From its inception, the Occupy movement has had music, with drum circles and occupiers with guitars livening up protest scenes. It has well-known musicians come to Zuccotti Park to play music or sing or rap for occupiers.
Occupy Musicians rallied support for the movement in the first months. It managed to convince a long list of musicians from around the world to sign a pledge of support.
As suggested on the group’s website, it believes in the importance of having musicians support the movement because it wanted musicians “privileged enough to play on the world’s stages and halls”—and those playing in the streets and everywhere else—to sing, speak and write for the 99%. They wanted visible support through commitment to the Occupy movement to help it grow and evolve as it confronted economic injustice. In retrospect, Occupy Musicians finds the movement “transformed the cultural landscape and expanded the political imagination through ideas of the 99%, the 1%, occupation, general assemblies, direct democracy, and more.” And it “offered hope, a new means of radical critique, and a place from which to advocate for fundamental rather than cosmetic change.”
Occupt Guitarmy formed. The group learned protest songs that were well-known like “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “Which Side Are You On?” and contemporary protest songs like “Worldwide Rebel Songs” by Tom Morello, The Nightwatchman. They played these songs together as they marched in demonstrations. They would do marches where all they did was play music as they walked down the sidewalk. Morello played with Guitarmy during a few actions and perhaps one of the more notable marches was to Columbus Circle with legendary folk musician Pete Seeger, folk musician Arlo Guthrie and others around midnight in October.
The vitality and energy of this movement can be sustained through musicians, who show up to inject life into the movement. It can be energized through art, through film, through humor and culture.
Everyone, as the Guitarmy has shown, can sing. The most well-known folk songs in history are still incredibly relevant today and there are musicians re-recording them because what musicians like Woody Guthrie had to sing about many decades ago touches upon experiences many Americans are having as poverty and inequality spread. Because everyone can sing, because everyone listens to music and because musicians have a power to speak to the most pressing social and political issues of the day through what they write or compose, protest songs are a critical part of any movement and old and contemporary songs have been and are being introduced and popularized by the Occupy movement today.
Below is a collection of performances by musicians over the past year. Unless marked, the performance happened in New York City at some location with people primarily from Occupy Wall Street.
Joan Baez – “Salt of the Earth”
Outernational at “Don’t Suppress OWS” Rally
Tom Morello – “Fabled City”
Billy Bragg – “There is Power in the Union” at Occupy Dame Street
Ben Harper + Tom Morello – “Save the Hammer for the Man” at Occupy LA
Jasiri X – “Occupy (We the 99)” at Occupy Pittsburgh
Dawes + Jackson Browne – “Come On, Come On, Come On”
Michelle Shocked – “Fogtown”
David Crosby & Graham Nash – “They Want It All”
Boots Riley at Occupy Oakland
Peter & Bethany Yarrow – “The Great Mandala”
Michael Franti – “Sound of Sunshine” at Occupy Amsterdam
Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, David Amram, Guy Davis, Tom Chapin, Stephan Said, Matt Emmer, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger – “This Little Light of Mine”
Guitarmy – “One Guitar”
To continue to recognize the power of protest music and acknowledge its role in keeping dissent alive, FDL’s The Dissenter announces the blog will be featuring a “Protest Song of the Day” every morning. The blog will feature well-known musicians and well-known songs but will also highlight lesser-known musicians whose music speaks to social and political issues or the need to rise up and challenge the corporate state and not be apathetic. If you have a song you want featured, email email@example.com. If you are a musician playing for Occupy or who supports Occupy and would like to be featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not only will this push up against the increased corporatization of music, which ensures Americans only listen to some of the most idiocratic garbage that DJs are spinning on the planet, but this will also hopefully shine a light on another side of populist uprisings going on in the country today. People are not just responding to injustice with loud noisy demonstrations but are using their creativity to breathe spirit into a movement of the people that for many reasons should and must be kept alive.