.
At the same time, many Italian-American communities fiercely defend Columbus Day, wanting to preserve the country’s most powerful symbol of the enormous contributions successive waves of Italian immigrants have made to the creation and evolution of America.
I sympathize, but still think we need to reconsider Columbus Day. Abolishing it may not be the best idea, but using the occasion to try to foster a real understanding of history would be altogether appropriate and wouldn’t require the demeaning of the proud legacy of Italian-Americans.
1. Jay Smoove, Reconsider Columbus Day
2. Savage Media, The Requiremento of 2012
3. The Sopranos, Columbus Day
4. Democracy Now, Indigenous Urge Teaching of the Americas’ Genocide
5. Crass, Where Next Columbus?
Author Toni Morrison (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Toni Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye is a widely acknowledged masterpiece. Its literary reputation, however, has done little to placate wannabe censors who have tried to discredit and even ban the book from schools, citing depictions of incest and child molestation as “pornographic” and “totally inappropriate” for students.
Last week, the novel came under fire in Morrison’s home state of Ohio. At a board meeting on September 10, 2013, Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar criticized The Bluest Eye as “pornographic” and called for its removal from state teaching guidelines for high school students. Terhar was outraged by the inclusion of the book on the new Federal Common Core Standard’s recommended reading list for eleventh graders. “I don’t want my grandchildren reading it, and I don’t want anyone else’s children reading it,” Terhar said at the board meeting. Board member Mark Smith doubled-down on Terhar’s intolerance, calling the novel part of “an underlying socialist-communist agenda.”
The fact is that The Bluest Eye is an unflinching look at racism and sexual violence, written by an Ohio native who has won the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (not to mention being a member of The Nation’s editorial board!).
In real-life America, an estimated 207,754 women are sexually assaulted annually, a full 44 percent of whom are under the age of 18. This pervasive sexual violence is reality for tens of thousands of students, a reality the Ohio Board of Ed is looking to whitewash with this latest censorship drive.
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Terhar, challenging her argument that Morrison’s novel is “pornographic.” Instead of banning the book, the advocacy organization suggested that Ohio schools “use controversial literature as an opportunity to improve students’ critical thinking skills and to create open dialogue between students and the community.”
That’s a good suggestion, one of which we should be especially mindful during Banned Books Week, which started this past Sunday and runs through the weekend. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982, and, according to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported.
In addition to a Virtual Read-Out, hundreds of Banned Books events are taking place this week coast to coast at bookstores, libraries, schools, community centers, parks and other public spaces. Find an event near you and join The Nation and the ACLU in standing up for Toni Morrison and telling Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar to please stop promoting the censorship of valuable works of literature.