Ella Bakers words....
Catherine Marris, “Man in the Mirror”, Michael Jackson
The opening lines of “Man in the Mirror” immediately speak to the kind of person I want to be: “It’s gonna feel real good/ Gonna make a difference/ Gonna make it right.” As Jackson continues, he describes seeing kids on the street during a cold winter day “with not enough to eat.” Here, Jackson expresses a sentiment I feel often, that inequalities are often ignored: “Who am I/ To be blind/ Pretending not to see their need?” Jackson laments how these people have “nowhere to go” and implores the audience to listen, stating “I want you to know” that he’s going to “start with the man in the mirror/ I’m asking him to change his ways.” Jackson becomes even more direct through the chorus, proclaiming “If you want to make the world a better place/ Take a look at yourself/ And then make a change!” Here, the song truly inspires me, as Jackson expresses the idea that true change is possible within each of us. We each have the power to change the world, but we have to start by changing how we ourselves act and think. Jackson continues his message throughout the entire song, talking about how he’s “the victim of/ a kind of selfish love” where he can’t see that “there are some with no home.” Jackson brings back the personal connection to his audience of those in poverty, having them seem just the same as any other normal human being - a “widow deeply scarred,” or someone with “a broken heart,” all with a “washed-out dream.” Jackson wraps up the song by asking us to “stand up,” and that he’s going to make a change by “starting with me.” I think “Man in the Mirror” is a very inspirational song for myself and other social justice activists, as it speaks to the sentiment that if only we looked inside and reflected on what our priorities are, we might realize that there are events taking place before us that we want to and should try to change. Like Jackson, the listener also comes to the realization that there is no difference between people who are poor and people who have privilege; we are all human beings, and we can use this commonality to identify with each other and come together.
Elijah Welch, “Eleven,” Ronan
There are many reasons why I like this song. I appreciate how the song slowly combines different elements until it reaches a final satisfying climax near the end. The way the many components work together to collectively create an artistic piece reminds me of how successful people or teams work together to accomplish goals. The way the artist combines a multitude of layers to create a harmonious whole makes me think of all that I could achieve with the help of my peers as opposed to what I could accomplish alone. A whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that is the way I think about efforts of social change. No one person can make social change without the help and support of others who believe in similar ideals. Group work is essential in any social justice movement. Social movements, by their nature, require that more than one person be involved and everyone work together toward a shared goal. I think that the way that the many elements of this song work together closely resembles this process.
Joyce Liu, This Land is Your Land, Lyrics and Song by Woody Guthrie, Sung by Bruce Springsteen
In this song, Guthrie not only shows his love for his country, but he also drives home the idea that the nation belongs to all its people, not only the rich and powerful.This is why I chose “This Land is Your Land” because it really touches on the idea of equality that we as a nation should share. I really love the last lines of the song that go, “some are wonderin’ if this land’s still made for you and me.” America is supposedly made for everyone to live in, but right now it’s very much untrue. Families starve while others have a surplus of food. Racial violence may not be so prevalent anymore, yet various forms of oppression and discrimination still exist. We have a universal declaration of human rights that should apply to every single person, yet it is not. This song provides me with the purpose of social justice, which is to remind people that our country was originally founded upon the notion of freedom and equality, and that that notion is still not completely fulfilled. I hope that one day people will live in an America where true equality resides not only in song, but also in reality.
Iona Feldman, “World Turned Upside Down,” Dick Gaughan (also Billy Bragg, Chumbawamba)
I like how this song speaks of a 17th century movement that can still be an inspiration for modern times. The key issue of the song is expressed in the following quote:
“The sin of property we do disdain
No man has any
right to buy or sell the earth for private gain
By theft and
murder they took the land
Now everywhere the
walls spring up at their command”
It addresses the issue of private property in land, which was especially significant before the industrial revolution, when land was crucial to holding economic power. The digger’s attempted to construct settlements on common land where they could have a better chance to provide for themselves, but they were driven out by the landed elites of the time. When thinking about the notion of land as property, I concur with Rousseau, who said that the first man who “enclosed a piece of ground” and claimed is as their private property, and not that of anybody else, may have caused many of the problems of modern civilization, as much conflict has been historically based on ownership of land.
The land was here before us humans, and the notion is based on various claims that someone made, many years ago. In times when land was plentiful and people few, this would not have been as problematic, as there was more than enough for everyone. This is clearly no longer the case, and I believe we need to address these issues. It is true that land and agriculture is not as central to economic life as before, but it still matters.
