Weekly Roundup: 16 November 2020

Joe Biden, who is projected to be the 46th President of the United States of America

There’s just about a month left before the Fall 2020 semester ends, and as we head towards Thanksgiving, I’d like to take a moment to thank our readers and our staff who make this publication possible. Thank you and stay safe as you make plans for the holiday season… and best of luck for a good end to your semester.

Now onto the news –

It’s Election Night. Here’s How The Sting staffers are spending theirs.

Just before the polls closed in Maryland, The Sting staff shared their plans for election. night. For many, it involved trying to deal with high anxiety in healthy (and not-so-healthy) ways. For the staff, as election day turned into election week, we managed to pull through just fine.

Honeycomb Hideout: Handling Friends While Social Distancing

Honeycomb Hideout provided some advice on dealing with friends who may not be taking the pandemic as seriously as they should be. For people who don’t have preexisting conditions or know someone who does, it can be difficult for them to comprehend why some need to adhere to social distancing more strictly than others. HCHO offered some great insight on ways to spend time with others while staying physically separate.

Thursdays with the Editor: Across the USA, voters say yes to drugs!

Editor-in-chief Leonard Robinson chronicled the many states which pushed forward legislation legalizing various drugs on Election Day. In addition to the slew of states that have legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana usage, Washington D.C. decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms and Oregon decriminalized all drugs.

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., is elected 46th president of the United States

Probably the biggest news of the last two weeks was that Joe Biden was projected by the Associated Press to become the 46th President of the United States. Kamala Harris made history as well, become the First African American, South Asian and Female Vice-President elect in US history.

History Club – Discussion with Dr. Daniel Immerwahr

On November 10, the History Club hosted a discussion with Dr. Daniel Immerwahr of Northwestern University to discuss his book, How to Hide An Empire: Telling the Story of the Greater United States. You can view the insightful discussion here.

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs at 50

1970 was a big year for music. November of that year saw the release of two of the most highly regarded albums of all time. This week, I’m taking a look back at the one and only Derek and the Dominos LP, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

By 1970, Eric Clapton was growing fatigued with the musicians whom he had played with for the latter half of the 1960’s. Cream released their final LP, Goodbye, in early 1969, and the one-off Blind Faith released their only effort later that year. He toured for a time with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, but still found himself looking for more.

For his next project, Clapton went by an alias (Derek) and recruited a host of studio musicians, as well as acclaimed slide guitarist Duane Allman to play. He didn’t want his fame to get in the way of the band image he was striving to create.

In August 1970, the band went into the studio. The resulting recordings have been described by many as Clapton’s magnum opus.

Inspired by extreme dissolution as well as infatuation with another man’s wife, the songs on this record have really stood the test of time. Oftentimes, I find some records sound dated (even more modern ones), either because of the recording techniques or equipment of the era, or because the songs were only relevant in a certain place in time. That is certainly not the case here.

The album features nine original songs and five covers. Among the covers is a slowed down and powerful version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” honoring the famed guitarist who had died while the band was recording. Other covers include Jimmy Cox’s 1923 hit, “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” and Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway” to name a couple. But the original material is what really shines.

“I Looked Away” opens the record, and we immediately hear the pain Clapton is feeling. After all, being in love with George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd, can’t be easy especially when she doesn’t love you back. “Bell Bottom Blues” follows a similar theme, with the haunting chorus “I don’t want to fade away” ingrained in my mind for all eternity.

“Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” is probably my favorite deep cut from Layla. The song has an immense sense of urgency, as Clapton sings of trying to save his prospects of love. It shows a man who knows he’s about to lose something, even as he tries desperately to prevent it.

Then there’s the seven-minute pinnacle of Eric Clapton’s entire career. The song opens with one of the most recognizable guitar riffs there is, as Clapton sings of his final plea to save his love. “You got me on my knees/I’m begging darling please” echo as we hear of why he fell in love with “Layla” in the first place. After a climactic guitar solo, the song enters an otherworldly “piano exit.” As Jim Gordon plays piano, Clapton and Allman improvise for four minutes on guitar, resulting in a truly beautiful piece of art.

As I wrote these words, I had the LP on again, reminding me just how magnificent this work really is. It’s in my top five of all-time, and it is for many music fans alike. One of the most universal feelings humans have is love, and it’s love that drives us to do things we never thought possible. Clapton felt it, and made us all feel the immense sense of love and loss in listening to this record.

