Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth

Stephen Stills composed this 1967 song that was a top 10 Billboard hit. Sometimes in politics, things are not what they seem. This song will forever be associated with protests at the time concerning the Vietnam War, and other issues at the time. It’s become an all-purpose protest song: “Hey, what’s that sound?” Well, something’s not right. So, “everybody look what’s goin’ down.” The antagonists are those in authority, “the man,” which can be the government, police, international organizations like the Group of 20 largest world economies… take your pick, and then get out there and speak your minds, young people!

Yet according to the writer, the song was inspired not by any idealistic and grand flower power, hippy call for peace and love and change, but about something comparatively more benign.

This was a curfew and loitering regulation restricting the band’s fans from hanging about where they were playing their nightly shows, on the Sunset Strip, Los Angeles. Hmm… was Stills concerned, more materialistically about potential concert goers not being able to buy tickets and drinks? Hypocritical, though perhaps not. But even if the song was not about changing the world, the broader concern it speaks to is universally important. It ties in with a belief in a basic freedom of assembly human right to come together and represent common interests – to loiter in this case – presumably so long as no harm is being caused to anyone or anything. A protest over the curfew reportedly drew about 1,000 people, including actors Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda.

Freedom of assembly is sometimes used synonymously with freedom of association. It is in section 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is part of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and is constitutionally entrenched as a freedom in many other countries, such as Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan… It is the freedom that makes more recent protests such as the Occupy Movement, possible.

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