On August 18, 1955, Pete Seeger was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Alone among the many witnesses after the 1950 conviction and imprisonment of the Hollywood Ten for contempt of Congress, Seeger refused to plead the Fifth Amendment (which asserted that his testimony might be self incriminating) and instead (as the Hollywood Ten had done) refused to name personal and political associations on the grounds that this would violate his First Amendment rights: "I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this." Seeger's refusal to testify led to a March 26, 1957, indictment for contempt of Congress; for some years, he had to keep the federal government apprised of where he was going any time he left the Southern District of New York. He was convicted in a jury trial of contempt of Congress in March 1961, and sentenced to 10 years in jail (to be served simultaneously), but in May 1962 an appeals court ruled the indictment to be flawed and overturned his conviction.What he is talking about; associations, beliefs, votes and other private affairs, is what we are now calling "metadata".
Just as for Pete Seeger, a certain amount of bravery and sacrifice may yet be required to stem the tide. Let's be absolutely clear, this legislation is depriving us of certain freedoms we have hitherto enjoyed (supposedly) and infringes upon our human rights. Although Labour leader David Shearer has stated that a Labour government would undertake "a thorough review of the spying agency", he somewhat misses the point. Repeal the bill should be his bottom line. That he won't commit to this suggests there is something more at stake. What are we afraid of? It's time to put the taiaha in the sand as we did with our nuclear-free stance during a more gutsy political era. There's no celebration in being nuclear-free wimps.
I've always found songs like We Shall Overcome a little trite but I'm realising now that that's because they were songs out of place. I imagine to be singing the slow anthem en masse in the middle of the American Civil Rights movement would a powerful thing indeed. A simple message, simply stated. It's worthwhile remembering this as we pen our responses to becoming corporate America's puppet yet again. And put your protest songs in the Creative Commons. Copyleft. Then stand up and sing out. Because a hard rain's gonna fall.