How Protest Songs Have Propelled Liberal Politics

Protest songs have a long history and have served many progressive causes of the 20th century diligently. Beginning early in the 1920s and 30s or perhaps even before this with the labor movement their combination of musical notes, rhythms, beautiful compositions and talent have inspired generations to think and imagine differently and as they sang along to live differently.

It has to do with the power of music as Terry Garthwaite notes that which “brings people together with a common message.” And what greater common message was there ever in 20th century America than that which flowed out of the Civil Rights Movement? It was this movement that pushed the protest song to new heights and sold it like the song it was.

These songs had endurance about them and resonated with the people maybe because they came from a people long used to singing their songs in a beautiful way. The connection between the protest songs that ruled a generation with the black church was clear in most ways. The first protest hits such as “long walk to DC” and “when will we be paid?” came from previously black gospel singing groups and in this case the marvelous Chicago based Staple Singers. Soon everybody else was doing it and with the war in Vietnam, protest songs took center stage in popular culture. But as with all things, comes the decline what themes can a protest song raise consciousness over and which will touch the masses passionately today?

A recent gathering meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley concerned itself with these issues considering among other things the place of the protest song today. Also noted with care was how technology can be disruptive in the production of music of this nature because it is hard to get a voice out when so much social activism fights for the same two ears of any man or woman.

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In conclusion, it is worth noting that the protest song is not yet done. There are people who believe that they can change the world this way all over again and there is enough proof to back them up.