Neil Young may have been the most famous musician at the recent Reject and Protect anti-Keystone XL protest in Washington, D.C. But the folk rock legend has yet to write a song about the pipeline he calls a “terrible idea” that will “do incredible damage to mother Earth.” And that may be just fine. After all, the fight to end fossil fuels is a fight for the future, and for the communities that are exploited by those industries. So, perhaps it’s fitting that the soundtrack to this struggle come not from a 68-year-old white folk singer, but rather a 24-year-old Lakota rapper.
The artist who fits this description is Frank Waln of the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota. And he was also at Reject and Protect — not only to march, but to perform a set that included the anti-Keystone XL anthem “Oil 4 Blood.” With lyrics like “Making you rich, you soil my love” and “My Mother is clean, that oil is mud,” Waln describes the deep indigenous connection to land that has become the central theme of the struggle against fossil fuels.
Waln also performed a song called “AB Original,” which tells his own story of growing up on the “rez” and the isolation he felt after leaving to attend college on a Gates Millennium scholarship. The lyrics “If your skin is brown then you’re down for the old pain” and “I’m Idle No More rap the plight of the poor” show the rising trend toward organized resistance among indigenous peoples around the world.
While protest songs are often marginalized for being too polemic, preachy, or narrowly-focused to have universal appeal, that isn’t exactly the point. As Waln explained in a recent interview with the National Journal, his music is finding a home among the people working to stop the pipeline.
“People came up to me [at Reject and Protect] and were saying that all day we had speeches, we had numbers and facts and statistics. But music brought an emotional element. You can make people feel something. For some people it connects much stronger.”
Recent criticisms calling the founder of nonviolent theory a Cold Warrior are way off the mark. To rightly evaluate him, we need to understand the role he chose for himself.
A six-week strike by teachers has bolstered a movement against proposed austerity measures targeting Lebanon’s dangerously underfunded education system.
Drama helps movements draw attention to their issues, but it won’t come without creativity and direct action tactics that reach beyond the choir.