Throughout history, people have used their right to protest social issues to create meaningful changes or bring awareness to problems after calling for a better world.
Music has long attached itself to this by capturing the voices of the oppressed. Whether it’s fighting for human rights, ending systemic racism, accepting refugees who escaped war-torn countries or other societal issues, music pushes the message of these problems to the masses.
Along with protests, though, there needs to be unity. There are goals for what needs to change, and without everyone working together, that isn’t as easy to accomplish. People collectively sending a strong message to those in power is a vital aspect of a successful protest.
Take a look below for a collection of songs that have been a calling card to protests throughout history.
Against Me! – “White People For Peace”
Against Me! have publicly tackled oppression in many ways throughout their career, and “White People For Peace” is one of many instances where they’ve denounced it. The anti-war track showcases the lust for violence that countless politicians have in a way that gives a voice, however small it may seem, to people who care to make a difference.
Vic Mensa – “16 Shots”
Just four years ago, Vic Mensa took on the police shooting of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald for his “16 Shots” video, highlighting what it’s like to deal with the police as a black person in graphic detail. The video shows a recreation of the October 2014 shooting of McDonald and actual dash-cam footage of the incident, but the song’s message prevails as Mensa showcases the bleak realities he and many others have faced through interacting with law enforcement.
M.I.A. – “Borders”
As a refugee herself, M.I.A. knows something about trying to flee war-torn countries, and her 2015 track “Borders” showed solidarity with those affected at the height of the ongoing refugee crisis. It’s a confrontational track, throwing the issues so many people face into the mainstream and forcing individuals to consider matters beyond their own world.
Bright Eyes – “When The President Talks To God”
It was only a decade-and-a-half ago that people were speaking out against former President George W. Bush, and in the midst of that were indie rockers Bright Eyes, who unified the feelings countless people had about his time in office. “When The President Talks To God” points to the hypocritical aspects of a Republican president who used religion as a scapegoat despite going against staples of Catholic morals.
Meek Mill – “Stay Woke” (feat. Miguel)
Meek Mill’s “Stay Woke” is a powerful and all-too-relevant track for the current state of the U.S. As a black man who was unfairly incarcerated, he’s used his situation to shine a light on the systemic racism among police and the legal system, and “Stay Woke” brings that message through in a strong way. As the first track from the rapper upon his release, he nailed the problem perfectly by accepting his responsibility while taking a stance against the conditions that lead to perpetuating mass incarceration.
Stray From The Path – “Badge And A Bullet”
Long Island hardcore crew Stray From The Path have been outwardly political in the majority of their music, but “Badge And A Bullet” succinctly captures the issue that cops aren’t above the law. While it was released in 2013, the issues of police brutality and power abuse clearly haven’t changed. So, they wrote a second part to the track, and even now, the lyrics stay true as their message of opposing corruption becomes increasingly important.
The Clash – “Know Your Rights”
Going back to the ’80s, Joe Strummer and the rest of the Clash were writing political punk rock, with “Know Your Rights” sarcastically pointing out the power of the people. In the track, they sing about three rights people have that feel far too relevant for people not to protest against even today. One is the right to live without someone killing you. That is unless it’s a policeman or aristocrat doing it, though. Two is the right to food and money (as long as you don’t mind humiliation). Last is the right to free speech “as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it.”
Prince – “Baltimore” (feat. Eryn Allen Kane)
In response to Baltimore citizen Freddie Gray’s death, Prince penned a protest song that expressed the feelings many had while watching riots break out across the city. With lyrics such as “Peace is more than the absence of war,” it captures the lack of understanding many people have in thinking that because they live in a country without war directly on their doorstep, they’re in a completely peaceful society.
Sick Of It All – “Us Vs. Them”
Sick Of It All brought a message of global unity through “Us Vs. Them,” empowering people to stick tight with those who are on your side. Through lyrics such as “Don’t need any more stupid division/Don’t fall for their trap” or “When it’s us vs. them/It’s a global unity,” they highlight how people working together in numbers is always better than acting alone.
Body Count – “No Lives Matter”
Over the years, Ice-T has been quite outspoken about issues with police and carried that message from his rap career into his metal band, Body Count. Their 2017 track “No Lives Matter” takes on people claiming all lives matter in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement. The lyrics come across in a pointed way that captures how people dilute the movement’s meaning by distracting themselves from the issue at hand.
To show support through donations, connect with grassroots campaigns and obtain resources for allies, please refer to the links below.
Donate to one or more community bail funds for protesters here.
Click here for more resources for protestors including pro-bono lawyers.
Visit Movement For Black Lives for additional ways you can help the cause.
Click here to connect with leaders building grassroots campaigns.
Here are some anti-racism resources for allies who want to learn more.
For other ways to donate, please head here.