By Dale Henry Geist
Joe Hill was an immigrant and a laborer. He was also an activist and a songwriter. With “There Is Power In a Union,” “The Rebel Girl,” and dozens more radical anthems, Hill left a legacy of American protest song that runs through Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, through Phil Ochs and Odetta, through Ani DiFranco and Steve Earle, to the artists in this list.
Music has the power to stir our souls to righteousness. These queer artists have taken up the mantle of the protest singers that came before, and made these songs to go straight through your ears, into your soul, and get your fists raised and your feet marching.
1. “Look the Other Way,” Katie Pruitt
A powerful, mature statement from a wise young writer, this song has not gone unnoticed, drawing a recent cover version from American Aquarium’s BJ Barham. Here’s the original.
2. “Amerikan Dream,” Front Country
Another queer country protest song that followed in the wake of the Black Lives Matter uprising, this banjo-powered, Springsteenesque rocker takes aim at rapacious capitalism, ominously asking what people will do when enough of them are pushed to the brink. (And the breakdown absolutely smokes.)
3. “Black Myself,” Our Native Daughters
Issued under the auspices of Black roots supergroup Our Native Daughters, and written and sung by the mighty Amythyst Kiah, “Black Myself” puts the realities of living in a Black body right in our faces.
4. “No Sound,” Amelia White
We’re proud to have premiered this eloquent song and video from veteran Americana artist White, who finds common cause in the grief surrounding George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police.
5. “Hold Out Your Hand,” Brandi Carlile
The rage is not new. Two years ago – which feels like two decades ago – Brandi Carlile put out the most rousing protest song of her generation. I defy you to remain seated to the end.
6. “A Plea to the US Government to Fully Fund the Postal Service,” Joe Troop
The Ché Apalache frontman could foresee back in June what we all know now: no good could come of slowing down the mail. So he recorded a fiery plea with an unwieldy name. And it absolutely slams.
7. “Bullet Holes In the Sky,” Mary Gauthier
Gauthier, one of the finest songwriters we’ve got, teamed with Navy veteran Jamie Trent to pen this searing portrait of a war-glorifying society seen through the weary eyes of one who’s experienced the horror of combat firsthand.
8. “You’re So Common,” DeLila Black
DeLila Black has a warning for you: “Make no mistake / Whenever you’re awake / Someone’s trying to take you down / So fight them.” In a voice that starts as a low growl and rises in the chorus to a snarl, the UK-based Black, in no uncertain terms, orders you to wake up, see the demons that are pulling your strings and pushing you around, and cut yourself loose.
9. “Democracy Demands,” Rachel Garlin
Some of the most powerful protests are quiet ones. On the run from California wildfires and crushed by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Garlin wrote this eloquent rumination on what it takes to keeps democracy alive.
10. “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution,” Tracy Chapman
What’s old is new again: the song is from 1988; the performance is from May. Only Tracy Chapman could sneak “poor people gonna rise up and get their share” – actual, literal revolution – into the Top 40. These lyrics are radical, people. Let ’em stir your soul.