Like most people, I reacted with horror at the video of a Columbia SC police officer grabbing a high school student by the neck and throwing her across the room. No classroom infraction warrants this, and certainly not a refusal to put away a cell phone or leave class. But today, my thoughts are with the girl’s friend, Niya Kenny, who was handcuffed and arrested as well for daring to object. Speaking up to others, saying “this is wrong, somebody do something” was deemed illegal too, and that is even harder for me to believe.
I filled the novel x0 with music that spoke to the part of me that wants a better world. I’m going through each of my blogs and expanding my writing on each song, and on today’s to-do list was the 1967 Buffalo Springfield song “For What it’s Worth.” As part of the rewrite, I’ve just watched about a dozen different videos of it, and each time I listened to it, the echos of the Columbia incident would run through my mind.
“Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away”
Both girls were charged with “disturbing school”, a criminal offense in South Carolina. I listen to this old song and remember the feeling that we all need to “disturb school” and disrupt life when it means standing up for what is right.
Because life works that way, today I also came across a moving post entitled Why I’m prejudiced & So Are You and in my humble opinion it ought to be required reading for the human race, preferable followed by lively and healing discussions held among people with vastly different bodies. Allow me to quote one of my favorite lines from it. “I know that every body on this Earth has equal, unsurpassable worth.” Who can disagree with that? And yet …. well, read the article.
Here, by the way, is the updated post on my music page. For what it’s worth.
The first time that Lola learns of the complex and sometimes destructive history of oil exploration in Nigeria, the song “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield (1967) begins to play in her head. The haunting tune and veiled warnings of this forty year old song perfectly fit the troubled tone of the news article that she is reading and also describe the feelings of helplessness and anger that learning of this history produces.
Lola turned to the major news outlets and found that British news, particularly the BBC, did a far better job of covering news from Africa that any U.S. source that she could find. Reading through BBC articles, Lola learned that less than a month ago, on June 30, Amnesty International had released a report calling the years of pollution and environmental damage in the Niger Delta a “human rights tragedy.” The report claimed that the oil industry had caused impoverishment, conflict, and human rights abuses in the region, that the majority of cases reported to Amnesty International related to Shell, and that Shell must come to grips with its legacy in the Niger Delta. The report noted that Shell Petroleum Development Company is and has been the main operator in the Niger Delta for over fifty years and is also facing legal action in The Hague concerning repeated oil spills that have damaged the livelihoods of Nigerian fisherfolk and farmers.
Lola found Buffalo Springfield’s 1967 hit “For What It’s Worth” starting in her head while she read the news article on the internet on her lunch break. Was it because the song’s haunting tune and warnings fit the troubled tone of the story? Or maybe she had just heard Bob whistling the refrain in the break room….
In the article, the BBC went on to report that Shell had defended itself in a written statement provided to the BBC arguing that “about eighty-five percent of the pollution from our operation comes from attacks and sabotage that also puts our staff’s lives and human rights at risk. In the past ten days we have had five attacks.” The Shell response added that “in the last three years, gangs have kidnapped one hundred and thirty-three Shell Petroleum Development Company employees and contractors while five people working for our joint venture have been killed in assaults and kidnappings in the same period.”
The general insecurity in the area, according to Shell, is what prevents it from running maintenance programs that might otherwise be run. Meanwhile, militants in the Niger Delta say they stage attacks on oil installations as part of their fight for the rights of local people to benefit more from the region’s oil wealth. Others argue that the attacks are staged mostly for the attackers’ financial gain.
Lola read the article with sadness, feeling for so many individuals now trapped on multiple sides of a bad situation. She had no trouble believing that Shell had behaved poorly, maybe even abysmally, decades ago, destroying the livelihoods of Nigerians they probably had barely noticed. But today, she needed an armed guard in Lagos to go from the hotel to the office. Who was in the right? How did one solve this sort of mess?
When it comes to this classic, one has a lot of fine video performances to chose from. Dates range from 1967 through a live Buffalo Springfield performance at Bonaroo in 2011, not to mention a wealth of covers by notable artists and several moving montages created on YouTube showing scenes form the Vietnam War and various protests. I decided to step out of the box on this one and link to the original Buffalo Springfield performing way back when on the Smothers Brothers show. This clip will remind you of just how young these guys were when they wrote this song, and of the goofy humor of that era in the midst of the turmoil. Enjoy!
If you’re interested in more, you can learn about the history of the song, hear serious performances from 1967, 1982 and 2011, or buy the song at Amazon.com.