It’s worth noting that Clapton did end up marrying Pattie Boyd later that decade, although they were divorced 10 years after that. However at least, for a time, Eric Clapton did end up succeeding in love.

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.

The Color Theory: Symbol of Justice

Photo Credit: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

Like I said before in a previous post, we are closing in on a pretty shitty year. Although 2020 has been a wild ride for many of us, I know I am not the only one that is super happy that Trump is finally being kicked out of the office.

With our new president coming into the horizon, there are still social issues we face in a very divided country. In this week’s post, for me to talk about politics after this year’s election is only “fitting” (pun intended).

We started this year with uncertainty, but many people can say that we are ending it with a shining glimmer of hope. But with Biden becoming President, we have to realize that this is just the beginning, this country still has a lot of work to do.

Photo Credit: Jeff Dominguez

One of the biggest obstacles that President Biden will face in his first day in office is racial inequality. Over numerous decades, we have seen tragedies and murders of innocent black lives. 2020 has shined light upon from the events of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other countless names from this year alone. 

More names memorialized here (via CBS News)

Photo Credit: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

I digress, but let’s not forget that The Color Theory is a fashion column. Like I said in the past, hoodie season is now in full effect. Hoodies have transcended fashion in so many ways, but also social-political movements as well.

Consider this: in the mid 70s, for some, hoodies were seen as a sign of rebellion and crime. Denis Wilson of Rolling Stone says “from its association with punk and hip-hop to skater culture, the hoodie has a history of being adopted by youth-driven communities once relegated to the fringes, imbuing it with an iconoclastic, sometimes criminal, subtext. Mainstream fashion may embrace it as a practical article of clothing, but it never lost that edge”.

Things like this creates racial biases. For people like George Zimmerman, creates a divide and fuels more to the fire. This negative connotation of hoodies meant that people like Zimmerman think innocent kids like Trayvon were “up to no good” just because they had their hood up – and to call it self-defense is absolutely shameful.

Photo Credit: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

Nowadays, some can argue that the hoodie can represent a symbol of defiance and progression after the tragedy of Trayvon Martin back in 2012. If you remember the protests at the time, a great number of Americans donned the hoodie. Marching and chanting “We are all Trayvon Martin”. Hundreds of supporters walked in a Million Hoodie March in New York – and then other gatherings in other cities (Linton Weeks via NPR).

So hoodies do not necessarily have to be a symbol of anything – as this particular piece of clothing should be representing your aesthetic and nature. Let’s be realistic, everyone in America owns at least one hoodie. Troy Patterson from The New York Times Magazine puts it best: “A black guy in a hoodie is just another of the many millions of men and boys dressed in the practical gear of an easygoing era. Or he should be”.

All I am really saying is, racism has been passed down from hundreds of generations. It’s up to all of us today to start a different mindset for many generations to come. Everyone owns a hoodie, everyone poops, everyone dies, so let’s learn how to love and forgive each other.

Photo Credit: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

What Dave Chappelle said in his most recent appearance on Saturday Night Live, predicates to everything I am telling you now. Watch it, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from his monologue:

“All the white people who feel that anguish, that pain, that man, they think nobody cares – Maybe they don’t. But let me tell you something, I know how that feels. I promise you, I know how that feels”

“You’re a police officer. Every time you put on a uniform, you feel like you’ve got a target on your back. You’re appalled by the ingratitude that people have when you would risk your life to save them – Oh man, believe me. Believe me, I know how that feels. Everyone knows how that feels.”

“I don’t hate anybody, but I hate that feeling. That’s what I fight through, I suggest that’s what you fight through”

Although we may have another old white man back in office again, let’s not be mistaken for this: we have to hold him accountable just like any other President before him. We are in an era of progression – an era where we want to love each other and live off the simplicities of life.

In his transition plans, via Build Back Better, it states: “President-elect Joe Biden is working to strengthen America’s commitment to justice, and reform our criminal justice system. As the former District Attorney of San Francisco and Attorney General of California, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has spent her entire career fighting for justice for the people, and equal justice under law”

The Biden-Harris administration will work with Congress to pass police reform legislation including:

  • A nationwide ban on chokeholds.
  • Stopping the transfer of weapons of war to police forces.
  • Improving oversight and accountability, to create a model use of force standard.
  • Creating a national police oversight commission.

