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This Guitar Fights Enclosure

David Rovics' musical tribute to the commons.

David Rovics hates the word “protest singer,” probably because it conjures up so many clichés about the Sixties, music and political change. And in truth, he and his music are about much more than politics. I’d say he speaks more about the human condition in these times….. which, for any sentient being in the Bush era, necessarily involves politics.

I was unfamiliar with Rovics, but after browsing his website, it is clear that he has paid some serious dues as a self-published songwriter, a constantly touring performer and a progressive activist. Thanks to a YouTube video that Kim Klein recently brought to my attention, I discovered Rovics’ stirring song and video, The Commons. It’s a succinct and spirited affirmation of the commons against the corporate enclosures of our time.

Rovics works in a time-honored tradition. Several years ago, when researching my book Silent Theft, I came across a folk poem that railed with wit against market enclosures:

They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the commons.
But let the greater villain loose
That steals the commons from the goose.

Rovics builds on this sturdy poetic tradition, puts it to music, and adds some animation behind him on a green-screen. Check out the video for the full effect, but here’s a sampling of the lyrics to The Commons:

You build your fences, and say there’s nothing we can do.
Say the world around us belongs purely to the few.
But about six billion people no doubt will agree
This world is our home, not your property.

You claim to own the harvest with your Terminator seed.
You claim to own the genome with every animal that breeds
You claim to own our culture and the music that we play
And with each song that we download to your copper we must pay.

You’d even own my name and say it’s for the best
Maybe you’ll let us on the radio if our songs will pass your test.
You own country, you own western, you say you’ve given us a choice,
You may own the airwaves But you’ll never own my voice.

It’s the commons, our right of birth.
And you who would enclose the land all around the earth
Our future is your downfall when we cut this ball and chain.

The song is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license (BY-NC-SA).

You can check out Rovics’ upcoming gigs and albums at his website