Rolling Stone: Rockers Amp Up Occupy Relaunch
By Simon Vozick-Levinson - Courtesy Rolling Stone
Artists join new wave of spring protests
"Mic motherfucking check!" yells Tom Morello as hundreds of protesters armed with guitars, banjos and ukuleles stream into New York's Bryant Park on the afternoon of May 1st. They're answering Morello's call to join a "Guitarmy" - part of the Occupy movement's May Day actions, intended to re-energize the protests after police evicted camps in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Oakland, Washington, D.C., and other cities last winter. "The physical occupations were removed by repressive forces, but those people and the ideas they had were not removed," Morello tells Rolling Stone. "The winter was our Valley Forge, and this is the rebirth. We're coming back strong."
Morello leads the ragged crew in a fired-up rendition of "This Land is Your Land" as it moves down Fifth Avenue and joins thousands of marchers headed to Union Square, where the Rage Against the Machine shredder is headlining a huge free concert later that day. "It was an honor to lead that battalion up to the stage," Morello says. "From young to old, from the unemployed to the foreclosed-upon, to a lot of scraggly guitar players, it was a day for the ages."
The concert, which also featured performances by rappers Das Racist and Immortal Technique, was a highlight of a global day of protests - and the official kickoff of a busy season of actions against economic injustice. And just like last fall, rockers are eager to take their place on the front lines.
On May 15th, "Occupy This Album" - a 99-track compilation featuring Morello, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, Yoko Ono and many more - goes on sale to raise funds for Occupy. "That's how we'll push this movement forward and keep income disparity on people's minds," says activist-singer Jason Samel, who organized the album. "By putting it on a record."
Crosby and Nash offered up a fierce live rendition of Crosby's 1971 solo cut "What Are Their Names," which they recorded live during their surprise performance at New York's Zuccotti Park in November. "It was pretty chaotic," Crosby says. "But when they started singing with us, it felt like Woody Guthrie was standing right behind me."
Browne, meanwhile, contributes the rousing protest anthem "Come On, Come On, Come On," which he debuted during a similar Zuccoti performance (backed by the indie crew Dawes) in December, ust two weeks after the NYPD crushed Occupy's flagship camp. Says Browne, "It was important to show that we were still there."
The album's emphasis on veteran artists is no accident. "What I'm hoping for most of all is that this reaches the baby boomers," Samel says. "I remember the day I got Joan Baez - when I told my mother she was like, 'Really?!' It ignited a spark in her, to see that some people still give a shit about doing what's right."
Expect to hear lots more music for Occupy in the coming months. "The people that I've talked to are very determined and very bright, and I don't think they have any intention of stopping," Crosby says. Samel hopes to organize a series of all-star shows this summer, and both Crosby and Browne say they'd like to participate if their touring schedule allow. "When the Occupy movement raises its banner again and makes a call," adds Browne, "I'll show up."
In the meantime, Morello - who played for the workers occupying the Wisconsin state capitol building in February 2011 - plans to return to Madison when the anti-union Gov. Scott Walker faces a recall election in June. And he'll be working hard to keep economic inequality on voters' minds as the presidential race heats jup. "Occupy has already changed the national debate in a profound way - when in memory has a Republican candidate's feet been held to the fire because he was too rich?" Morello says. "It just ain't right while people are hungry, and that idea deserves song."