“I think it’s time for the whole nation to start listening to something that means something…this is everybody’s land, this is not just my land, this is our land. This land belongs to everybody; if they would think like that, we’d have a better United States. You know it’s really rough what the colored entertainers have to go through sometimes in their travels.” – Roebuck “Pops” Staples
Reading those words today, you see they are just as relevant as they were in 1964 when Pops was interviewed in the American Folk Music Occasional. Though time has progressed and the world continues to spin, we are forced to revisit the same issues again and again, old prejudices detonating like landmines. Technology has advanced, the world has seemingly been brought closer together, but we are more far apart than ever.
I have stayed relatively quiet on the subject of Mr. Donald Trump as this whole debacle has been going on, because I pride myself on biting my tongue when it comes to emotions. But, sadly, it has come to the point now where his nomination is eking towards inevitability. I have listened to his states over the past few months in disbelief, hoping it to be some terrible fever-dream that I will soon be shaken out of. Obviously, reality can be ignored no longer.
Imagine a room with a stage, there are two people seated on chairs in complete darkness. The spotlight goes up on Trump, his eyes mere slits and his shoulders tense and hunched. A disembodied voice asks Trump to voice his opinions on various races:
and it doesn’t stop at race, but gender and sexuality as well:
Women: “Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers. The person who came up with the expression ‘the weaker sex’ was either very naive or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye — or perhaps another body part.”
Donald Trump’s deficits are obvious to most rational men, but his greatest his perhaps his blatant racism. His racist views are dragging this country back to The Dark Ages, kicking and screaming into the void. He has said bitter, disgusting things that turn my stomach on a daily basis. His rhetoric is tinged with disgust for anyone that doesn’t fit his perfect model of success. And it’s not aimed at just one creed or nationality; he aims to include every person who isn’t a white male of significant financial means. I can forgive a lot, and I have in my life, but racism is one set of ideas that I simply can never forgive.
The spotlight fades from Trump, the last thing we see his a frown on his face and he tries to bribe the spotlight operator to put him back in the spotlight.
The light hits a smiling face that has been smiling for most of her seventy-six years. Born in Mississippi and eventually migrating with her family to our own fair city (“Chicago wasn’t always easy, but love made the Windy City breezy), she saw segregation firsthand all her life. She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and sang the praises of life, even when the hoses were being turned on. In the past five years she has had a renaissance of sorts, with three new albums, two of which were produced by Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy, garnering two Grammy Awards.
That woman is Mavis Staples.
I’ve seen her twice in concert and tomorrow will be the third. Being in her presence is like having peace injected straight into your veins. Her smile lights the room and, well, let’s just saying there’s a reason they “don’t call her “Bubbles” for nothin’, now!” (Watch her perform the song that quote comes from by following this link.) Even though she has suffered as part of one of the greatest injustices of our age, she has remained a calming and powerful woman.
I don’t pretend that I know what’s going on in her mind, because I’ve never experienced a past like hers. I’m twenty-four years old and white, but I still connect with this brilliant woman’s message of peaceful protest. Her songs move me to tears and joy as much as Mozart and Sondheim. It’s because what she sings about doesn’t have a color – it’s about the human experience.
Her life, also, has been dedicated to bringing people together, not forcing barriers between them. She is continuing Dr. King’s mission of peaceful protest, singing modern day songs that question why we’re still hanging onto the past when the future should look more beautiful than ever. Black, White, Gay, Straight, Christian, Atheist – she accepts you for what you are, no matter what you’ve been through.
That is why I’m nominating Mavis Staples for President in the 2016 Election. What better candidate is there than this woman, who has seen life with wisdom, kindness and a talent that cannot be extinguished? What this country needs now is for people to come together and accept each other as individuals who want to live happily on this Earth. Nothing is going to come from tearing apart the seams of this country just to please those are simultaneously bankrolling and strangling it. If Donald Trump, a non-politician, can come this far towards a nomination, then who says Mavis can’t?
In lieu of a proper nomination speech from her (Mavis if you’re reading this, I’d love to get a statement from ya!), I’ll let two short quotes from two songs Mavis has sung in her life, The Band‘s “The Weight” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in The Wind”:
“I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin’ about half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
“Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?”
He just grinned and shook my hand and, “No”, was all he said
Take a load off Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off Annie
And you put the load right on me”
“Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea ?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free ?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
Tags: 2016 election, blowin in the wind, bob dylan, chicago, donald trump, feminism, gay rights, greg kot, Illinois, martin luther king jr., mavis, mavis staples, political, politics, pops staples, presidential election, racism, thalia hall, the band, the staple singers, the weight