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I first noticed Tom Morello as he sang Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land at Occupy Wall Street. He sang the suppressed verses that we didn't learn when I was a kid in the 60s.

As I was walkin'  -  I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side  .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Tom Morello was the only guest this week on Moyers & Company on PBS and I was amazed at his history and his commitment to social justice. Like Barack Obama he is the child of a white American mother and a Kenyan father and like Obama he attended Harvard University, although as an undergrad. Join me below the orange tattoo of social justice for more.

What struck me first as I listened to the interview, was that Morello said that the power of song can affect the reptilian brain. For some time I have worried about the ability of Republican propagandists to tap into that visceral, reptilian part of the brain to overwhelm fact with emotions such as fear and hatred. Now here was Morello telling Moyers that the reason that he hopes to achieve social justice through what he feels called to do is because his musical art calls on that very part of the human brain.

He discussed his appearance with Bruce Springsteen where he joined in singing Springsteen's "The Ghost of Tom Joad." His first group, Rage Against the Machine had covered the song years before, but this time Morello said that he wanted his guitar to express the anger of the souls who had fought unsuccessfully for social justice.

He talked about growing up in the extremely white, conservative Libertyville, Indiana and eventually how music helped him feel a sense of connection in a world where he had felt alone for so long, his Harvard education in Political Science and his job for Senator Alan Cranston and why he turned his back on politics for music.

On the Occupy movement here in the US he said this:

In the countless protests and demonstrations I’ve been involved with in my lifetime, the Occupy movement is very unique in that it does identify class. What keeps more people from getting involved? It’s because there’s a high price if you risk privilege and that’s something that we all have here. It doesn’t come free. Like if you come out today for the general strike or you’re arrested on the Brooklyn bridge, or if you live your life in accordance with your beliefs, sometimes there’s a very high price to be paid.
my emphasis

Morello sees the Occupy movement as worldwide, part of a worldwide struggle for social justice. He sees himself as, in essence, a lobbyist for the poor and a spokesman for the unions. Moyers remarks that over the span if Morello's 20 year career his music and that of others has not stopped the growing inequality of wealth in the US. Morello replies:

Yeah. Well, I mean-- what you state is a perfect example of how class warfare has been used on the working class and the poor. Like, that is not an accident. That's not an accident of economic spreadsheets. That's a, you know, there's a plan to continue to wring every cent, you know, into the .001 percent.

And so the politicians who are in the pockets of the corporations do not stand in the way of that inequality growing greater. That's how I would put it. But yeah, no, we do not-- the music has not caused us to live in an anarcho-syndicalist utopia. Yet. That means I've got more albums to make.

Morello is a Wobblie, and wears his IWW hat proudly throughout the interview. He talks about going to Madison, Wisconsin to sing for those protesting Gov. Scott Walker's union stripping measures when his wife was "nine-and-a-half months pregnant," with her blessing.

In his song Black Sparticus Heart Attack Machine, Morello sings:

History’s not made By presidents or popes
Or kings or queens or generals
Or CIA kingpins runnin’ dope
History’s not made
By nine robed men
Or billionaires or bankers
It’s not made by them
About these lyrics Moyers later says:
You are testing my journalism and you're subverting my worldview when I hear the lyrics of Black Spartacus. And I hear "Popes and presidents don't make history." I read that, "Black robe judges don't make history." I'm thinking, but five black robe justices ruled that in terms of elections in this country, money is speech. And it's free speech. And they're making history with that, because this election is seeing unbelievable amounts of undisclosed money, unidentified money coming into our system. They made history with that decision. I mean, isn't-- there's some sense in which the poetry misleads people or leads them away from reality?
Morello responds with his belief that grassroots efforts are the way to truly effect history. I don't think I've done this excellent interview justice. If you haven't yet seen it go here:  If streaming won't work for you, there is a full transcript on the page as well. There's more information on Tom Morello on Wikipedia at

Originally posted to Lily O Lady on Sun May 20, 2012 at 10:45 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA and Community Spotlight.

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