While not may agree with the notion of establishing agrarian communes today, this song has one idea that I believe is applicable: The resources of the earth are meant to be owned by all the people, and not just those who can lay claim to them to exploit them. It can also be said that a society is meant to serve the interests of its citizens, and not just of the elites. Even among those who agree, how this shall be accomplished is not something that people agree on. Some believe in a capitalist economic system with progressive taxation, others believe in some form a socialist system (ranging from central planning state socialism to anarchism) that allows for wealth to be distributed in a more equitable way from the start. Regardless of one’s specific beliefs, this song sparks an interesting and necessary discussion.
Katie Walt, A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen
The art that I chose for this project is the play A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. Revolutionary at the time, in 1879 Ibsen wrote this play and included themes about women’s rights and equality within marriage, ideals that he valued himself. The main character, Nora, is a woman living in Norway at a time when women did not have equal opportunities to men. In addition, her husband Torvald is very oppressive and treats her like a child. For an extremely long time, women have and still continue to fight for equal rights and treatment all over the world. Being a female, the fact that in society an entire gender is not treated equally to others really affects me. In addition, this book personally impacts me because I read it at a time in my life when I identified with Nora’s character. The final scene in which she speaks out against her mistreatment by Torvald and leaves him to create her own independent life inspired me, at that time, to make changes in my life that I had been struggling with. In addition to my personal connection, this play really inspires me to act for social justice because it connects to the oppression of the female gender and the mindset that women are weaker than men and must be kept in a lower role. I find that the most powerful lines from that final scene are:
TORVALD. It's shocking. This is how you would neglect your most sacred duties.
NORA: What do you consider my most sacred duties?
TORVALD: Do I need to tell you that? Are they not your duties to your husband and your children?
NORA: I have other duties just as sacred.
TORVALD: That you have not. What duties could those be?
NORA: Duties to myself.
TORVALD: Before all else, you are a wife and a mother.
NORA: I don't believe that any longer. I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are--or, at all events, that I must try and become one. I know quite well, Torvald, that most people would think you right, and that views of that kind are to be found in books; but I can no longer content myself with what most people say, or with what is found in books. I must think over things for myself and get to understand them.
Nicole Pergantis, “The Times They Are A-Changing” by Bob Dylan
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
I chose this song because it illustrates something that I think many people have a hard time accepting. That everything is embodied in a constant cycle of change. No matter what everything around you will keep on evolving and changing. Social Justice is just one way of speeding this change along, and making these changes be something positive for the world and for humanity. The song is one of hope, that no matter how bad things, not only are they changing but you can help enact that change and make it one that you want to see, and that you would view as a positive force.
Hurricane by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s ballad, “Hurricane,” chronicles the wrongful imprisonment of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a professional middleweight boxer. Carter was accused of a triple murder and robbery, and though there was little evidence and faulty eyewitness testimony, he was sentenced to four life terms in prison. Finally, in 1985, after Carter had spent 18 years in prison, a federal judge dropped the charges against him.
This song and its story of injustice angers and inspires me. Throughout the song, Dylan references the unfairness of our justice system as police officers, nearly dead witnesses, and judges falsely accuse Carter just because of his race. For instance, when describing the trial, Dylan writes: “All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance / The trial was a pig-circus; he never had a chance / The judge made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the slums / To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum.”In addition, I think this song is so effective as a social justice song since, like many of Dylan’s protest songs, it’s so personal: it is specific to Carter’s story. When listening to this song, I become drawn into the story (in fact, it almost seems like a short movie or novel) and sympathize for Carter.
My favorite part of the song is the end. The last few stanzas directly address the injustice and racism of the trial and the court’s final decision. Here are a few lines: “How can the life of such a man / Be in the palm of some fool's hand? / To see him obviously framed / Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land / Where justice is a game.” It is this part of the song that affects me and angers me the most since it makes me realize how this song continues to be eerily relevant today. Even though there is significantly less racial discrimination than there was in the 60s, the incarceration rate for African Americans is still about six times the rate for whites, and in 2006, 11.7% of black men aged 25-29 were in prison. Race continues to be a major factor in incarceration, and many people are wrongfully locked behind bars based on weak evidence or racial profiling. In fact, when Troy Davis was executed a few months ago despite poor evidence and many petitions for his clemency, I was reminded of this song. Dylan’s emotional account of Carter’s conviction inspires me to act in order to prevent future injustices.
Sarah Madoff, “Wings” by Macklemore,
This song portrays a little boy who gets swept up in “consumerism” by buying Nike sneakers. He tells us how this is what made him cool, and put him above other classmates who could not afford the same shoes as him. Macklemore explains how advertisements and role models, such as Michael Jordan, contributed to his obsession with Nike shoes.
