To recognize the power of protest music, acknowledge its role in keeping dissent alive and how musicians are translating today’s social issues and systemic problems into song, The Dissenter has launched a daily feature that highlights a protest song every weekday. Today’s song:
A federal appeals court yesterday denied an emergency motion by a coalition of civil rights and advocacy organizations for an injunction against the “show your papers” provision of Arizona law, SB 1070, aimed at cracking down on immigrants. The law essentially encourages racial profiling by law enforcement by mandating that officers stop and check the immigration status of anyone in Arizona, who might look “illegal.”
Outernational, a band which guitarist and Nightwatchman Tom Morello calls “uncompromisingly, politically revolutionary.” The band consists of lead vocalist Miles Solay, guitarist Leo Mintek, bassist Jesse Williams Massa, drummer Nate Hassan and Dr. Blum, who plays trumpet and several other instruments. And they wrote and recorded a song called, “Todos Somos Ilegales,” or “We Are All Illegals.”
The song is an anthem for all immigrants of the world that communicates the struggle of those, who have crossed the border into the United States. It also decries the culture in America that promotes vilification of humans considered to be “illegal,” while also denouncing rampant consumerism fueled by immigrant workers who labor for slave wages.
In the opening, the band’s lead vocalist Miles Solay sings of the experience of an immigrant coming to America: “I walk the desert in the dead of night/I crawl through sewers, no clean water in sight/I cross the river to the other side.” Where does an immigrant arrive? “The American land of parasites.”
It is the “land of parasites” because immigrants are only permitted to be modern slaves. If they try to be anything more in society—anything more than the ones who farm the vegetables in Americans’ salad or help manufacture Americans’ shoes, they are demonized.
These are people fleeing for freedom and dignity, people who have fled countries still reeling from the effects of US interventions. “Babies who are buried before they can run/The children whose mothers have never known fun/The daughters whose bodies are sold for crumbs.” They “risk life and limb” for a life that is still likely to consign them to living in a slum.
Residente of Calle 13, a Puerto Rican band, raps: “I don’t need any papers/Look me in the eyes/So that you can read my accent/Forbidden like the drug/Illegal as a Nazi in a synagogue.” Expressing disappointment with the country, where he immigrated, “I left behind my grandmother/Only to kiss Ronald McDonald’s ass/And drink Coca-Cola,” a possible reference to all the immigrants working at fast food restaurants for low wages.
To Americans, who tolerate and contribute to this dehumanization, Solay sings out, “See, that border ain’t sacred or chosen/The land we stand on, every inch of it stolen/How obscene that there’s people illegal/Vilified survival, the journey is lethal.”
Dr. Blum, on trumpet, punctuates a chorus aimed at empowering immigrants to stand up for their rights and challenge a dominant racist and materialist culture:
Todos somos ilegales, todos somos ilegales
The defiant ones, our time has come
Todos somos ilegales
Fighting for a new way and a new day
Todos somos ilegales
The song comes from an 18-song concept album released in December 2011 called Todos Somos Ilegales: We Are All Ilegals. The song features Morello, Chad Smith, drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Residente of Calle 13. The band put together a music video months later and now the song is being performed by the band and shared by fans, immigrants, civil rights activists, etc, as part of the fight against anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB1070.
Here’s the song:
The Dissenter will be putting one of these up every weekday morning. If you have suggestions for songs that should be featured or if you recorded a protest song you think should be featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org.