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Protest Song of the Day: ‘We Can’t Make It Here’

To recognize the power of protest music, acknowledge its role in keeping dissent alive and how musicians are translating today’s social issues and systemic problems into song, The Dissenter has decided to launch a daily feature that highlights a protest song every day.

Written by singer/songwriter James McMurtry, “We Can’t Make It Here,” is a song about the decline of America and basically how impossible it has become for anyone in the 99 percent to get by. It appeared on his 2005 album, Childish Things. It was one of the more notable protest songs during the era of President George W. Bush.

In the past year, McMurtry decided he would start playing this song again because it seemed to “still be relevant, and that pretty much sucks for everybody but us.” The Occupy movement convinced him it was time to start singing the song again:

…I know the song is still relevant because people are camped out along Wall Street and in front of City Halls around the country and around the globe, demanding a solution to the problems I tried to give light to when I put my song out seven years ago. They are mixed in age and economic status. Some are young and idealistic. Some are old enough to have had their ideals trampled upon a time or two. My son goes to school in the New York area and some of his friends have been involved in the protests. One was detained for nine hours without charge. This is not supposed to happen in our supposedly civilized nation. These people are getting roughed up, but the press only seems to notice when a victim of police brutality happens to be an Iraq war veteran. I’m guessing there are a good many vets in the crowd and the poor fellow in Oakland won’t be the only one hurt. I suppose the cops think the protesters are breaking the law. Seems to me, the Bill of Rights guarantees the right to peaceful assembly. Meanwhile, the one percent, safely ensconced in the tall glass towers, does not have to break the law, because they get to write the law. I thought it was supposed to be the other way around, in a democracy. I think maybe my fourth grade teacher lied to me.

So, a version of the song was recorded with singer/songwriter Steve Earle and folk musician Joan Baez. It appeared on Occupy This Album, an album put together by Music for Occupy to benefit and help sustain the Occupy movement.

Here’s the song:


The Dissenter will be putting one of these up every weekday morning. If you have suggestions for songs that should be featured or if you recorded a song you think should be featured, email

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."