Bonus Playlist: Songs For The Political Activist

Politics is not a topic we cover very often at, but today I am going to change that. From governments in the Middle East to the American Midwest, it seems like everything around us is changing – and not in ways that benefit the general public. Whether you want to organize a rally or simply find more information on political issues, here are some songs to help you take action and create the change you’ve been looking for – whatever it may be.


“Who Am I To Feel So Free?” – MEN

In an interview last week with Kristina Villarini, JD Samson of MEN talked about the semi-political connotations behind this song.

KV: So, can we talk about the banner that falls during the performance of “Who Am I To Feel So Free?” Is that a statement about freedom being taken for granted, or is there more to it?

JDS: Of course. We are so oppressed, as a world, and it’s about who causes that. Who takes that freedom from us? How many people are truly free in this world? It’s about the obsession we have with freedom, and the word. The heart of the song are questions of the reality of the word, and what it means. You know, why do human beings have to label everything?

KV: What do you think of labels?

JDS: I try not to be didactic. I don’t want to be divisive between myself and the audience. I want to maintain my role as a part of the proverbial “us,” as opposed to a politician and a preacher. I think all of that kind of rhetoric makes me not think about that stuff. I’m honest and sincere about my feelings.

Read the rest of Kristina’s interview here.


“American Trash (Remix)” – Innerpartysystem

I came across this song while compiling the Weekend Playlist a while ago. “American Trash” depicts the stereotypical American: ignorant, narcissistic consumers who don’t care about the world around them – only themselves.

I’ve got this planet in my hands

Yeah I’ll try to save it if I can

I’m satisfied with myself

Don’t care for anyone else

I’m so united when I stand

I get my facts from the TV

Believe in everything I read

It’s such an ignorant bliss

When the whole f*cking world wants to be like me

Now, obviously these sentiments don’t speak for everyone; rather, I think they speak to the globalization of American brands and corporations that wreak havoc on the cultural, economic and environmental landscapes of other countries. Quite fittingly, the song ends with the suggestion that the American Dream has changed into something more like a nightmare: “Wake up, the dream is over.”

Read Kristina Villarini’s review of Innerpartysystem’s Never Be Content EP here.


“Joe Arpaio” and “Back Home” – Blue Scholars

The song “Joe Arpaio” was a response to Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 bill, which aimed to curb illegal immigration by requiring anyone who looked Hispanic or Latino to carry legal documentation on them at all times. Joe Arpaio is the sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona and is also known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” specifically with regards to illegal immigration. In the song, Prometheus Brown raps, “No human is illegal / we see through your plan / the sheriff’s saying that he’s an admirer of the Klan / the president’s saying this is bad, that’s it.” At the end, he declares a boycott on the state, as so many other artists did: “And trust when I say no shows in Arizona ‘til SB 1070 is a goner.”

It’s been nearly eight years since we went to war: the United States invaded Iraq on March 30, 2003. “Back Home” is Blue Scholars’ call to end the “war on terror” and bring American troops home to their families.

And somewhere a soldier kissed his family goodbye

And he was walkin’ like a warrior, the water in his eyes

He left in late-September said he’ll be back in July

Now the child is askin’ “Mommy why did Daddy have to die?”

She says “He fought for freedom” but she knows it’s just a lie

‘Cause her father was a veteran with benefits denied

Now the fire in her eyes burns brighter with the passing of the minutes into hours and the hours into days

And days turn to nights

Nights turn to faith the other way

One sister strong holding down the whole family

It’s just one in over three thousand casualties

And back home we battle with the apathy

We chantin’

Now bring ‘em back home

For my brothers and my sisters who been gone too long, we say

Bring ‘em back home

And I don’t want to have to keep on singing this song

At the end, Blue Scholars offer one way to keep soldiers out of Iraq: “So next time you see recruiters in your school or your crib / Tell ‘em thank you for the offer but you’d rather you live.”

Read more about Blue Scholars here.


“Walk Like An Egyptian (Remix)” – Bassnectar

In response to the Egyptian uprising against a tyrannical government, Bassnectar re-released his 2003 remix of The Bangles classic, along with this post on his website:

I cannot pretend that I understand the intricacies of Egypt’s current political situation (neither the history of it, nor the most recent developments: the people’s uprising, the overthrow of a dictator, etc.) but I do know it is amazing to witness humans coming together to organize and rise up against injustice. As with Obama, whom I always took with a grain of salt (knowing he has tendencies to be inept at best and corrupt at worst) I was happy merely with the SYMBOLISM of his presidential victory. Because for a country that is shamefully built on slavery, with a pathetic legacy of racism and prejudice, this was a symbolic achievement: a majority of US citizens had looked past racism in a way that would have been impossible 50 years prior. That was a big deal.

So it is a big deal also that the Egyptian people, under strict rule of an unjust dictator, found courage and conviction to unite together and stand up to an aggressor, against all odds. Additionally it is extra special that this uprising was fueled by Internet organizing and social networking (yet another example of why it is SO important to fight government & corporate control of the internet, on any level. Net neutrality should be defended as a direct lesson from the victory in Egypt).

What happens next is of course uncertain, but I am an optimist. In this case, my optimism is fueled by the inspiring courage and success of the underdog.

Bassnectar is currently offering free tickets for an April 8 concert to any pro-union fans in Wisconsin.


“#Jan25” – Omar Offendum, The Narcicyst, Ayah, Freeway and Amir Sulaiman

#Jan25 is the Twitter hashtag designated for the day the Egyptian uprising began. The song begins with a spoken quote by Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you WIN.” The political protests in Egypt and Tunisia became the spark for uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, as Egyptians declared they “were no longer scared” of their oppressive governments.

We’ve been empowered to speak

and though the future is uncertain

man at least it isn’t bleak

when our children can be raised

not in a cage – but on a peak

the inheritors of mother earth are meek

Freedom isn’t given by oppressors

It’s demanded by oppressed

Freedom lovers – Freedom fighters

Free to gather and protest

for their God-given rights

for a Freedom of the Press

we know Freedom is the answer

The only question is…

Who’s next?


“Stand Up” – The London Souls

This was another song I came across while populating the Weekend Playlist. Kelly Knapp mentioned “Stand Up” in her recent review of The London Souls at the Brooklyn Bowl, in which she said “Stand Up” is about a woman standing up to her man. I think, though, that this song is about standing up to “The Man” (oppressive, misrepresentative government) in general, be it for women’s rights, immigration rights or human rights. This high-energy rock ‘n roll track is definitely one to play at your next rally.


“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” – Arcade Fire

The recent winners of the Grammy for Best Album of 2011 are also big humanitarians: links to KANPE for Haiti and Partners in Health are on the band’s website. PIH is a featured organization in “Mountains Beyond Mountains” a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder, whose lecture I recently attended at the University of Oregon. The book highlights the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, “a gifted man who loves the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it,” specifically in areas such as Haiti and Peru.

In contrast, “Sprawl II” is about America’s growing consumer population and the emotional dilemmas for those who oppose it.

They heard me singing and they told me to stop

Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock

Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small

Can we ever get away from the sprawl?

Living in the sprawl

Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains

And there’s no end in sight

I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights

In closing, I hope this post has shed some light on how political culture influences music, and vice versa. I leave you now with a comical, definitely-not-suited-for-children’s-ears rendition of Cee Lo’s “F*ck You,” dedicated to Gov. Scott Walker for his anti-union legislation.