In this great hour of unrest for so many people across our country, I look not to the Gospels, but to the words of Nina Simone for clarity and understanding. In an interview in France, Ms. Simone said, “I’ve been singing protest songs for 10 years…they’re just as applicable as in the 1990’s and they were in the 1960’s”. Ms. Simone’s music raved the staunch reality of the black struggle in America in her time.
In her song titled, “Ain’t Got No/I Got Life,” the refrain repeats, “I’ve got life, I’ve got my freedom, I’ve got life”. In my opinion, Nina recognized that the black community needed to fight for what was innate. She warned her community not surrender to the majority, but instead reminded them that life and freedom, despite hate and prejudice, can not be taken that away. In Nina Simone’s song entitled, “Why (the King of Love is Dead),” her final words foresaw the events of the present among the black males of America,
“…We can’t afford any more losses…they’re are shooting us down one by one…don’t forget that…cuz they are…killing us one by one…Those of us who know how to protect those we love stand by them a little closer…We can’t afford any more losses”.
Lose is indeed what we face today; yet, we must continue our protests, not with fear or anger, but with the redemptive melody of songs. Songs rang in streets of Mobile, Alabama as they marched with Dr. King, Jr.; songs rang from the streets as youth said no to the Vietnam War; and songs rang out after the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Songs, but more specifically, political songs has been at the forefront for many causes and protests, most noticeably the Civil Rights Movement and the protests against the Vietnam War. Though we weren’t present, we can still hear the songs of Women’s suffrage movement, “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child” or from the Civil War, such as “Johnny I hardly Knew Ye”. These songs and others echoed the brutality of slavery, poverty, war, civil rights, economic injustice, and more. So why now do we not echo the struggle between [us] the people and the police or the always present, but never spoken struggle of white supremacy and minorities (and I should say, I support law enforcement; what I don’t support is the increase military armament of the men and women in Blue). In 1964, Bob Dylan once said to Professor Ray Pratt,
“I mean if somebody really had something to say to help somebody out, just bluntly say the truth, well obviously they’re gonna be done away with. They’re gonna be killed”.
Dylan’s words are truth; various men and women have died for speaking the truth whether through song or speech, yet their truth gave action to organize, walk, and sing. We must not let fear abide us to silence; we need, or rather, we must take radical action in our streets and in our cities to turn our current affairs from total chaos. We need to chant in the streets the lyrics of “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone. We need stop singing these old hymns which don’t relate to any of the events of today, and sing “If I had a Hammer” by Peter, Paul, and Mary. I think classic hymns are great; but not now, my soul won’t be comforted by a Englishman’s hymn. I want to hear anger and hope in the tone of lyrics, I want to cry to the music of men and women who lived the struggle and came out to face more and more of it.
My final words are that if today, you hear God’s voice, I hope it’s through a protest song. I hope it moves you to feel angry towards how as humans we treat each other with such disregard and disrespect. I hope you’ll want to prayer for peace. I hope it’ll cause to seek out your black, white, latino (or other minority neighbor) and talk to them. Songs and protests are my solution to these problems today; however, they’re not the only solution. As a human family, we need to talk and understand each other. If not, then the consequences will look much worse than the death of police officers and black males.
John Owens, Program Assistant