de Mesquita, Paul Bueno [faculty advisor, Department of Psychology]




music; politics


Music, the Non-Governmental Actor Changing Political Policy: Have We Failed the Power of Music? People learn that making music as well as listening to it frees them from the toil and tedium of a life dominated by the privileged and the powerful. Music means trouble for those who would own and control it as they perpetuate injustice and suffering. – Mat Callahan It is believed that the pen is mightier than the sword, but is the guitar playing vocalist, a beatnik, mightier than the M-16 machinegun and an American political oligarchy? To find the answer to this question we must look at our American history and the awe inspiring role that music has taken to help change political direction. The source of American resistance seems to be historically rooted in music and transformed to something that has become known as ‘Music of Social Change.’ In the last century or so, music has become the cry of a people under duress. Political melodies have become the vehicle through which the common folk can raise their agenda and voice opposition. This unifying force has become a symbol of American revolutions. Socially conscious music has come in waves of hope and become the face of political movements. A common function of this genre of music has been to remind people of the good that is found in humanity, and is used to display what can be accomplished when people work together. The utilization of music as a tool to address social woes within the American community has had an extensive history. Throughout the American experience, music has been politically synonymous with opposition. Starting with Congo Square, Louisiana, and moving into the cotton fields of North America, the music of African slaves became the very foundation of this American movement, and would be used to symbolically defy their masters. Melodies would be used to record the history of an enslaved people, and would evolve to fight oppression wherever cruelty was found. From the African slaves to the Immigrant Labor Movements, from the Civil Rights Movement to the Anti-War Movement, music has served as an instrument for cohesion, in the fight against oppression. Music, in its ability to unify people, has become a non-governmental actor that has the power to change the political process in the United States. The music of social change has shown that politicians may come and go, but music will always be the voice of the people.