A longtime Nashville street musician named Roger Franklin has proudly joined forces with Occupy Nashville, and in early November he began gathering fellow musicians to perform and write songs for and about the movement that has raised such strong emotions on both sides.
“I’m an old activist from the ‘60s myself. I was at Kent State,” Roger said. “I came here to see what they were about at Occupy Nashville, and I absolutely agree with them 100 percent. Our system is broken, and something has to be done. I don’t know what, but something.”
He says he was in high school in the small Ohio town of Kent in the spring of 1970, when Kent State became a site of tragedy and soon the subject of a Top 20 protest song, “Ohio,” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
By the time that song hit in the summer of 1970, Franklin says he was serving in Vietnam.
“Occupy Nashville actually has inspired me musically,” Roger says. “I’ve gotten kind of complacent lately. I’m workin’ on a song about this now.”
Boston’s Dan Wakely has written a song called “The Ballad Of Governor Haslam,” and the outspoken lyrics are on Wakely’s Facebook page. He says he will register both the writer’s and publisher’s share of the copyright directly to the charitable organization Doctors Without Borders, “giving them 100% of the song’s earnings,” Wakely says.
“As a folk country songwriter, I love writing songs with a story theme,” Wakely continued. “Also, this tale needed to be told.”
The Governor became a focus for some in Occupy Nashville after Tennessee Highway Patrol officers arrested several protestors in the wee hours of consecutive nights, though all were released the next morning.
“While every American has the right of assembly and free speech, there is a line that should not be crossed,” Tennessee Republican Party chairman Chris Devaney said in a prepared statement. “When a line of public safety is crossed, action is warranted.”
Occupy Nashville felt differently. One sign at Legislative Plaza read, “The Constitution doesn’t end at 10 p.m.”
Many in Occupy Nashville, including several who had been camping there since early October, seemed to be college age or slightly older. But other supporters were middle-aged, conservative-looking adults.
Anne Williford, who works at Vanderbilt, stopped by with her husband in early November to lend their encouragement. “It’s inspiring to see anybody get off the couch,” she said.
Michael Custer and his Isreal-born wife Sarit, who are both Nashville-based musicians, have been at Occupy Nashville for weeks.
Pointing to the State Capitol across the street, Michael said, “The majority of Americans feel that that House over there no longer represents the people and has not for many, many, many years. It represents solely the people who pay their campaign contributions.
On the night we visited Occupy Nashville, there were several dozen tents set up, a few with signs reading “OCCUPIED.” An older lady in a wheelchair was there, as was a young man working on his laptop. Food was being cooked and served, and the GA meeting began at 7 p.m..
And often, there was music. A guitar player and several backup vocalists sang a song on the steps. The guitarist was playing so passionately that he snapped a string.
“Out here,” Michael Custer said, “we don’t use any amplification, so everything you hear will be folkie sounding. You’ll hear a little bit of everything.”
Kentucky’s David Reason, who plays drums, guitar, and bass on the side, came to Occupy Nashville for a few days off from his home remodeling job in the Bluegrass State.
“It’s been great, man,” he said. “There’s been at all times probably three or four musicians playing. The general vibe has been absolutely ecstatic. This subject matter is what I’ve been writing songs about for five or 10 years.”
By Phil Sweetland