Exploring Music's Complexities

Protest Music: How it Works

Music Has a Role in Protests


Anti-government protesters clash with police during a protest in Caracas

Over the years protest music has proven to be one powerful medium for drawing people together. Not only is music able to comfort the soul, it is also able to provoke individualistic thought and opinion. Accounts describing music’s power to effect the collective consciousness of groups of people date back to the time of the Ancient Greeks.   It is a powerful tool when applied to the social group because of its ability to encourage the sharing and development of social unrest and desire for change. Music provides a vehicle for collectively expressing these concerns through groups that have the same attachment or concerns with their environment (1).

Topical subjects for protesting with music include taxation, slavery, the Civil War, civil liberties, civil rights poverty, politics and war, each accompanied by its own collection of protest songs (1). Teachers suggest studying music used in the past or present as a powerful and engaging teaching tool for students. They provide insight into historical events, analyze the power of lyrics and poetry, understand forces of social change or respond to current issues. Such overviews further understanding that most human rights remain pretty much the same over time.

When compared to the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement periods that were awash with such music, it may seem that protest songs are a thing of the past. The opposite is true. Currently, the national music scene contains thousands of songs that speak out against the current administration, the Iraq War and the War on Terror. Major pop stars like Pink and John Mayer have recorded protest or politically-charged songs. Meanwhile lesser known folk, bluegrass, and artists in other roots-related genres are carrying on the tradition of political song (2). Just use your browser for an idea of its magnitude!

Other studies suggest one of the greatest protest singers ever was Phil Ochs. His catalog was full of “topical songs ripping at just about every aspect of society, and all sides of the political spectrum. His song, “Love Me; I’m a Liberal,” is one of the few liberal folk songs written to satirize the liberal movement” (2).

Kim Ruehl suggests other great classic protest singers include:

In conclusion, no matter what the music sounds like, the issues protest music addresses will be worldwide since artists and audiences all over the world can reach each other online instantly (3).


 1.  https://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protest_songs_in_the_United_States.

2.  Kim Ruehl, All About Protest Music. An introduction to American protest music and political song. https://www.thoughtco.com/all-about-protest-music-1322475.

3.  Janovy, C.J., Among Folk Musicians, Protest Music’s Future is up for Debate.  https://www.npr.org/2017/07/02/534925002/among-folk-musicians-protest-mu

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