Roots Musicians Respond to Trump’s Inauguration
As Donald Trump is sworn in as president today, I don’t feel anger, I don’t feel joy, I only feel shame. Shame that we would have put this person into the highest position of power in the nation. Shame that nothing he said seemed to have been enough to stop him from walking the steps to the White House. It’s the kind of shame that’s lasting. It’s stuck with me since the results came back from the election. I’ve had trouble looking my two daughters in the eyes, knowing the world we’re giving to them now, knowing that they may not be safe in a world that supports Trump’s history. I had many arguments against Obama when he was in office, but they all pale now to the thought that our culture, our natural environment, our populace, and our values are under threat from someone who’s proven not to care for ordinary human beings like us. I’ve read many arguments from Trump supporters on Facebook and in the news, and the one thing that strikes me throughout is the lack of empathy. I’m reminded of a line from the great early blues song, “I Got Mine,” cut in 1928 by Frank Stokes: “I belong to the knockdown society, but I got mine!” Yeah, you got yours now, but what does that mean for the rest of us? What will you do when your friends, neighbors, and family members, be they gay, Muslim, Hispanic, or even just women and artists, get the stick? You got yours, but what will you do with it now?
Facebook and Twitter were a little quieter today than you might think, but then so was the inauguration itself, with Trump playing out to crowds so small that a colleague in folklore who was there commented, “I’ve seen larger crowds on the Mall for Basque music!” And many roots musicians have been protesting all along. Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops released music from her new album, Freedom Song, along with some powerfully worded statements on Facebook earlier in the month, Latino band Las Cafeteras has been selling T-Shirts that say “Yo No Creo En Fronteras” (I Don’t Believe In Borders), and Adia Victoria recently wrote an intense Facebook post about what she sees as white supremacy in the Americana music industry itself. The gears are turning, and if they’re turning a bit slower today, it may be because so many people are still in shock. But these artists can help point our way forward.
Rachel Baiman (of 10 String Symphony)
“I was lucky enough to visit Cuba this week. It’s an incredible place full of community and joy. For all of the hardship and sadness that we encountered, it was still stunning to be in a place where nobody was begging on the streets or sleeping the alleyways. Most people live a very modest life, yet everyone has free healthcare, free university access, food and a place to sleep. People don’t just slip through the cracks. Not once did I have to avert my eyes in shame as someone asked me for money, food, “anything helps”.
Here we are in this rich country, with all of our freedom and democracy, and yet we can’t seem to choose to care about one another with our votes. It’s not enough to donate to a charity if we can’t manage to offer these basic human rights to everyone by law. I believe that it’s possible.
It’s time for us to realize that we also have the capability to make sure nobody slips through the cracks. Solidarity with all of the amazing women and men marching this weekend, I’m with you in spirit! Love Trumps Hate.”
Kaia Kater (artist)
“It’s okay if all you can do is survive. If you can do more, do more. Don’t say his name. Focus on building your community. If you have access to a mic—on a stage, on the radio, at a concert, leave it on for others to speak through it. Acknowledge the historic inequalities that have brought us to this reckoning.
Most of all, listen. Truly listen. And then act. The rest is noise.”
Justin Hiltner (artist)
“Being openly gay while living in the deep south and operating in more traditional roots music circles – Bluegrass, old-time, country – makes it impossible for me to bite my tongue or accept calls to “come together” for the sake of our democracy. Marginalized and oppressed peoples from all across our country have been crying out for Americans from all backgrounds, classes, and creeds to “come together” for centuries. When a demagogue comes along espousing xenophobia, sexism, racism, and fascism why are we, the othered, called upon to come together with those who would so blatantly challenge and disparage who we are as human beings? I won’t submit to this sort of rhetoric and I won’t normalize the presidency of this man.”
