Amid "Occupy," protest music gets rebirth

Mark Taylor-Canfield, a protestor with the "Occupy Seattle" movement, burns his Bank of America debit card as he demonstrates, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011, in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Ted S. Warren

The night before the Oct. 6 start of the occupation of Freedom Plaza, the singer-songwriting duo Emma's Revolution stood before a packed protest-planning rally at Busboys and Poets, fiddling with chords, harmonies and a lyric sheet.

They were in town from Occupy Boston and were still getting the hang of a song they had been inspired to write on the road down: "Occupy D.C."

Who are we? Occupy D.C.

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The crowd loved it, but Pat Humphries and Sandy O weren't satisfied. Starting from scratch, Humphries crafted new lyrics and a melody, and they worked out the harmonies. The next evening, they carried their acoustic guitars to Freedom Plaza and performed "Occupy the U.S.A." for the first time.


Welcome to the U.S. occupation

To win the hearts and minds

Defend all humankind

Tell the banks and the corporations

We're here to occupy the U.S.A.

Sample verse:

We support our unions

And our right to organize

Students, homeless, immigrants

Are strengthening their ties

We have struggled far too long

Now let this be a sign

One percent in power

Meet the other 99!

"Sometimes, we walk away after an event and think [a new song] didn't quite get it," Humphries says. "Sometimes, we walk away and think, yes!"

This time felt like a yes to the women, but who knows? The first singles on the soundtrack of the revolution are being written on the fly and downloaded as we speak. Every songwriter secretly hopes to compose an anthem worthy of Dylan, Odetta, Chuck D, the Clash - pick your idol - but fans and critics will be the judge of that.

For now, what's interesting about this new movement music is the role it's playing in the organizing and how it identifies deeper streams that seem to link disparate cultures of rebellion in the United States and other parts of the world.

The Arab Spring; the pro-union demonstrations this year in Madison, Wis.; the plight of illegal immigrants; the execution of Troy Davis, and disenchantment with President Obama are among the themes that have inspired multiple songs by various artists in recent months.

"The Arab Spring really accelerated everything," Sandy O says. "I think the Arab Spring is why Madison happened the way it did and why the occupations are happening the way they're happening."

Mount Rainier-based Emma's Revolution saluted the Arab Spring in a new song called "Rise" and addressed Madison in "Stand Together."

The duo wrote "Occupy the U.S.A." as "a rally song to reflect back to the people that we as activist musicians are with them," Sandy O says. "It's really about them, it's for them, and it's something we want them to use."