I'm an individual, yea, but I'm part of a movement
My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it
They told me to just do it, I listened to what that swoosh said
I think these lyrics accurately reflect the pressure that kids feel from both their peers and from the world around them. By the end of the song Macklemore realizes that there really isn’t anything special about Nikes. This song still gives me chills even though I’ve listened to it quite a few times. The chorus is a group of kids singing, which I think makes the message of the mass media’s impact on children a lot stronger. And Macklemore’s persuasive voice and lyrics make you really listen to what he has to say about consumerism. It’s scary too see how much little kids can be persuaded to buy specific brands or think in a certain way when they are bombarded by advertisements and product placement. This song inspires me to try and prevent advertising from being the only influences on childrens’ lives.
Eva Ackerman, “Across the Line“ by Tracy Chapman
“Across the Line” touches everyone in a different way which is what makes it special. Some say the line, “Little black girl gets assaulted/ Ain't no reason why” is the beginning of a story about domestic violence. Another group relates the song to racial inequality beginning with the lines, “Who would dare to go/Under the bridge/Over the tracks/That separates whites from blacks” A song that can take any persons struggle and empower them to act for social change is a powerful song, and Chapman’s song achieves this. This song challenges what American values are, “On back streets of America/They kill the dream of America”. The injustices the government are not solving are the same ones killing the dream of America. When Chapman discusses how no one would dare to cross the racial lines, it shows these problems are still relevant. We are scared to address issues, such as integration, that many have packaged and put away, marking them as ‘fixed’. This songs tells stories, which is the most powerful part of social justice work for me. It provides me with a great deal of empathy, from the girl who is assaulted, to the three boys physically hurt. I obviously cannot help them, but I can help the thousands of others whom have similar stories. One of the amazing aspects of social justice is when change happens, there are hundreds of stories just like the ones Tracy Chapman told in her song of people, and the change helps those people.
Ayesha Mehrotra, “The Boxer, ” Simon & Garfunkel
I grew up listening to “The Boxer,” and over the course of these past 18 years, this powerful song has conjured many emotions – anger, confusion, fear and strength, among others. The song tells of an impoverished boxer, away from his home and family and living among “the ragged people.” From a social justice perspective, it reminds me of the many pressing issues and the “stor[ies] seldom told” of those who “have squandered [their] existence for a pocketful of mumbles such are promises.” Listening to his story in the first verse makes me starkly aware of the countless others without any form of physical or emotional shelter who deserve help but receive none as they slip through the cracks of society; this inspires me to seek out and help solve these problems. Beyond those in need, “The Boxer” addresses those trying to effect change. Simon and Garfunkel tell us that no matter how difficult the struggle or how strong the opposition, we must have the courage to continue fighting for what we believe in: “He carries the reminders of ev'ry glove that layed him down or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame, ‘I am leaving, I am leaving,’ but the fighter still remains.”
Elena David: “G.R.I.N.D. (Get Ready It’s A New Day)” by Asher Roth
I feel that this song really embodies the feeling of hope, and the fact that it takes unity and perseverance and love to achieve social justice. It inspires me because it gets down to the core issue that problems in our society can not simply be described by statistics or the idea that something is either good or bad, but that these problems are a constant factor in the lives of people. When everything gets broken down, we are left with the fact that every issue is an issue because it has some effect on the life of a person. It is easy to become removed from the fact that every problem we see in society has an incredibly large impact on each individual who has to face it. This song incites hope and the idea that if we work together to push through the hard times, that is the way we can make positive change for the future. One part of this song that I really enjoy is the line “we all want freedom, / yea to be who we be, I don't wanna be afraid when I speak / to say what I'm feeling, / yea together we're strong, but divided never been so weak.” This sends a really strong message that everyone can relate to just wanting to be free from the burdens that plague their lives every day, but in order to do so we need to recognize those around us and have unity and love for one another. Awareness and compassion for the lives of others is what can drive us to achieve social justice, and this song portrays this really well. The images in the video are also very inspiring. They show people achieving happiness from what they have and love already, and being able to grow from there. Growth and support for one another on a very human and personal level are what drive us to reach for a change in the bigger picture. This song promotes unity to reach for social justice as we are all people and have the capacity for understanding and compassion towards the struggles of others.
