In my new book, Outlaw Blues; Adventures in the Counter-culture Wars, I talk about the role of the great protest song in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. Songs like If I had a Hammer, Blowin in the Wind, We Shall Overcome were the basic tool of non-violent protest sit-ins. If you were going to get arrested, it was easier if everyone was singing the same anthem. I thought about that the other day in New York when I visited Occupy Wall Street. The main music of the encampment was some drum circles. That’s like a performance–full of ego. It’s the opposite of singing an anthem.
I think we need some new anthems, but it also raises a larger question. The great non-violent protest movements of the past have had at their core a leader whose core vision was of love, not anger. As Michael Shellenberger pointed out years ago, King’s most famous speech was “I have a dream” not “I have a nightmare”. The core of OWS is the concept “We are the 99%”. It is brilliant in its simplicity to distill the notion that the whole system is rigged to advantage the 1%, but without a dream—a vision of how we get out of this Interregnum—the movement will never advance beyond drum circles, witty posters and identity politics.