“A new President was sworn in today and he gave the speech of a strongman. He told us our country is full of carnage and that only through blind patriotism and loyalty to him will we fix it. We travel all around this great land every year, and have not encountered this so-called “carnage”. While we have challenges to face together, America is not a war zone, it is a vibrant and diverse place, full of people who love one another and want freedom and prosperity for their neighbors and for themselves. Whatever happens in the coming months and years, let us remain vigilant that fear opens the door to fascism and shuts the door on civil rights and free expression. We must resist fear and fearmongerers with all our hearts and begin building what comes next. May music and art inspire us all with beauty and truth as we recharge our batteries for the fight ahead. #nofear #nosilence #resist”
Brett Ratliff (Appalachian, Artist and Community Organizer)
“Right now, in this moment, as artists and as citizens of the United States, we have two choices: either we sit silently while a misogynist, far-right, white supremacist movement takes leadership—or stand together, fight together on behalf of all of those who have been singled out by this administration: black, brown, trans, gay, Muslims, the indigenous–and, yes, those, too, who have been used by this movement to gain power, those under the thumb of capitalism. I, for one, feel a moral obligation to lock arms.”
Jason Galaz (Muddy Roots founder, Chicano)
“I’m torn between having to choose between the patriotism I was raised on and the people it actually represents. I’m definitely very concerned about the bigotry Trump inspires. I see violence and disrespect much more in my friend’s lives. But I’m more worried about the pot than the spoon stirring it. The average working class citizen will be the victim of the hate crime inspired by Trump, and I fear fanatics are sending this country into a tailspin. I’m looking forward to waves of voices speaking out against oppression, but I hope we can get to a less volatile place.”
Ben Hunter (artist, community activist)
“We have come to the precipice that is our now. We have come to that moment where another period must start and we must recalibrate. The fierce urgency of now is upon us, and it requires the only type of force that can withstand the mechanisms of division. That force must be love. But don’t get me twisted, because this love isn’t unicorns and pink roses. It’s not just holding hands, or singing songs. This love is backbone. This love is a fire down below. This love is a juggernaut. This love is a steel chain linking our histories, our cultures, our colors, our futures.” [excerpted from this beautiful speech by Ben Hunter on Martin Luther King, Jr Day 2017]
Nick Loss-Eaton (roots music publicist, Leland Sundries’ bandleader)
“Love today to all of the women, Muslim Americans, immigrants, hippies, LGBTQ members, recovering addicts & alcoholics, people who consider themselves freaks, intellectuals, interracial couples, artists, environmentalists, minorities, people of color, people with pre-existing conditions, liberals, moderates, worried conservatives, dissenting patriots, professors, journalists, Latinos/Latina Americans, socialists, African-Americans, people who believe that black lives matter, people who live non-traditional lives, feminists, those scared of world-ending events like nuclear war and global warming, homeless people, the poor, those who act out of love and not fear, labor union members, seniors, mixed race people, and teachers. I am with you.”
Raina Rose (artist, mother)
“Let’s grow vegetables. Let’s grow flowers. Let’s have potlucks. Let’s have picnics. Let’s go on hikes. Let’s ride bikes. Let’s stand up. Let’s lay down. Let’s really listen. Let’s really talk. Let’s not despair. Let’s care. It’s in our hands now, let’s not let it go.”
Eve Sheldon (trans Folk/Roots artist, formerly of The Wilders)
“When we feel left out and unheard, it’s good to think of those who have been left out and unheard for a long time…it can only make us all stronger and more aware. Personally, as a result of my transition, I have been allowed to see life from a viewpoint very, very few people get to have: to move from being a privileged and safe member of our society to being a marginalized member of a minority…one that has to feel anxiety and sometimes even fear regarding social acceptance and personal safety, simply by being visibly who and what I am. Being open-eyed and mindful of “other-ness” is very important to me. I know what it is like to live as a person who is visibly “different”, as well as what it’s like to live with your “difference” as a secret hidden from others. In these hard times, i hope to become even more of a safe harbor and helpmate to those who live that experience…as well as, when needed, a kind-hearted educator to those who do not.”