“Brother Can You Spare a Dime”

“Happy Days are Here Again”

 Maybe if we could find one song that nearly every faction could agree upon, protest music might find new life in the 21st century. I nominate an old Jim Garland number that originated during the Great Depression. You can hear its essential refrain spoken in almost every corner of contemporary American life. I don’t want your millions, Mister/ I don’t want your diamond ring/ All I want is the right to live, Mister/ Give me back my job again. Our millionaire politicians need to hear this song as they are all detached from the real world. The destitute aren’t jealous of the rich as all they want is a job paying enough for a normal life

 “Brother can you spare a dime,”lyrically, is the entire history of the Depression in a single phrase “It’s not, ‘I’ve lost my family. I don’t have my home.’ ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?’ I’m talking to you.” We have many homeless and unemployed presently uttering this song and may increase in quantity soon.

During WW1 one of the most successful protest songs to capture the widespread American skepticism about joining in the European war was “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier,” or a song that dealt with   children who had been orphaned by the war was “War Babies,” in 1916. This song could have been sung since the Vietnam War. Our Presidential candidates want to keep this song alive by bombing Iran.  

Detroit factories had begun advertising in Southern cities for black workers as early as 1917. Paid less than their white counterparts, they were offered the hardest, hottest work in the auto foundries, called “the black department.” Michigan’s black population of 17,000 in 1910 soared to over 117,000 in the 1920s. Borrowing from the practices of Southern plantation patriarchs, Henry Ford paid black workers $1 a day in 1931 and invested the other $3 owed them into ‘communal enterprises’ in the subdivision called Inkster. Blues songwriter and performer Victoria Spivey vented some of the angst of black Detroit in her “Detroit Moan.” This sounds like the modern farm workers working a 60 hour week in the heat for minimal wages.

Woody Guthrie songs “This Land is Your and“Deportee’s”, “Dust Bowl Blues,” and “Tom Joad were pro union songs of the days of the 1930-40s labor movement that describe today’s unemployed or those working part time in low wage service jobs with no health insurance.

I would like to end these songs of my day “With Plenty Of Money And You” This song expressed the fantasy of many young men during the Depression. Unemployment meant the deferral of family life, and the marriage rate plummeted along with job opportunities. Couples already married tended to stay as divorce cost money.

There have been many- many protest song since, especially during the 60s, but wanted to share songs many people have forgotten, but could describe for many in our country protest songs that could relate to many Americans today.

It’s questionable if they made any changes in the economy or treatment of minorities, but brought those suffering together for a common cause.

I brought this subject up as attended a group meeting from the Occupy movement with my daughter and they sang an original protest song written by some members of the group. It brought back memories of my youth.

Songs and cartoons are as effective as many words in expressing a views and understanding issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life.



2 responses to ““Brother Can You Spare a Dime”

  1. Vicki Sue McKinnis

    Thanks so much for this interesting article. One has to wonder what lyrics we’ll be singing here in the USA as the heat is turned up even more. The songs in the hearts of the Greek folks, with the “austerity measures” being forced upon them, may be giving us some previews.

  2. Yes, songs, poetry and art sometimes spread faster and penetrate more deeply than other means. Look at the video “Kuni 2012” as a great example. I read this article today:See Chucks column at: http://chuckbaldwinlive.com/home/?p=4471

    “I can’t stress enough that our liberties will be won or lost at the State level. All of the evil machinations that spew forth from that Cesspool By The Potomac would have absolutely no bearing upon or authority over our lives without the approbation of our State leaders.If our states had governors like Patrick Henry and State legislators and senators like Samuel Adams today, Washington, D.C., would not be the obnoxious bully that it is. And let’s face it: some states are better positioned to reclaim their lawful jurisdictional authority than other states. Furthermore,I am personally convinced that all it would take would be for three orfour states to draw their “line in the sand” and a host–maybe even a majority–of other states would quickly follow suit. And I further believe that my home State of Montana is uniquely poised to be one of those states. The problem in Montana, however, is similar to that of most states:the “good-old-boy,” “politics-as-usual,”“scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours” politicians are ensconced in the State political infrastructure. And it’s going to take some political dynamite to blast them out! And that dynamite is a courageous constitutionalist (or better yet, a host of courageous constitutionalists) who is not afraid to take on these arrogant elitists and restore the principles of liberty to their states. In short, the status quo has to go!”

    This article gave me some hope in that in the national political scene I feel like I have little influence. But we can make a difference in our cities and states. States can influence the national government.

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