Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Protest Vote

It's May 7th 2015, and it's election day.  I've cast my vote, and with it my hopes and ambitions for the country I live in.

I've also been looking back at the history of politics.  As this excellent video points out, so much progress in law and citizens rights have come from the bottom up, not the top down.  Ordinary people have protested, fought, sometimes even resorted to extreme measures to make themselves heard by those in power.  Suffragrettes threw themselves in front of racehorses and endured the indignity of force-feeding when they tried to starve themselves in protest.  Black communities and their supporters suffered power hoses and organised resistance by armed police (this is still troubling areas of America right now, as race has affected class and caused more inequality).

It's important to remember this history of humanity pushing to gain it's own freedoms, and in Britain so much of it is recorded in folk music.  I love that there's a great tradition of this; people making up their own protest music, remembering struggles, triumphs, and civil disobedience, and the old stories getting handed down through the years.  Here are three of my favourites.

1) 'Palaces of Gold' by Leon Rosselon. 

He wrote it after a coal mine slag-heap collapsed at Aberfan in Wales in 1966, running downhill onto a school and killing 116 children and 26 adults. The National Coal Board were slow to respond and largely escaped the consequences of this tragedy.  The song is mainly about how we might be a little quicker to deal with the trouble of others if they affected us personally. This beautiful cover is by Lady Maisery.

2) 'John Ball' by Sydney Carter. 

John Ball was a 'hedge priest', a travelling preacher with no parish of his own, whose belief that the extreme inequality between the rich and poor was wrong made him a figurehead for the Peasants Revolt that marched on London in 1381 to address the king. They failed and were violently repelled, although some workers rights were secured in the long run by their efforts, and Ball was hung, drawn, and quartered. Thank goodness that that won't happen to any of us today, whatever the results of the election! This song is based on a sermon of his, and the Young 'Uns sing my favourite version.

3) 'The Nailmakers Strike Part 2' by Hannah Martin and Phillip Henry

 There have been a lot of strikes by nailmakers over the years. Some were due to poor working conditions, others happened when new technology and cheaper foreign imports cost local people their livelihoods. Some strikes were more peaceful than others. In Dudley in the 1840s the army was called in when nailers dying of starvation had their wages cut by their employers and desperation turned them to vandalism and capture of the nailmasters. When the authorites had distributed bread, ending the riot, most prisoners were given light sentences after pleading Starvation

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