Baltimore: “We Shouldn’t Pretend this is New”

President Obama today, addressing the situation in Baltimore, said, “This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.”

Since Ferguson, and with every new (yet depressingly not new) incident of racialized violence involving the police and people of color, I’ve been thinking a lot about Phil Ochs, the extraordinarily gifted singer-songwriter of the 1960s.

Ch4.OchsOnstage in Carnegie Hall in 1965, Ochs described an effective protest song as “a song that’s so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit.”

One of Phil Ochs’ most prescient protest songs is called “In the Heat of the Summer,” written in the wake of the race riots that swept through Harlem in 1964. Sadly it resounds as much today as it did fifty years ago. Listen below and see if you don’t agree. I’ll follow the original with a poignant cover by Judy Collins.

Sometimes we need to speak (and sing) in ways that are so pointed and specific that our words “cannot be mistaken for bullshit.” I think President Obama came close today.


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