A movement goes nowhere without creating culture as it grows.
To wit, the fast growing Occupy movement has become a locus for cultural creation by artists and musicians, as well as technologists and political activists. It started out spare, borrowing from the past.
Back in October, while I was visiting the weary crew of Occupy Long Beach, they gathered in a circle after GA to sing together to one occupier’s guitar. But at that moment there were no songs about the Occupy movement.
Instead they sang ’60s protest standards, Blowin’ in the Wind, What’s going on, and found camaraderie in the Beatles’ With a Little Help from my Friends. But 50-year-old songs could only go so far, they couldn’t really describe the now. In the months since, Occupy music has started to flow.
Here’s a sample of some of the music generated by and about the Occupys.
- The beautiful and folky We Are The Many (above) by Hawaiian artist Makana is not only written specifically as a song for the Occupy movement, it has the distinction have being a surprise act for the World Leaders Dinner at APEC, when Makana pulled open his jacket and shirt to reveal an undershirt with “Occupy with Aloha” handwritten on it. He started out quiet and hesitant in front of the room of dignitaries, singing We’ll occupy the streets / we’ll occupy the courts / We’ll occupy the offices of you / ‘Til you do / The bidding of the many, not the few.
- Dear Mr. President, comes straight out of the occupy, from Gabriel Quinn Andreas of Occupy Santa Barbara. He expresses a common sentiment in the occupys, many supporters of Obama that feel he’s failed them with the whole hope-y change-y thing: We gave you a fair chance and this is how it went / Signed sincerely yours / The Other Ninety-Nine Percent.
- Third Eye Blind did an upbeat tribute calling for the youth to rally to the Occupy movement with If Ever There Was A Time, which they’ve made available for free. Despite being overall an optimistic song, (Things only get brighter when you light a spark / Everywhere you go right now is Zuccotti park) it’s bookended by samples from police confrontations, including Iraq vet Scott Olsen’s Occupy Oakland head wound. The group has asked downloaders to donate to the Occupy movement.
- Hip-hop artist MK-ULTRA (Not to be confused with the alternative band from the Bay Area or the Chicago punk band of the same name, both from the 1990s) appears to have joined the movement around September 26th. His track Who’s The Man was shot at Zuccotti park in New York City a month before its eviction.
- The Roaring featuring Ari Herstand did a reggie-influenced song, Finally Here, which emphasizes the arrival and outrage of the young, much as Third Eye Blind did. There’s a pay-what-you-want Bandcamp link, and We Stand As One (#occupywallstreet), a Bob Dylan/Woody Guthrie inspired folk tune for the Occupy movement. Despite the gentle music, this song has the most violent lyrics of these occupy songs, pointed at the metaphorical 1%. And what you won’t share / Will be ripped from your hands / Your body destroyed / The way fire lands / Burning your homes
- Miley Cyrus didn’t pen a song specifically for the Occupy, but her new video for the song Liberty Walk is made out of expertly edited footage from around marches and crackdowns on OWS around the world. It also has the distinction to be the most viewed Occupy-related music video on Youtube, clocking in at 600,000 views.
- While this list is by no means comprehensive, no survey of occupational music overlook OWS’s first music fan, Lupe Fiasco. His new track, The End Of The World, starts talking about Rachel Corrie and Palestine, but spends some time talking about OWS, which he visited early on. He riffs on some common marching chants with lyrics like Whose streets? Our streets, it’ll never be deleted / No matter how many cops that you send to try and beat it
In the New Year, as people process the evictions of the fall and get through the winter, it will likely be culturally rich for Occupiers. It’s one advantage for OWS of the evictions– they’re driving the activist artists, technologists, and makers out of the parks and back into their studios, offices, and hackerspaces.