Dar Williams: Why the Music of Protest Is Still Worth Defending

Photo by Chris Chin

Photo by Chris Chin

YES! Magazine

It’s become fashionable to say that political music is either dead or irrelevant. “Because of the ’60s, part and parcel of being a ‘serious music fan’ is lamenting that music isn’t political enough,” wrote communications scholar Michael Barthel in Salon last year, in an article called “Protest Songs Are Pointless.” The pop sound that’s churned out these days by top-grossing industry producers, even when it’s edgy or raging, is rarely political. But some of us secretly long for the solidarity that comes from belting out an old anthem together, without embarrassment. We wish it were possible for such a small act to foment revolutions.

It’s never been quite that simple. Protest songs tend to grow from existing social movements, not the other way around. They nourish and reinforce the emotional strength necessary to confront political problems. And they remind us that we aren’t alone in our convictions—this is how I felt when I first heard Dar Williams’ music in 1998, when I was still a student. She reached into my Gen X angst, not with a political rant but with something far more personal. “I’m so glad that you finally made it here. You thought nobody cared, but I did; I could tell,” she sang in “You’re Aging Well,” a song that seems to call, much in the way Gloria Steinem did, for a revolution based on self-esteem.

Today, Dar Williams is the torchbearer for a set of musical sensibilities that have deep roots in America’s history of dissent—from the abolition songs of the 19th century and the labor anthems of the early and mid-20th to the folk revival of the 1960s. The small-framed, 46-year-old guitar player, vocalist, and mother of two has, for the past two decades, established herself as “one of America’s very best singer-songwriters,” in the words of the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg. [Read more.]

When Words Fail: Does a Warming World Need a New Vocabulary?

YES! Magazine

We are at a loss for words, says Glenn Albrecht. There is nothing in English adequate to describe how overpowering it is to face climate change, or how we might feel about drought across Somalia or Texas, the leveling of mountains for coal mining, or our uncertainty about how flooded or stormy the future may be.

So Albrecht is inventing new words.

Albrecht is an Australian philosopher who has gained some fame for coining the word solastalgia, a term that describes the angst you might feel when the environment around you starts to change … [Read more.]

Joel Salatin: How to Eat Animals and Respect Them, Too

An interview with one of America’s most celebrated farmers.

YES! Magazine

Madeline Ostrander: What do you think a sustainable diet should look like?

Joel Salatin: What would a sustainable diet look like? Oh, my!

Ostrander: Because it’s often talked about as a vegetarian diet.

Salatin: No, not at all. I think we need to go back to localized diets, and in North America, yes, we can really grow perennials, so there would be a lot of herbivore—lamb, beef—in a diet. And our fruits and vegetables, which have a high water content, would be grown close to home, preferably in our backyards. In 1945, 40 percent of all vegetables consumed in the United States were grown in backyards.

I think a local diet would have an indigenous flair. If you’re along the coast, you’d eat more seafood. If you’re inland, you would eat more herbivore and vegetables. If you’re in Florida, you would eat more citrus. … [Read more.]


Without A Country: Pramila Jayapal On The Problems Immigrants Face

Photo by Fast Families

Photo by Fast Families

In 2008, I interviewed writer, activist and now Washington State Senator Pramila Jayapal. 

The Sun Magazine

On the morning of September 11, 2001, India-born author Pramila Jayapal was living amid cardboard boxes in her new house in Seattle, Washington, when a friend called from the East Coast and told her to unpack her television. Over the next several days, as Americans struggled with their grief over the deaths caused by the plane hijackings and the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, another set of tragedies began to unfold: hate crimes against Arabs and other ethnic minorities swept the country. In Seattle Jayapal was inundated with calls for help from Muslim women who were afraid to leave their houses in traditional dress, from immigrant taxi drivers who had been assaulted, and from Arab parents who had pulled their children from school.

Recently divorced, Jayapal had set aside her activism to carve out time to work on a book manuscript, but a few days later she met with Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) and presented a proposal for a campaign to make Washington a “hate-free zone.” She’d envisioned someone else leading the effort, but within twenty-four hours McDermott organized a press conference to introduce Jayapal — who maintained that she was not looking to front a new activist movement — as the head of the campaign. [Read more. You can also read the full interview here.]