The best protest songs to listen to this Election Day


Courtesy of Junne Alcantara via The Washington Post

Whether they came out during the Vietnam War era or they address problems facing humanity today, protest songs are a great way to feel connected to social and political movements. Here are some of the best songs to listen to when heading to the polls this Election Day. 

Ohio” — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

The Kent State Massacre occurred in May 1970 when four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard during a protest of the invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. “Ohio” came to fruition just days after the tragedy, after Neil Young saw what is now a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded the song, and within weeks of the tragedy it was played on radio stations across America. The song echoed the growing negative feelings on the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, and strikes followed which not only protested the war, but the massacre at Kent State.

If I Can Dream” — Elvis Presley 

Two months after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, “If I Can Dream” was written for the end of Presley’s “‘68 Comeback Special.” Knowing of Presley’s adoration of King and his heartbreak over his death, lyricist Walter Earl Brown penned lyrics reminiscent of King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech.

The production of the “‘68 Comeback Special” and “If I Can Dream” was recently covered in Baz Luhrmann’s biopic about the rockstar.

Born in the U.S.A.” — Bruce Springsteen

Although many have mistaken the song’s catchy chorus as a nationalistic anthem — including former president Ronald Reagan — Springsteen’s 1984 hit actually details the alienation of Vietnam veterans upon their return from the war. 

Over 1.8 million men were drafted in the Vietnam War, and many of those who returned felt they were completely isolated from the country they’d fought to serve. “Born in the U.S.A.” validates this idea through lyrics which detail the story of a veteran who cannot get a job or help from the U.S. government, which turned a blind eye to many veterans after the war.

This Is America” — Childish Gambino

Childish Gambino — a.k.a. Donald Glover released “This Is America” in 2018, at the same time he was hosting an episode of Saturday Night Live. The song addresses police brutality, gun violence and mass shootings in the U.S., and how racism plays a role in each of these issues.

Through lyrics such as “this a celly, that’s a tool,” Gambino likely references Philando Castile, whose death was live streamed after being shot by a police officer.

The music video — which was ranked at 10 on Billboard’s list of the best music videos of the 21st century — has its own references. When Gambino shoots a church choir in the music video, he is believed to be referencing the 2015 Charleston church shooting

The Pill” — Loretta Lynn

Following the recent death of the coal miner’s daughter, Loretta Lynn’s controversial 1975 song came back into the limelight. “The Pill” details the freedoms and choices made available to women after birth control was invented in 1960. Due to its subject matter, certain country radio stations refused to play the song.

“The Pill” alluded to Lynn’s personal life — she had six children with husband Oliver Lynn. Soon after the song was released, Lynn said that if she’d had access to birth control when she was having children, she would’ve taken it “like popcorn.”