I wanna run

I want to hide

I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside

I want to reach out and touch the flame

Where the streets have no name.

These are tough times for social justice folks. No matter the social justice issue you care most deeply about– food security for the poor, migrant justice, the Syrian refugee crisis, climate change, health care access, LGBTQ equality, transparency in campaign finance, and on and on– there seem to be daily news stories about how we are taking steps backwards on these issues. You may want to run. You may want to hide. For many fans of U2, the combination of seeker-spirituality and social justice themes in their lyrics and Bono’s own explicit advocacy on behalf of civil rights, HIV-prevention, women’s equality, and peace through cultural dialogue can serve to tear down walls. I had the opportunity to experience this tour for myself a couple of weeks ago at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and it was an experience of sacramentality much like the Nada Surf concert I blogged about last year. If you have the chance to see U2 on the 2017 Joshua Tree Tour, I highly recommend it. The images of Joshua Tree National Park on the big screen echo a kind of desert spirituality, with reverence for the natural world and Native peoples in beautiful images that draw you in to the music and a sense of solidarity. The women extinguishing candles as Bono sings “Mothers of the Disappeared” remind us of the violence endured in the borderlands and that those who are lost are not forgotten. Bono doesn’t hide behind an apolitical stance. He tells concertgoers, “Don’t agonize, organize!” and tells us of our responsibility to one another.

Concerts are great. But when I can’t see live shows, my playlists sustain me. I listen to music when I’m driving in the car, folding laundry, cooking dinner, and sometimes in the office when I’m tidying up or checking email. Sometimes just the intro of a song will bring back a flood of memories: Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow” brings me to my high school graduation night in Gulf Shores, Alabama; I hear Matchbox 20 and I’m transported to South Dakota on a road trip with friends from college; Dar Williams’ version of “When I Was a Boy” initiated one of my first “aha” moments in my feminist awakening; the Indigo Girls will always remind me of a road trip to visit my friend at the University of Georgia; my husband and I danced to a David Gray song at our wedding; the first time I saw Wilco live was at at fundraiser for then-Senator Barack Obama; when I hear the War on Drugs I am in the sweltering heat of our garage staining kitchen cabinets. Music and memories — these artists don’t just provide the soundtrack to my life’s journey. They help me create meaning and help me understand myself and my place in the world. I’d be lost without music.

This semester, when teaching an undergraduate course called Christian Changemakers, I asked students what songs they listened to when they wanted to feel inspired towards social activism. I’ve added some of my own to this list. The following playlist meanders through many different genres but the thread that holds together these songs is a thread of social justice. Some songs point out injustices explicitly; some invite self-reflection on power and privilege; some try to inspire you to make a difference. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comment section below. If you don’t already own these albums, consider purchasing the songs or subscribing to a music service that pays the artists for their work. Listen, be moved, and be the change you wish to see in the world…


  1. Equal Rights by Peter Tosh
  2. Get Up Stand Up by Bob Marley and the Wailers
  3. One Day by Matisyahu
  4. Fall on Me by R.E.M.
  5. Beds are Burning by Midnight Oil
  6. What if No One’s Watching by Ani DiFranco
  7. One Tribe by the Black Eyed Peas
  8. Immigrants (Hamilton Mixtape) by K’naan, Snow Tha Product, RizMC & Residente
  9. Fight the Power by Public Enemy
  10. Unconditional Love by 2Pac
  11. One Man Can Change the World by Big Sean
  12. Find No Enemy by Akala
  13. We the People by a Tribe Called Quest
  14. Common People by William Shatner featuring Joe Jackson
  15. One by U2
  16. Where is the Love by the Black Eyed Peas
  17. Mississippi Goddam by Nina Simone
  18. Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday
  19. Let It be Me by the Indigo Girls
  20. A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke
  21. Invisible by U2
  22. Always Love by Nada Surf
  23. This Land is Your Land by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
  24. Shed a Little Light by James Taylor
  25. The Wind by Cat Stevens
  26. The Inside of Love by Nada Surf
  27. The One Thing I Know by Christine Kane
  28. Imagine by John Lennon
  29. Prayer in Open D by Emmylou Harris