Jeff Dominguez is the Communications Director for The Sting and writes The Color Theory, a bi-weekly fashion column.

Supreme Court hears case affecting Maryland LGBTQ

Former College Park City Councilmember PJ Brennan and his husband, Nick, adopted their sons Benji, 3, and Kayden, 16 months (not pictured), through a secular Maryland agency. (Photo courtesy of Documentary Associates). 

By Philip Van Slooten
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which questions whether religious-based foster care agencies that choose not to work with same-sex parents are exempt from nondiscrimination laws. 

Maryland’s Catholic Charities of Baltimore no longer provides foster or adoption services, but FreeState Justice, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, fears other social services could be affected by a religious-exemption ruling. 

At Wednesday’s hearing, Justice Stephen Breyer asked Lori H. Windham, a lawyer for the petitioners, if Catholic Social Services could just evaluate a couple “irrespective of same or different sex,” but she said it would be “essentially a validation of the relationships in the home” and against the organization’s “deeply held religious beliefs” regarding same-sex marriages. 

In 2018, the City of Philadelphia prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing children in foster homes because it learned through a Philadelphia Inquirer article that the organization could refuse same-sex couples for religious reasons. 

While Justice Brett Kavanaugh pointed out Catholic Social Services had not actually turned away any same-sex parents, the city’s attorneys stated the potential rejection from an organization contracting with the city was still a concern. 

Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Bush, both of whom fostered children through Catholic Social Services, sued the city for limiting their choice of provider based on religious beliefs.

Justices listened via phone conference as a continuing COVID-19 precaution while Windham, and Department of Justice attorney Hashim M. Mooppan, argued Philadelphia’s nondiscrimination ordinance violated her clients’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs.

Attorneys Neal K. Katyal and Jeffrey L. Fisher argued the city’s position that its nondiscrimination ordinance was neutrally applied and did not single out Catholic Social Services based on their religious beliefs. 

“Ruling (for religious exemptions) would insert federal courts into contracting decisions in all 50 states and imperil government services in many spheres,” Katyal told justices Wednesday. “It means (government contractors) could discriminate against LGBT kids or categorically against foster parents for gender or religion.”

Mark Graber, a University of Maryland law professor and a leading scholar of constitutional law and politics, said this case asks whether religious agencies that contract with the government, or that receive public funds for public services, can be exempted from nondiscrimination laws. 

He said that answer has to be no. 

“Let’s say the state runs a fire department,” Graber told Capital News Service on Thursday, “If private people want to contract with the city and run their own fire department, when there’s a fire you have to put it out regardless of if that house is of a black person, a gay person and so forth. The state is allowed to license a behavior and attach nondiscriminatory conditions to a license. So, if you want to participate in the state adoption program, you have to play by the state rules.”

Maryland’s adoption program is managed at the state level by the Maryland Department of Human Services. It is a foster-to-adopt program where families are selected as “foster / adoptive homes,” according to its website.  

Maryland contracts with private religious and secular agencies, such as Lutheran Social Services and Adoptions Together. Both work with same-sex couples. 

Former College Park, Maryland, City Councilmember PJ Brennan and his husband, Nick, adopted Benji, 3, and Kayden, 16 months, through Adoptions Together, which has locations in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. 

“One of the reasons we stuck with Adoptions Together is because of their ethical approach to adoption,” PJ Brennan told Capital News Service on Monday. “They make sure they are working with and counseling the birth family and not coercing them into a decision they don’t want to make.”

Nick Brennan added that Benji’s birth mother chose them because they were a gay couple. This was to honor her sister who also was gay and wanted children but passed away before having them. 

“This was a way to honor her memory,” Nick said, adding the birth mother told them, “Everyone is entitled to have a family, if they want a family.”

Catholic Charities of Baltimore is a faith-based agency that no longer provides foster or adoption services in Maryland, but Christine Collins, the director of communications, said their agency continues to manage over 80 other social service programs throughout the state. 

These include services for the homeless, food-insecure, elderly or disabled, and those seeking help with immigration or government benefits. 

