To quote a recent, reluctant Nobel Prize laureate: “The times, they are a-changin’.” Okay, that’s actually a major understatement. Election Day 2016 has ushered in times of such unprecedented change for much of our country that it has left many of us feeling confused, terrified, angry, and downright lost. It can be hard to know what to do with all these feelings. Why should we pretend everything’s okay when it’s demonstrably not okay? Why should we have empathy for people who have knowingly supported a proudly know-nothing bigot? We shouldn’t. Instead, we should figure out how best to stand up against oppression, whether via donating our money and our time to worthwhile institutions, by participating and organizing protests, even by simply engaging other people in conversation about how to make this new reality a safer place for all the many people who now feel threatened.
But maybe the world seems to dire a place for you right now. Maybe you feel like there is no hope? That’s understandable. Who wants to traffic in blind optimism when there’s signs all around us that there are real problems ahead. But remember this: Hope doesn’t mean that you think things will be okay. Hope simply means that you refuse to roll over in the face of obstacles and oppression. Hope simply means you’re prepared to keep working for what’s right, even if there’s no guarantee of it coming. To get you inspired to start that work, here are 20 powerful protest songs by artists who know the importance of fighting the good fight.
Kendrick Lamar “Alright”: Despite the hell that marginalized people are constantly living through, we will persevere. To live is to survive.
M.I.A. “Born Free”: Despite what the video might have you believe, this is not a song about the oppression of gingers. It still serves as a potent reminder of the constructed differences we put between ourselves, preventing us from ever acheiving true unity.
Green Day “Holiday”: A charging, intense (and, at four minutes, very long for Green Day) song which served as a strong rebuke to the war crimes perpetrated by the George W. Bush administration.
Beyoncé “Formation”: This makes me want to celebrate the pride I carry as a black woman living in America. It’s a blessing even though the majority wants us to think otherwise.
Bikini Kill “Suck My Left One”: For every woman right now who has a white man telling her that things won’t be that bad, this song’s for you.
Solange “F.U.B.U.”: I love my blackness, and yours. Nobody can take that away from me. This makes me want to silently march in the streets with a band leading the way.
Radiohead “Idioteque”: There aren’t enough protest songs about climate change, but trust Radiohead to take the most important issue of our planet and put it center stage.
Public Enemy “Fight the Power”: Featured in one of the best protest movies of all time, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, this song is a true powerhouse, and will inspire you to take to the streets.
AlunaGeorge feat. Leikeli47 & Dreezy “Mean What I Mean”: NO MEANS NO.
Billie Holliday “Strange Fruit”: Holliday’s otherworldly voice is truly haunting here as she sings this song about lynching, written and performed during a time when the horrific act was perpetrated with more and more frequency in the American South.
NWA “Fuck tha Police”: The perfect song in this time of transparency surrounding the issue of police brutality.
Empress of “Woman Is a Word”: I am woman, hear me roar. Let’s stand together for intersectional feminism.
Bob Dylan “Master of War”: Dylan lays bare the cynicism and downright sociopathy of those behind America’s endless war games, calling out these oppressors of humanity for the monsters they are.
Rage Against the Machine “Testify”: This song is a call to action, namely, the action of bearing witness to the injustices in the world around us.
Sam Cook “A Change Is Gonna Come”: This track is emblematic of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, but is absolutely applicable in the Civil Rights movement of today.
Queen “I Want to Break Free”: A classic anti-oppression ballad, Queen’s lyrics inspire every listener to break the shackles that society has put upon them.
Bob Marley and the Wailers “Get Up, Stand Up”: The lyrics are as profound as they are simple; the act of standing up is the first step toward making a difference.
Marilyn Manson “The Beautiful People”: Growling and guttural, Manson’s voice speaks to the victims of institutions that are designed to keep them down.
Leikeli47 “Girl Gang”: Women are warriors. Nobody can shut us down. Say it loud and proud.
Gil Scott-Heron “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”: But that revolution? Damn right that it’s going to happen. Even if mainstream media fails to cover it, it will take place.