A Progressive Interview with Tom Morello

Q: Why are these Occupy movements catching on all over?

Morello: There’s a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction with the status quo. The fact that these Occupy movements are explicitly class based is something, is a big difference from previous protests. The fact that they’ve identified the 1 percent as the villain is a real change. In over 1,300 cities and hamlets around the world right now, there’s an Occupy movement going on, on street corners, surrounding federal buildings, in financial districts. I’ve now played at Occupy Vancouver, Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Wall Street, and Occupy L.A., so I’m on my “Occupy America Tour” right now. And the one thing all of them have in common is this deep dissatisfaction with the way that those who own the planet are ruling it. This groundswell of solidarity is very diverse. Much like in Wisconsin, it’s not just old hippies and anarchist punks—it’s the community. And many people are participating in demonstrations for the first time in their lives.

Q: What can other artists and musicians do to help galvanize these protests, in particular the Occupy movement?

Morello: Frankly, that’s not a great concern of mine. I don’t look at musicians as a ghettoized separate community from the rest of the community. The better question is: “What can you do to help?” Whether you’re a musician, carpenter, longshoreman, student, whatever. I know what I’m doing: I stop by in each one of these places, maybe play a few songs, say a few words, invite a few of the occupiers to my show, and continue to fan the flames of discontent. One thing I know for sure: There’s never been a successful progressive, radical, or revolutionary movement in this country that hasn’t had a great soundtrack.

Q: What do you think of Obama’s Presidency?

Morello: [Laughs.] I worked for two years as scheduling secretary for U.S. Senator Alan Cranston, so I have no delusion of what even a progressive Democratic politician is going to be like once they’re in office. Senator Cranston was a very nice guy and fell on the good side of a lot of issues, but he spent most of his time on the phone asking rich guys for money. So, I don’t believe real substantive, progressive change can come from above. And I’ve never been a fan of waiting around for some President or Supreme Court panel to wave a magic wand and set things right. If change is going to happen, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.

Q: Where do you see these Occupy protests going? If the Tunisians and Egyptians can overthrow their government in a dictatorship can people in America overthrow the U.S. government?

Morello: [Laughs.] The short answer is, “Yes, they can.” A lot of young people are realizing they do have their hands on the wheel of history and they can turn it in any direction they so choose.

L.A.-based film historian/critic Ed Rampell is the author of “Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States.” He has interviewed Ed Asner, Jamie Cromwell, Oliver Stone, W. S. Merwin, and Charles Ferguson for The Progressive.

This is but a brief excerpt from the Tom Morello interview in the special Dec/Jan issue of The Progressive entitled "The Global Uprising." To read the whole interview, and the entire issue, simply subscribe to The Progressive for a year for only $14.97 -- that's 75% off the newsstand price -- by clicking here.