“You need what you need,” Collins said. “And we will try our best to give you the service that you need.”

However, FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster told Capital News Service a Supreme Court ruling supporting a religious exemption to nondiscrimination mandates could affect more than just foster-care services. 

“I think for me this is a troubling court case because the stakes are pretty broad,” he said. “Taxpayer-funded services (like foster care) should not discriminate. The exemption starts with providing foster care services, but there are other public services provided through religious programs.”  

LaMaster said he was concerned about the effect on other private agencies providing government-funded services. 

“If other agencies can opt out of nondiscrimination guidelines, this sets a challenging precedent for a whole swath of people in the state,” he said, indicating other protected groups could face discrimination due to exemptions as well.

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, in her first week hearing cases, asked a similar question during the Fulton hearing. 

“What if there was an agency who believed that interracial marriage was an offense against God and, therefore, objected to certifying interracial couples as foster families?” she asked Catholic Social Services’ attorney. “Would they be entitled to an exemption?”

Windham responded no, but argued the government viewed each type of discrimination differently. 

Graber disagreed, stating the government sets nondiscrimination rules for contracting agencies to follow. 

“No one is saying, ‘CSS, you have to participate in this program,’” he said. “But once you participate, though, there are rules you must follow.”

Currently, FreeState Justice is working with state lawmakers to clarify these rules for Maryland, particularly as they pertain to vulnerable LGBT youth.

LaMaster said a proposed Youth and Families Protection Act, which is still in a very early drafting stage, seeks to “bolster gaps in Maryland’s code around human services”. 

“Regardless of how (this case) goes,” he said. “There may be future similar court cases around religious exemptions for taxpayer-funded services. It’s really important at a state level that we’ve done the work so even if there is a federal policy change, Maryland policy does not and remains supportive of the LGBTQ community.”

The Rev. Tim Johnson of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in College Park, where the Brennans are active members, said he appreciates and can sympathize with the difficult position Catholic Social Services may have found itself in with this Supreme Court case. 

“I can’t think of any population that is more vulnerable as children who don’t have families,” Johnson said. “That is as vulnerable as it gets. I commend Catholic Charities for their work on behalf of children and I believe in all my heart they are trying to do what is right and fulfill their mission. Where it becomes a challenge is when they are trying to fill that mission and uphold their social teaching around marriage and family.”

PJ and Nick Brennan also support the right of religious organizations to provide services in accordance with their beliefs, but like Johnson, they drew the line when it came to agencies that receive public funds. 

“We’re not saying we’re going to shut down Catholic Charities,” Nick said. “We’re just saying use your own money if you want to discriminate.”

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., is elected 46th president of the United States

Photo: Joe Biden


WASHINGTON — After more than three days of uncertainty in a closely contested race, former Vice President Joe Biden has defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States

California Sen. Kamala Harris also made history, as she will become the first woman — and first woman of color — to hold the vice-presidency. She is of Jamaican and Indian descent.

“America, I’m honored that you have chosen me to lead our great country,” Biden tweeted just before noon Saturday. “The work ahead of us will be hard, but I promise you this: I will be a president for all Americans – whether you voted for me or not. I will keep the faith that you have placed in me.”

After four days of waiting, news organizations declared Biden the winner late Saturday morning after new returns from his native state of Pennsylvania made it clear he would take the battleground and its 20 Electoral College votes, giving him 3 votes more than needed to make him president.

The president-elect, who turns 78 on Nov. 20, began his political career with narrow victories in Delaware and election to the United States Senate in 1972 weeks before he turned 30. He twice previously ran unsuccessfully for the presidency – in 1988 (ended after just three and a half months in 1987) and again in 2008. He will finally make it to the White House with another close win.

He amassed more votes than any other presidential candidate in American history, breaking the record that President Barack Obama set in 2008.

Harris’s ascension to the vice presidency will be “really wonderful for the United States,” said William Spriggs, an economics professor at the Californian’s alma mater, Howard University, an historically black institution in Washington.

“I think this will start a legacy that Americans will finally get used to the idea of women in leadership, and accept her role as setting the mark and paving a path for other women to ascend to top leadership,” Spriggs told Capital News Service.

Harris, 56, is a challenger-turned-ally of Biden. A rising progressive star, she attacked him during the primary for his opposition to busing to desegregate schools. She also set herself apart from the political veteran by embracing the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All, as well as calling for a ban on fracking.

