I was a young music student and aspiring intellectual when I first became privy to the crimes of the School of the Americas. The broader humanities had struck my fancy as I removed past musics from their academic vacuums and returned them to their time and place, to their historical contexts. As I learned about Bach, Beethoven, and Bartok, I couldn't help but wonder about the many extramusical factors that influenced their composition; and conversely, the ways that their music contributed back to their cultural, intellectual, political milieus.
So I enrolled in several humanities courses during my time at UCF, each examining the humanities (philosophy, art, science, architecture, religion - that which distinguishes us as humans) of a different era. The modern humanities began to touch on a time and culture with which I was more familiar, to which my own so-called postmodern era was responding. This was the era where the crimes and ideology of the nefarious School of the Americas fell squarely into place. And my own generation's response to the tragic existence of the SOA has been rather typical: ignorance, ambivalence, apathy.
Will these be the hallmark of postmodernism, the legacy of my generation? Not if I have anything to do with it!
The School of the Americas
is a US military agency that trains latin American soldiers and dispatches them back to their countries to commit terrible atrocities against their own people. Graduates are notorious for murdering diplomats, educators, political and religious leaders, union and community organizers, missionaries, and virtually anyone working to organize or help poor and exploited people in these underdeveloped countries. Renamed WHINSEC, it continues to this day, proliferating a violent, repressive, and imperialist US foreign policy in Latin America.
It sounds unreal, like something US-ians would never allow to exist; but most people have no idea that it does.
I began soaking it in myself during the fall of 2007, at the aforementioned humanities course. We read about the life and activism of Rigoberta Menchu, about US military engagement in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, about the SOA. I could no longer feign ignorance.
The following fall I made plans to join the annual two-day protest and vigil at the gates of Ft Benning, GA, where the school calls home. This event has occurred for over twenty years, organized by the ever vigilant SOAWatch
and attended by thousands of religious, radical, and peacenik groups persistently calling for the close of the school. The numbers exceeded 20,000 that year and I was proud to be in their number.
It was heart breaking to hear the names of thousands of torture and murder victims read off, each repeated by the haunting chant "presente." It was also empowering to see the solidarity shared by so many people working for peace and justice in the world.
I've just returned from my fourth year at the event. I have played on stage, taught workshops, joined direct action groups, played drums and participated in puppetista parades. I have also joined actions in NYC and DC with music and solidarity. But most importantly, my song Pax Americana
is largely inspired by the evils of the SOA and I have repudiated the school many times in my blog writings. I have thus found my own place as an artist and writer in the 21st century USA and global economic empire. I have contributed to the humanities of my era and perhaps we'll see our collective social consciousness increase as a result.
Until then, the school remains open, funded with taxpayer dollars while most people remain totally unaware of it's existence and the numbers at the annual vigil dwindle and the unspeakable violence of the SOA continues.
BUT! Now that you're swimming in the still shallow pool of collective consciousness regarding the SOA, you can also do your part. Educate yourself, educate others, and support the SOAWatch! One way you can do this, while also supporting my contribution to the humanities, is by supporting the Zombie Music Campaign for peace and justice
. Part of the money supports my recently released album, Protest Songs (Are Dead)
, which includes the song Pax Americana. Another 10% will go to SOAWatch so that they can continue to shed light on the SOA and its crimes, until it is finally closed.
Got my guitar, sleeping bag, jacket, and long johns. Think I'm ready to #takewallstreet.
Sept 17 at Zuccotti Park
was my horse and I was Paul Revere. It was September 17, 2011 and I had just witnessed what I could only presume was the spark of revolution. The time had finally come.
After nearly ten years of war and atrocity in Afghanistan and Iraq, the complete plunder of the American economy, the co-opting of our political process by corporate interests (sanctioned by the US Supreme Court), the foreclosures of thousands of homes by predatory banks and financial institutions, and a persistently grim outlook on the job market - after all this and so much more, a small band of opportunistic lower-case anarchists and democrats were about ready to take back the reins of our wayward country, to be the change we wished to see, and to occupy Wall Street all the while, until somebody paid attention. I found myself at the center of the action.
I had waited for this moment at least two years, about the same amount of time that I had been writing protest songs - and these were my own response to the milieu described above. After moving to NYC where injustice, greed, exploitation, materialism, and corruption were unavoidable and unconscionable, I couldn't help but notice the relative silence coming from the arts community, the very people that, as far as I'm concerned, are charged with speaking up, crying out, and standing against institutional violence with Truth, Beauty, Peace, Justice. I found that this silence was most sadly (and ironically) deafening from the music scene. As an aspiring songwriter myself, I felt the great weight of responsibility fall on my feeble shoulders; I began writing protest music.
Nearly two years later, and only one month before the occupation was to begin, I released my first opus of such material on an EP called Protest Songs (Are Dead)
. Little did I know the perfect venue to perform these songs was soon to crop up in the financial district of Manhattan!
After seeing the first general assembly at Zuccotti Park on September 17, I tweeted giddily as I picked up what was needed to camp the first night at #OccupyWallStreet. For the following week I occupied the newly-dubbed Liberty Plaza almost 24/7: participating in GAs, marching, playing drums and protest songs
, dancing, interviewing, and otherwise building friendship and community with people of struggle - we who would call ourselves the ninety-nine percent.
And that tiny spark, flicked brightly on September 17, ignited a conflagration that quickly spread across the country and the world. I was continually encouraged by the news coming from Liberty Plaza, especially relayed updates from occupations in Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and so on. This was indeed a real movement!
But as time passed and our humble occupation grew, so too did the police presence and abuse, tourist interference, and media attention (there was a virtual blackout from corporate media until the mass arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge). I felt increasingly uncomfortable at the occupation downtown and spent less and less time there, though my solidarity did not dwindle in the slightest. After that first week I only stayed at the park for morning marches, evening GAs, and overnight camping; after three weeks, I only came for certain special occasions.
I spent the time instead tweeting, writing, and supporting the occupation from my home in uptown Manhattan: I started the Zombie Music Campaign
(a portion of which will go directly to OWS) and began working occupy visits into the schedule for my Zombie Music Tour to support the new Protest Songs album. On December 4 I started the tour and have since played for occupations in Philly, DC, Asheville and Chattanooga, with many more occupations to come. It has been great to meet with the other occupations, to see the work they are all doing to resist violence and injustice with peace, compassion, and a hopeful vision for the future ever in view.
The Zombie Music Tour continues tonight in Athens and the campaign, still going on now, could really use your support
. 50% goes to five great organizations working toward peace and justice, one of which is Occupy Wall Street in NYC. The rest of the money will support the production of the Protest Songs album and tour.
I do hope you'll consider: if you believe in the occupy movement and/or the role of artists and musicians to inspire and speak truth to power, and if you have the slightest amount to contribute to my existential tip jar, then you can make a huge difference as I trek along on my Zombie Music Tour for peace and justice! Please check out this page for more info and I hope you'll consider nudging me along on my journey.
Please also be sure to learn about and support your nearest occupation. It can be very fatiguing out there, especially as smaller occupations meet resistance from police and local governments. Your local occupy needs your support!
Finally, if you're interested in the Protest Songs album, you can download it from iTunes or listen for free on YouTube
. I hope you'll check it out!
Thanks so much for your support and solidarity. We are the 100% and we're all in this together.
Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.