People from many backgrounds have been inspired to “occupy” cities across the nation since Occupy Wall Street began its protest in New York roughly three weeks ago. It was no surprise to see the people of Ashland join in the movement last Thursday, Oct. 6. Roughly 250 protesters gathered in Ashland Plaza. While speeches were being delivered, many people raised signs proclaiming their dissatisfaction with the current economic situation and corporate corruption. Musicians performed while passing drivers honked in support of the crowd. A free dinner was provided for those who stuck around as the evening got colder, and singer/songwriter Patrick Dodd serenaded the crowd with country-folk labor songs.
If you’re a working man or woman in this day and age, songs from Patrick’s latest album, “Workers of the World Unite,” such as “Workin’ Stiffs Song,” “Don’t Need No Boss,” or “Hard Times (Hangin’ Around),” should capture your emotions and your mind. The seventeen songs on the album all focus on the problems of labor. Dodd is a very talented songwriter, able to marry what seems like a never-ending stream of clever and insightful turns of phrase with catchy, sing-along melodies. Many of his songs’ themes draw from events during the long history of labor struggles. One song in particular, called “Walk on Wobbly Walk On,” tells the story of 100 Wobblies (members of the International Workers of the World), from Portland who decided to join their brothers down in Fresno, Calif. to support a strike there. The men hopped a south-bound freight train but were caught and kicked off in Ashland during the dead of the winter in 1911. The Siskiyou Mountains were covered in snow. However, the men decided to continue the 150-mile trek by foot and eventually made it to Fresno where they were faced with gunfire and assault by strike breakers.
As Patrick begins his set, your body sways to the comfort of his sweet music and as you listen to the words he sings you feel a strong connection of solidarity. One of the first musicians Patrick reminds you of is legendary Texas folksinger Townes Van Zandt. Turns out, that’s no coincidence. Dodd says that Townes was one of his teachers in Austin, along with the sadly underappreciated Blaze Foley, and jokes that, “We used to call Austin grad school for song writers. It was a place that you could hang out with Townes Van Zandt and Blaze Foley and Guy Clark.”
Despite his father having been a professional musician and discouraging Patrick from becoming one himself, Dodd stayed stubborn and now has 30 years experience in songwriting and activism. He wrote his first song at the age of 6 and was inspired by the folk singers of his grandparent’s generation, such as Woody Guthrie, Odeta and Pete Seeger. One morning, while living in Colorado, he decided he didn’t want to do anything anymore other than write music. So, he headed out and ended up working in Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tenn. His activist career began when he began receiving frequent calls from his buddies here in Oregon, where he had spent most of his life, saying that they needed help because there had been a change in timber policy and the woods were being eaten alive. As he attended meetings and rallies he realized that the activists’ songs were not current. He and several others began writing songs that were more relevant for the times. After letting it be known that he would be willing to write songs for various causes he was approached by numerous organizations and began writing songs for causes such as AIDS and the American Indian Movement.
Patrick feels strongly about the role of the musician as an activist and has a wealth of inspiring activist moments he has been a part of. However, he believes that his “success rate isn’t garnered on whether everybody listens at this moment. It’s garnered on whether or not I empower the people that are actually trying to change these laws.” Having been a Wobblie himself for many years, he believes strongly in the power of labor unions and says that he thinks “the biggest lie that was wasted on the working population was that unions were bad.” He adds that, “the potential change is in worker discontent” and that “the younger the worker, the more potential there is for change.” As a previous Marine, he believes that “wars are always a group of working stiffs being told to kill a group of other working stiffs. I think one of the best things we could do is unionize every army in the world. If you want to go to war, have a vote!”
Patrick can be seen hanging out or performing at Occupy Ashland in between a few other performances he has coming up in Eugene and possibly Medford. You can also listen to his music free on Patrick’s website, www.patrickdodd.com. Or tune into the weekly outlaw radio show produced by Patrick and his lovely wife Mary, where they perform as Slim and Betty Jean, playing music, performing comedy and discussing current issues at www.takilmafm.com on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. (many of their past shows are archived on the site, and the two have plans to archive the entire series).