Harris is expected to bring a more progressive perspective to the moderate president-elect’s agenda.

With the coronavirus pandemic raging across the nation, it appears unlikely that Biden and Harris would celebrate the start of their administration in the traditional manner that would call for an oath-taking ceremony Jan. 20 on the West Front of the United States Capitol, witnessed by massive crowds stretching for blocks on the National Mall.

The inauguration plans are to come, but Biden and Harris already have activated a website for the transition and are assembling a transition team. As a symbol of the coming change in power, the United States Secret Service earlier in the week dispatched additional agents to the Biden home in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Federal Aviation Administration designed the skies above that home as restricted airspace.

Despite the pandemic — or many experts believe because of the various voting methods it made necessary — the total turnout for this election is expected to break a 120-year-old record.

Michael Hanmer, research director for the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civil Engagement, said “motivational factors (to vote) were just more present” in this election, though voting law changes to accommodate the pandemic also played a part.
The small margin of victory, combined with the overwhelming use of mail-in ballots, appeared to infuriate the president, as he continued to falsely claim that he was cheated out of reelection. Some of his Republican allies made similar unfounded attacks, while others in the GOP – mainly those out of office – denounced Trump’s accusations as dangerous and irresponsible.

Trump had repeatedly questioned the legality of mail-in ballots and discouraged his supporters from voting by mail. As a result, mail-in ballots in many states with little history of using that voting method leaned very heavily to Biden.

Many states counted mail-in ballots after tabulating Election Day ballots cast in-person, initially generating the appearance of a Republican surge in some of the battleground states. But the counting of the mail-in ballots – a slow process – began producing a Democratic counter-wave that materialized as early as Wednesday.

Multiple networks — including ABC, NBC, MSNBC, and CBS — cut away almost at the start of a Trump speech in the White House Thursday night when the president leveled baseless and false claims about the vote counts.

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us,” Trump claimed.

No credible evidence of fraud has been produced, according to the Associated Press.

The president’s claims of cheating were “especially disconcerting because the dangers of Trump’s rhetoric will outlive his time in the office,” Peter Ubertaccio, dean of arts and sciences at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, told CNS.

Millions of people believe Trump’s accusations of voter fraud despite no neutral observers stepping in to raise concerns about legitimacy, he said. This will, in turn, lead many citizens to believe that this election was stolen from Trump, Ubertaccio added.

“On the list of dangerous things Donald Trump has done, this ranks pretty highly — he has basically called American elections illegitimate because they didn’t go his way,” Ubertaccio said.

While counting of votes continued, the Trump campaign filed lawsuits to stop the counts in Michigan, Georgia — where federal judges rejected them — and Pennsylvania.

Caleb Jackson, a voting rights attorney at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, called the lawsuits “absolutely frivolous and meritless” that “will not get them anywhere and not have an impact on the election.”

In states where mail-in ballots seemed to be benefitting Trump a bit more, such as Arizona, the president and his allies urged election officials to count every vote.

“Of course it’s contradictory,” Jackson said. “There’s nothing legally that bars them from making those arguments, but, you know, professionally and ethically…it goes against what you swear to do as an attorney.”

In states such as Pennsylvania and Georgia, automatic recounts will be generated if the margins are 0.5% or less. But recounts also can be requested by Trump’s team and were expected.

Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has announced Friday that there will be a recount in his state.

But Biden’s victory, especially given the closeness of this race, does not indicate that it would necessarily open the way for significant policy changes, Ubertaccio said.

“We are a 50/50 country, and partisans on both sides have an active dislike of the folks on the other side,” said Ubertaccio. “Even landslide victories don’t by themselves indicate long-term changes to American politics.”

If Republicans retain control of the Senate, which is not yet clear, Biden would have a hard time getting legislation to pass without the acquiescence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

While it was Biden who often negotiated with McConnell during the Obama years over budget deals and other legislation – both drawing on their long relationship with each other – the new president would be dealing with very different political dynamics after a hard-fought, divisive election.

With Senate races waiting to be called, the current makeup is even with 48 members projected to be on each side of the aisle, and two runoff elections in Georgia in January present the Democrats with an opportunity to take control of the chamber.

