Occupy Wall Street Protests Don’t Have a Song

James C. McKinley, Jr. recently wrote a thought-provoking piece in the New York Times. In “At the Protests, the Message Lacks a Melody,” McKinley contrasts the current Occupy Wall Street protests with their ancestors. His article begins:

“Every successful movement has a soundtrack,” the songwriter Tom Morello told reporters after he had tried to fire up the crowd at the Occupy Wall Street Protest last week with a Woody Guthrie tune and one of his own labor songs.

Perhaps he is right, but the protesters in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan have yet to find an anthem. Nor is the rest of the country humming songs about hard times. So far, musicians living through the biggest economic disaster since the Great Depression have filled the airwaves with songs about dancing, not the worries of working people.

Where have all the protest songs gone?

Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City.

Part of the problem, according to McKinley, is the lack of a message in the Occupy protests:

The lack of a coherent message on the left has been evident at the Wall Street protest. “I have not heard a single song that sums up what we are trying to do here,” said Martían Hughes, a 24-year-old college student, after Mr. Morello’s performance. “Nor have I heard a single message.”

But it may be the digital social media has taken the place of music:

“In the 1960s music was the social media of the day,” said Ralph F. Young, a professor of history at Temple University, who has written a book on dissent in America.  “Today protestors have Facebook and Twitter to disseminate their message.”

Or their messages. It seems to me that part of the problem is that the recent protests seem to have no central message, other than scattershot anger. Maybe somebody should write an “I’m really mad about everything” song.

  • TomB

    Dear Mark:

    The message of the ’60s protesters seemed to be that the lack of ethics of “The Establishment”  caused a number of problems, including our involvement in Viet Nam.  This was true enough.

    Unfortunately, Judeo-Christian values were largely tossed-out by that generation, and replaced with something far inferior. 

    The aims of both movements are similar in that they’re interested in tearing down but have nothing of value to replace the target of destruction. Regarding a song for the protesters, I suggest “Monster” by Skillet.Tom

  • Lessiab Boutime
  • Lessia Bonn
  • Lessia Bonn
  • Lessia Bonn

    Sorry I posted one vid twice accidentally. We penned a “we’re mad at you–here’s why” chant and then filmed it with our favorite friends. We penned a “stand up and make a difference” vid with a teen girl and a positive message. And we’re writing more. We agree that whatever music is created must be current and not just feel like dated hippie faire. But we also believe that the most important message behind this movement is the wake up call it have given everybody to get involved. “I’m mad as hell” alone solves nothing. A song with broader social “legs” could well serve as a call to action to all–which we believe, in the long run, is what the Wall Street movement will accomplish. “Wake up peeps–don’t be sheep.” haha that’s probably our next tune. Thanks for the article. 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Tom. I don’t know “Monster,” but the name is intriguing.

  • Anonymous

    Fascinating. A great shot at the Occupy song!

  • Anonymous

    Oops, I may have accidentally deleted one too many. I still have the link to : “Occupy–street chant for the 99 percent.” Feel free to repost the one I lost. Thanks for sharing these.

  • Anonymous

    The problem is that the music industry is crippled by capitalism …. all of the great minds of music are imprisoned by debt and all the talentless and uneducated have well paying shows for the “masses.”  If OWS comes up with a musical mark it will be highbrow because we as a nation have sold our souls out to being low brow for so long.  There is a difference between having a lot of support and being “populist.”  Populism carries with it fascist connotations.  We are trying to break the yoke of fascism.  We act for the general good, not in support of massification, which is totally and utterly un-stustainable.

  • Anonymous

    Like all good social movements the 60′s were led by the children of aristocrats who were appalled with the excesses of their own social class.  And one of the most thoughtful things a child with a privileged education can do to ease the conscience is to disseminate that education among the lesser privileged.  A classically trained “Duo Noir” is passing through my city now, giving inspiration to inner city children who have little chance of being exposed to classical guitar.  But the song that plays over and over again in my mind when I see the video footage of police violence in this movemetn is one from South America … Yo Vengo a Ofrecer Mi Coracon from her Exitos Externos album … Mercedes Sosa.  It was the feature soundtrack from the documentary, The Take, about workers who reclaimed the abandoned factories when the banks robbed the country and were fighting the right wing incumbent who wanted to take them away again.  It would be a good song to play until one as equally beautiful is written for the cause.

  • Anonymous

    “judeo Christian” values were the ones that sent us to war.  No wonder they were tossed out.  I am not aware of any replacement.  That movement had no chance of defining itself — the right wing Reagan thugs took over.  All potential of America was lost, then.  And still the deliberately de and un educated public understands that there has to be more than the lies sold to them by the right wing military fascists.  So long as their brains can get that far, they have more hope than the last 39 years of idiotic consumerism.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment. These days, of course, the music industry is crumbling, owing to the impact of the Internet. Lots of chances for folks to get their music out apart from the industry.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this comment too.

  • Anonymous

    I appreciate your input.


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