Reading Tom Morello’s ‘Rage’ Against Paul Ryan

Musician and activist Tom Morello was a special guest at the annual Sidney Hillman Foundation Prize ceremony honoring advocacy journalism and activism last May, the first time I ever heard him in person, either speaking or singing. He’s a determined battler against entrenched, monied interests in our society and political culture, and also skilled at rousing a whole auditorium to sing along with him, as we did on “Union Town” and “This Land is Your Land.”

I wrote about the Hillman awards and Morello in May, a presentation that also featured Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, and Ta-Nehisi Coates and so am glad to see today that Tom’s directing his voice against the Romney-Ryan ticket. Upon learning that the right-wing VP nominee is supposedly a fan of Morello’s band, Rage Against the Machine, Morello’s published an opinion piece in Rolling Stone. Here’s a selection from the opening of his column:

Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades. . . . Ryan claims that he likes Rage’s sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don’t care for Paul Ryan’s sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage. I wonder what Ryan’s favorite Rage song is? Is it the one where we condemn the genocide of Native Americans? The one lambasting American imperialism? Our cover of “Fuck the Police”? Or is it the one where we call on the people to seize the means of production? So many excellent choices to jam out to at Young Republican meetings!

I recall when “Born in the U.S.A.” was released in 1984, after learning that Ronald Reagan, running for reelection, supposedly liked his album, Bruce Springsteen drolly remarked, “I wonder which song is his favorite.” I urge you to read Morello’s whole article, which pulls no punches, as he ends it by wondering if elected whether Ryan may

My hope is that maybe Paul Ryan is a mole. Maybe Rage did plant some sensible ideas in this extreme fringe right wing nut job. Maybe if elected. . . . He’ll fill Guantanamo Bay with the corporate criminals that are funding his campaign – and then torture them with Rage music 24/7. That’s one possibility. But I’m not betting on it.

Here are some more pictures from the Hillman Prize night, shots of Morello and others.

Prizing Great Advocacy Journalism at the Hillman Awards

“We want a better America.” These were the first words printed in the program of the 62nd annual Hillman Prizes. Reading them I experienced a moment of cognitive dissonance, for only a few days earlier Mitt Romney had uttered something similar at a campaign rally: “A better America begins tonight.” However, the words in the program were spoken in 1946 by Sidney Hillman, a very different public figure than the presidential candidate, who had a very different public agenda than the quarter-billionaire politician. Hillman was President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, and he spoke them a couple months before his untimely death at age 59. The foundation that was later started in his honor has been giving out prizes for the best in advocacy journalism since 1950. Winners in previous years have included Murray Kempton, Bill Moyers, Spike Lee, Maria Hinojosa, and Robert McNeil and Jim Lehrer.

The latest rendition of the awards was held, fittingly, on May Day. I had been invited to attend by Tom Watson of who asked more than a dozen bloggers to be part of a guest blogging contingent for this event at the New York Times Center. We were seated with a prime view of the presenters and recipients, with access to wifi so we could live tweet the proceedings. I emerged a few hours later, fired up and rededicated to the proposition that dedicated reporters, photographers, broadcasters, and authors really do make a difference in people’s lives.

The evening kicked off with remarks by Bruce Raynor, President of the Hillman Foundation, who observed that while New York Times columnist David Brooks has over the past few years been naming recipient of his “Sidney” awards, named in honor of conservative thinker Sidney Hook, the Hillmans have been giving out their “Sidney awards” for decades, and I promptly tweeted that we were at the “progressive Sidneys.” Here’s a rundown on the honorees, with takeaways from the speeches, and photos from the evening, reproduced here from notes and partial audio tape. Corrections welcome, please excuse any errors or omission; for further information, this link will take you directly to the Hillman Prize website. Click on this link to read about all the honorees and view lots more photos. // more. . .