Even so, it was the stark contrast between Biden’s progressive agenda and Trump administration policies that “helped drive turnout,” Hanmer said.

“Most people had a pretty good understanding of what they would get with Donald Trump if he were to win, and what they would get from Joe Biden if he were to win,” he added.

Protest Songs: A Fine American Tradition

There’s a bad misconception about American music that we only had protest songs after Vietnam. 

Certainly, over the past few years, music has made us more aware of the calamities of the Trump presidency and other hot button social issues, but these don’t even tell the entire story of how this genre is ingrained in our culture.

In fact, protest songs are older than the United States itself.

“Free America” is the one of the originals, dating back to the Revolutionary War. Joseph Warren wrote the song in 1774 as a call to arms for the American militia. The song encourages soldiers to defend America from going the way of the ancient republics of Athens and Rome reminding listeners that Britain had been beaten before by the Romans, “Picts, Danes and Normans.” 

The song “Yankee Doodle,” dates slightly further back to the Seven Years War (1756-1763) when British soldiers mocked Americans for being so disorganized in their military prowess. The Americans began singing the song ironically to taunt the British. At the siege of Yorktown (where the Revolutionary War ended), General Lafayette ordered the French army band to play the song when the British refused to acknowledge the triumphant Americans.

In the early to mid-19th century, protest music was sung mainly by enslaved people, in many cases as code. “Go Down, Moses,” is based on excerpts of the Bible where Moses freed the enslaved Israelites. It was even sung by Harriet Tubman as a way to communicate on the Underground Railroad.

During the Civil War, the song “John Brown’s Body” became synonymous with the Union cause.  Played to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “John Brown’s Body” recognizes abolitionist John Brown, who was martyred following an unsuccessful slave revolt in Harpers Ferry, VA. The song, besides lyrics relating to Brown, also endorses the hanging of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, James Weldon Johnson wrote another African spiritual that has endured as the Black National Anthem for over 100 years, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Johnson was principal of the Edwin M. Stanton School in Jacksonville, FL when Booker T. Washington visited to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in February 1900. Originally written as a poem for Washington’s visit, it was put to music in 1905 and was adopted as the Black National Anthem in 1919.

Twenty years later, protest music and pop music collided, with the release of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” The first pop-protest song spoke of people hanging from trees, and how they appeared to be, well, strange fruit. In reality, the people had been lynched, an egregious reality for many African-Americans in the south during that time. With recorded music becoming more widely available, “Strange Fruit” went on to become one of the popular and influential songs of the twentieth century.

Around the same time, Woody Guthrie rose to prominence as a singer-songwriter for his ballads about the Dust Bowl, hard times, and war. Among his most famous songs are “This Land Is Your Land” which was a scathing rebuke of “God Bless America” and “Tom Joad” which chronicles The Grapes of Wrath character Tom Joad during the Dust Bowl. Most often when he played, Guthrie had a label on his guitar that read, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”

Just before Vietnam, protest music exploded. Bob Dylan wrote “The Times They Are A’ Changin’,” chronicling what was perceived as mass public opinion among rising tensions in the United States. That same year, Sam Cooke released “A Change Is Gonna Come” as a jarring look at the state of race relations in the United States. 

Then came Vietnam, when the protest songs we hear to this day took the stage. 

 “For What It’s Worth,” written by Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield (who performed the track) is the iconic anti-war song that has been covered so many times I’ve lost count. It was a rallying cry for the anti-war movement and was even recently performed by Billy Porter following protests after the killing of George Floyd. Country Joe and the Fish expressed a similar sentiment with the “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die-Rag,” which they performed live at Woodstock in 1969. The following year, Neil Young of Buffalo Springfield wrote and released “Ohio,” in response to the horrifying Kent State Massacre in which four college students were killed when the National Guard opened fire on a crowd of Vietnam protestors.

Meanwhile, there are many more songs that come to mind that deserved to be named to this day. You could write an entire book and still not include them all, including some modern ones and my favorites, like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” or Green Day’s “American Idiot,” both of which came out in the last 30 years or so. 

Suffice it to say, as this election drags on and we enter into a newer and more politically-contentious time, don’t let people convince you that music never was political. It’s always been and is just a matter of  whether or not we want to see it.

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting. He writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.