Rage Against The Machine: Three of my favorite protest songs

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In our relatively scholastic bubble of Storrs, we’re sludging through the tail end of midterm season, taking our winter coats out of storage and starting to piece together our Christmas playlists

But something’s happening.   

Countries around the world are starting to push back en masse against unchanging, old-fashioned governments. Unlike the Arab Spring from a decade prior, these countries aren’t regionally connected, only drawn to this timing from a collective sense of rage. Recent protests in Haiti, Chile, Lebanon and Iraq – four countries from three different continents – display the growing discontent against the current status of the world. Even in the United States, much larger than those four countries put together, cracks are starting to form in the surface, as evidenced by the recent climate action protests around the nation and mass action against subway-related NYPD brutality in Brooklyn on Friday night. 

This may all lead to something, and it may not. Only time will tell. But this fervor is here to stay, and the interconnectivity of the internet and mass media gives all protestors a common thread. Let’s hope it all leads to something.   

Here are a few songs that make me want to put down my laptop and pick up a pitchfork.  

Rage Against the Machine – Bulls on Parade 


Photo courtesy of    cdandlp.com

Photo courtesy of cdandlp.com

Inspiring the title of this article, Rage Against the Machine defined what it meant to fight the power as the 20th century came to a close, and “Bulls on Parade” may be their lasting anthem. The quaking chorus is unforgettable, (“They rally ’round the family with a pocket full of shells,” repeated four times) but frontman Zach de la Rocha’s rap verses between his screamed refrains are what really sell the song. “Weapons, not food, not homes, not shoes/Not need, just feed the war, cannibal animal,” is as timeless now as it was when pen hit paper 23 years prior. South Florida rapper Denzel Curry recently performed a cover that almost beats out the original, complete with a verse from one of his own political-laden songs interspersed in. Both the original and Curry’s rendition should feature in your next mass movement.   

Barry McGuire – Eve of Destruction 


Photo courtesy of    stereogum.com

Photo courtesy of stereogum.com

My dad dodged the Vietnam draft by staying in college, but that didn’t stop him from joining the millions of hippies like him standing up against an unjust war in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Holding hands with his fellow country-people, they had tape decks and record players in lieu of Spotify and SoundCloud, playing a collection of what some call the peak of protest music – when hundreds of artists from coast to coast joined together to flip the United States government the bird through song. His go-to song from this era, which he makes me play every time I hook my phone to Bluetooth in the car, is an impassioned plea by Barry McGuire telling tales of the collective paranoia caused by the Vietnam War draft and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. The harrowing lyrics are laid over an almost sing-songy acoustic guitar and military-esque snare drum, and brought to life by McGuire’s gruff vocals. As our country eternally interferes in international conflicts, this song will never die.  

Childish Gambino – This is America 


Photo courtesy of    billboard.com

Photo courtesy of billboard.com

Childish Gambino’s electric hit that devoured summer 2018 is a perfect example of delivering cultural commentary through an easily digestible package. If you look past the title of the track, it can be easy to look past Gambino’s song as just another banger that came and went by the top of the charts. But you shouldn’t. His truncated verses tell the story of the time we’re living, in a country where an unarmed black man can’t walk the street without getting gunned down by law enforcement (“Guns in my area/I got the strap/I gotta carry ‘em”). It’s a country where all it takes is a shiny light for people to forget about the most recent, almost monthly mass shooting, as evidenced by the viral music video’s allusion to the 2015 Charleston church shooting (“I’m on Gucci/I’m so pretty/I’m gon’ get it/Watch me move”). It’s America.  

The 2020s are coming, and from all angles it’s looking like the most pivotal decade on both the national and international stages since at least World War II. What will be you listening to? 

What will you be doing?  

Thumbnail Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash


Daniel Cohn is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.cohn@uconn.edu.

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