Joe Hill“Back in the day” is a phrase which is usually employed by people who oppose change simply on the basis that it makes them feel old. This time though, it would be appropriate to use the phrase, simply on the basis, that things really were different back in the day.

Once upon a time, it was always the case that any kind of significant – and sometimes not-so-significant – rally or event would attract at least one angry young singer, prepared to thrust themselves to the forefront of the protest, often risking arrest or assault as they made their point. Phil Ochs, of course, was one such singer. Phil would travel anywhere for a cause he believed in, but where are the Phil Ochs’ of today?

It’s unfair to say there aren’t any angry young men, willing to carry their guitar to a place they’ve never heard of, to support people they don’t know in a cause most of the world don’t even know exists, but it’s a rarity in today’s social media-driven political landscape. In the same way that most politicians are now almost exclusively professional politicos from the moment they can avoid answering a direct question, so it’s true that most protests are done in the largely faceless world of Facebook and Twitter.

Feel the need to add your voice to a cause? Don’t worry about pouring into the streets, simply log on and add your name to a fairly pointless list on a fairly pointless website. It will be ignored, but at least you’ll know you tried, right?

Wrong.

The world doesn’t get changed by internet petitions, it gets changed by direct action. That’s not to say you have to throw petrol bombs at lines of police in riot gear, or you have to smash every window of the UN building, it just means having the will to get off your backside and attend rallies in support of worthy causes, to lobby your own Mayor/Governor/MP/Whoever to support the cause, and to try and effect the change directly. If you can play the guitar and sing, whilst you do it, all the better.

Just as Joe Hill died when he took a volley of bullets to the chest, not because he murdered someone, but because he believed in fighting on the side of right, Phil Ochs died not because he put a belt around his neck and closed a door, but because he’d fought and fought, and ultimately couldn’t get past the fact that he felt he’d failed. Their deaths, and countless others, guarantees the rest of us the right to legitimate protest.

If we don’t exercise that right, then we probably deserve all we get.