Gavi Mallory, “In The Beginning,” K’naan
I chose this song because I am incapable of sitting still when it is playing. Good “Social Justice Music” will motivate the listener to move, to dance, but also to make change, to do something about it, whatever it is. The lyrics of this piece tell a story of a change, and of someone who chooses to fight for change,
Yeah that was in the beginning
there was a hum
then things changed...
it’s better to light a candle than to curse the dark
in the eyes of the youth there are question marks
The poet doesn’t sit in the dark, he chooses to take action. But I think that the wonder of this song really comes in it’s musical energy. K’naan gets us dancing with his beats, and in getting us to move, to do something, he creates change every time someone listens to the piece. I think that is incredible.
Miles Rubin, “ABC,” Jackson 5
Part of the reason why I hate the SAT is because kids in richer neighborhoods, Brookline for example can get a private tutor, can buy the official SAT guide book with practice tests, and can take it as many times as they want and not really think twice about the cost, as the student and their parents think that for the most part the couple hundred dollars is well worth it. However if you go to the inner city, I’m sure, even though I don’t have the stats to back it up, that kids take the SAT fewer times on average, receive less help from outside sources, and don’t have the luxury of taking the test 3 to 4 times if not more if they don’t get the score they desire. Another reason why I believe strongly in trying to give the best education to everyone is because it will serve them better when they go onto high school and hopefully college. At BHS, the students are pushed rather hard and because of it I think the transition to college will be much easier for BHS students than inner city kids coming from the Boston Public School system. Even being at the Mather School, a rather good Boston Public School compared to others from what I’ve heard, I often see kids who need to do homework and need a pencil, paper, and eraser. One verse in the song is “Reading, writing, and arithmetic are the branches of the learning tree.” This quote goes to show that these three branches of learning are the basis of education in America and are the three sections in the SAT. The problem that I’ve seen first hand and heard about is that kids in the inner city aren’t given the same opportunity as say kids in Brookline, and I think that is a major problem. Education is the root problem in the social class breakdown in the US. This song just reiterates what I already knew and wants me to be an active member in trying to minimize educational differences. Every time I listen to the song it reminds me of being a part of BLP and trying to make a difference.
Joyce Liu, This Land is Your Land, Lyrics and Song by Woody Guthrie, Sung by Bruce Springsteen
In this song, Guthrie not only shows his love for his country, but he also drives home the idea that the nation belongs to all its people, not only the rich and powerful. This is why I chose “This Land is Your Land” because it really touches on the idea of equality that we as a nation should share. I really love the last lines of the song that go, “some are wonderin’ if this land’s still made for you and me.” America is supposedly made for everyone to live in, but right now it’s very much untrue. Families starve while others have a surplus of food. Racial violence may not be so prevalent anymore, yet various forms of oppression and discrimination still exist. We have a universal declaration of human rights that should apply to every single person, yet it is not. This song provides me with the purpose of social justice, which is to remind people that our country was originally founded upon the notion of freedom and equality, and that that notion is still not completely fulfilled. I hope that one day people will live in an America where true equality resides not only in song, but also in reality.
Kate Hilts, “Repeal Hyde Art Project,” Compilation of hundreds of contributors; central organizer is Megan Smith
The Hyde Amendment limits access to comprehensive reproductive health care by prohibiting federal funding for abortion. Due to this provision, it is not uncommon for a woman on Medicaid to put off paying electricity bills, sell belongings, jeopardize housing, or go hungry trying to save up the money to pay for an abortion. Needless to say, it does little to prevent the number of abortions performed; rather, it discriminates against poor women, and makes their path to choice disproportionately difficult.
Though we often speak in general terms about the power of art in the world of social justice, it’s rare that I actually come across an art project with a social justice issue at its center. This project is run by one woman, who encourages people across the country to print out the blank outline of a bird she has posted on her website (http://www.repealhydeartproject.org/), decorate them in some way (preferably with a reason for why the Hyde Amendment should be repealed*) and send them in to her to be displayed in her various gallery showings. I love the poetry of it; the idea of collaborative art projects have always appealed to me, and reading through the various messages on the birds gives me goosebumps. Here are a few in particular that struck right to the heart of the issue, and reminded me why I care:
“My insurance covers abortion. Why doesn’t hers?”
“Abortion is healthcare is a right.”
“All people deserve to parent or not to parent with dignity.”
“If I can have an abortion, so should my friend and my neighbor and all women.”
“If a woman can’t afford her legal right to choose, then she doesn’t really have a choice.”
“Because it is unfair, discriminatory, patronizing, ignorant and harmful.”
“47,000 women die each year due to unsafe abortions.”
I have already sent in a bird of my own, and persuaded my mother to do the same. I also find myself clicking back to pictures of the most recent gallery showing whenever I feel discouraged due to the passage of anti-choice legislation, or when my internship work feels daunting.
