Music and musicians have been at the heart of the Occupy movement. And while there may not be a single anthem that defines the cause; a notable, and badass artist who has used her voice to stand with the 99% is Amanda Palmer. The founding member of the Dresden Dolls has been performing impromptu ‘ninja gigs’ all over the country including Oakland, Vancouver, New York, and in her hometown of Boston. Amanda uses social media outlets like Twitter (@amandapalmer) and her blog to share her travels and ultimately bring new faces to the movement. We got a chance to catch up with the ukulele cabaret punk who shared her thoughts on the power of music and her hopes for what the movement is really occupying in all of us.
What was your mission in playing at Occupy events?
Mostly to bring attention and awareness to the fact that it was happening. I generally do free, spontaneous outdoor shows (I call them “ninja gigs”) everywhere I go, and since I had a tour coinciding with the start of the movement, it made sense to gather people at Occupy instead of a random local park. I like connecting the dots. A lot of my fans hadn’t been to their city’s Occupy site, and this was a good excuse to get them there to experience the site in person instead of just seeing footage on CNN. On top of that, I liked the idea that I could bring some random joy to the actual occupiers… like a traveling minstrel. I played music that was both geared towards the movement and played music that was totally irrelevant and simply entertaining… but that’s not actually irrelevant, is it?
The Occupy movement has exploded all over the world. Since your travels to many of the occupation sites, what do you think is really at the heart of this movement?
People are discontent and this was a chance, an outlet, a platform from which to express their discontent. And yes, I think the Occupy movement has had an effect. It brought people together, it tightened communities, and it reminded a whole generation that democracy requires participation to function. If it only leaves a small wave in the ocean, that wave will hopefully grow to a tsunami when today’s teenagers grow into tomorrow’s leaders and recall the images of people trying to speaks their minds.
How did you see music play a role or place in the Occupy movement?
I think music and protest are perfect bedfellows. Music can often get to to the emotional heart of a matter much more quickly than speaking, that’s why songs are so powerful. Can you imagine the Vietnam War protests without the soundtrack provided by the generation of music-makers? Way more boring.
Do you think music has the power to cause real change?
What kind of change? I think music often changes people more than anything. Even if it’s just for a moment. It’s funny, I’ve been thinking lately what the world would look and feel like if music were suddenly removed from political TV ads, from commercials, from films? Imagine this clip about Occupy (my favorite) without the soundtrack. Music provides a bridge into the deeper parts of our emotional beings.
In your blog posts about your travels to the Occupy sites, you mentioned that “what was bizarre was how INCREDIBLY similar the feel of every occupation was; yet how different the energy was depending on the city.” Could you give an example of how the energy was different from place to place?
Oi vey. Sure. The energy at Occupy LA was slightly off-putting… Everywhere I turned people were getting pissed at each other. The main square was pumping techno and people were hula-hooping and playing soccer, but the vibe wasn’t very…inclusive? I mean, in a way it was sort of cheerful, but it also just seemed like Burning Man had taken over a city block and people were just psyched for the party. Then again, my experience in all these places was based on an hour or so of walking around. Oakland had incredibly hard-working, peaceful energy around it. The energy in Boston was also very Boston-y, super-intellectual and slightly grumpy. The energy in Vancouver was stark … A death by overdose had taken place there two days before.
What was single the most interesting thing you saw at Occupy?
i was definitely impressed by the vision of someone at Occupy Oakland providing ice cream en masse for the occupiers and the general public… and for good measure, here’s some beautiful graffiti at Occupy Vancouver:
Some people think the movement is fading. What are your thoughts on that? What do you think is (should be?) next for the movement, and the young activists involved?
My thoughts are that the movement will evolve. If it’s fading, then it’s fading and it’s served whatever purpose it was supposed to serve. The real question is whether people will keep voicing their opinions without the romance and the drama of the tents and encampment. One of the best things I think could come of this is the opening of people’s eyes to how they can take democracy into their OWN hands. On their own street. Maybe some barriers have been broken down and people will feel less reservations about helping their neighbors. I’d hope that’s the case. If we’re going to turn this system around, we have to go deep, to the root, and it means letting go of fear. Fear of helping each other. We’re so disconnected from each other, and we’ve been convinced into it. We’ve all been raised by a culture that lead us to believe that to get ahead, we’ve got to step on the head of the person beneath us. And that’s not really working, is it …for anybody.