2020 has been anything but peaceful. This turbulent year has seen everything from the COVID–19 pandemic to a series of worldwide protests. Even though the elections have seemingly taken a back seat until now—36 days out from election night in November—it's important to keep in mind the prescient social issues that have been at forefront of public conversation, particularly protests against systemic racism.
With that in mind, I created a playlist to reflect the need for social change, centering Black, queer and feminist voices in the process, while keeping one eye on the looming threat of climate change and the other on the vital upcoming 2020 election.
Shamir — "Running"
Although the song is lighter than majority of these songs on the playlist, I believe Shamir, as a nonbinary BIPOC, was an essential voice to place first. "Running," a featherlight breeze of casual rebelliousness, is an obvious play on the common phrase of "running" for an election, but also has a multitude of other meanings—running for your life, running to the polls, running as recreation, running as a means of avoidance. People are running this November, in all senses of the word.
Marvin Gaye — "What's Going On"
Marvin Gaye's hit "What's Going On," from his 1971 album of the same name, is simultaneously comforting and concerning. Originally written by Al Cleveland, the track was inspired by Renaldo "Obie" Benson of the Four Tops witnessing police violence against anti–war protestors at Berkley's People's Park on May 15, 1969. Gaye's album was written from the perspective of a Vietnam War veteran who recently returned home to a broken America. When coupled with Gaye's experience of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, the title track became his personal manifesto for peace. "What's Going On" resonates just as much today as it did 49 years ago, as issues surrounding racialized police brutality are again at the forefront of discussion—the line "don't punish me with brutality" is particularly affecting. "What's Going On" 's message of peaceful protest coupled with indignant anger lightly prods the bruises and cuts of these American wounds.
The Chicks- "March March"
"March March," like "What's Going On," is another protest anthem, taken from The Chicks' first album in 14 years, Gaslighter. The Chicks wrote the track after attending the March for Our Lives with their daughters. Now, "March March" has gained even more significance when contextualized by the passionate Black Lives Matter protests this summer. Though the issue of gun control—the central cause of March For Our Lives—has taken a slight back seat in today's politics, "March March," like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," is a complex protest song, tackling many issues America is grappling with today. Thumbing their noses at 3D printed weapons, climate change deniers, and fake news, The Chicks let no one off the hook as they make their way to DC.
Kendrick Lamar — "Alright"
It would be wrong to not include Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" from his landmark 2015 record Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City. At the time of its release, it became a popular chant among Black Lives Matter protestors in the wake of Michael Brown and Eric Garner's deaths. "Alright" was already a prominent protest anthem five years ago, and has gained even more significance in the context of today's political landscape. The song, notoriously criticized by FOX News co–host Geraldo Rivera, is a vital statement of Black solidarity against police brutality. It articulates the lived experiences of so many Black citizens of this country, at once a biting critique of an oppressive institution and a mantra of hope.
ANOHNI- "Why Did You Separate Me from the Earth?"
Perhaps the most vulnerable song on the playlist, ANOHNI's "Why Did You Separate Me from the Earth?" takes a searingly critical look at capitalism's effect on the environment. ANOHNI, a trans woman who has gained a reputation for urgently vital, avant–garde, political music, sounds pained as she unleashes emotional indignation about the scorched planet. With lyrics such as "a sharp knife of concrete" and "the blue line of tuna's throat," ANOHNI vividly places the strife of the earth in crystal clear detail. She jabs her finger at ruthless capitalists who deforest and take from the Earth without concern for the Indigenous cultures there. Even beyond the environmental politics behind the song, "Why Did You Separate Me from the Earth?" is achingly human.
I hope this playlist provides listeners both comfort and conscience amid what often feels like chaos, a reminder of the vitality of protest in these strange, disorienting times. These songs urgently explain the importance of protest, especially as it relates to the Black experience in America. Yet they also serve as a reminder that these issues have been at the heart of American society for decades: see "What's Going On?" I don't know if that's exactly a comfort, but at the very least, it shows that we are not alone this election, in our calls for justice, fair treatment, and protection under the law. Voting is just as important as taking to the streets. Take to the booth just as you would a march. Our future depends on it.