Sara Sebahar, “Imagine” by John Lennon
I chose “Imagine” by John Lennon, which was released in 1971. This song is well known for inspiring social justice and peace because it advocates ideas of an equal world. When Lennon sings, “ No hell below us, above us only sky,” it makes me think about the fact that everyone on earth is living under the same sky, in the same world, bringing forth the idea of equality. Through this song, Lennon creates the idea of a world without all of the objects that divide us: possessions and greed, religion, and violence. Without these objects people are forced to realize that we’re all people, despite our differences, and makes me feel a stronger sense of compassion towards others. From this song I was able to take out the fact that dreaming is necessary in order to have compassion, and that I can envision a better world, even amidst the constant issues of war and corruption. I think about the potential that the world could have and it drives me to want to work towards social change. Lennon inspires me to change the mindsets of others around and my own mindset to create peace, which is the first step of social justice. In order to envision a better world, a person needs to begin change the way they view their own life, which is what this song drives me to do. He says, “You, you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.” This song also inspires me not only to envision a better world, but to act upon that vision. Social justice isn’t about only being a dreamer, although we need dreams, because dreaming eventually becomes limited. A vision is needed to begin social justice, but if you only dream and don’t act upon it the world will never change.
Sarah Kahl, “Rabbit Heart” by Florence + the Machine
While being one of my favorite songs by this band, it automatically spoke to me as a social justice song the first time I heard it. This was mainly because of the chorus “This is a gift/ It comes with a price/ Who is the lamb?/ Who is the knife?/ Midas is king and he holds me so tight/ and turns me to gold in the sunlight.” We’re living a gold life. People living in Brookline, that have the privilege to have money, friends, an education, good access to food and water, can yet be ungrateful. We are sacrificing our atmosphere, other countries, resources, and for what? At this point it is not survival. It is luxury. Many families in America and Brookline are hurting our resources so Midas can grant us with yes, things we need, but also things we don’t need. Consumerism is something so big it scares me, and the lamb isn’t only the environment or our future, but poor countries that are in need of those resources.
This song also talks about an “offering”. Florence sings, “We raise it up, thing offering.” and also “The waters turn from blue to red/ as towards the sky I offer it.” We have the choice to not misuse all these resources, yet we do. We “raise it up!” We take and take and take, not even knowing we do have enough, and we’re hurting others and our environment in the process. Even though this song may not even be about this, I took it this way. It did speak to me, and is also a beautiful song that I do enjoy. I’m thankful I stumbled upon it, and it had a message larger than me when I listened to it.
Sidni Frederick, “War” by Bob Marley
This popular Bob Marley Song is an explanation of the causes behind global conflict as he learned them from Haile Selassie, revered emperor of Ethiopia. In fact, most of the song lyrics are taken directly from a speech Selassie made to the United Nations in 1963. What I like about this song is that it touches on the fact that most of the conflicts that people face are the results of cultural ideology: the idea that there are “first class” and “second class” citizens, and that some people are more worthy of freedom and opportunity than others:
“That until there are no longer / First class and second class citizens of any nation. / Until the color of a man’s skin / Is of no more significance than the color of his eyes / Me say war.”
It reminds me of the importance of keeping touch with the fact that we are all human and of the often-fatal results when we don’t. When I listen to this song, it moves me to fight the abuse of people who continue to be seen as second class, like people of color in the U.S. and around the world. The fact that Bob Marley was able to spread a message to millions of people with this one, everlasting, song inspires me. When I feel like the social problems that people face are too many or too complex to deal with, I remember the power in the message of this song alone and am moved to continue my efforts.
Emy Takinami, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
“It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights—if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.”
Toni Morrison was the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Facing many challenges as a black female writer, she held true to her gender and racial roles and stated in an interview, “I don’t want to be an honorary white writer or an honorary male writer”. Through her strong, beautiful writing skills, I was fully engulfed in her book, The Bluest Eye. She portrays the effects of racism and sexism on the protagonist, Pecola Breedlove. Pecola has had men dictate her life, and has internalized racism and the standards of white female beauty. She believes that if her eyes were blue, her hair were blond, and her skin were white, just like Shirley Temple’s, she would be beautiful. Ultimately, by the end of the novel, Pecola is driven to insanity due to the lack of control she has over her own life and the unattainable expectations set for her by society. This book left me feeling sad and angry. Sad for Pecola, who was beautiful in her own skin, and angry at the racist, sexist society that she suffered in. This book inspires me to empower young women to feel capable in their own skin, and to create a society that fosters these girls to succeed.