BROOKLYN BUZZ: Duo provides soundtrack to Occupy protests

February 20, 2012 Heather Chin
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We’re marching to the beat / Of Occupy Wall Street. / We’rehere to shout / We’ve been left out / We’re turning up theheat.

These are the lyrics to the chorus of the Occupy Wall StreetSong, which was written and composed by Paul Stein, an accordionistand composer who lives in Sunset Park with his family.

Stein, who lived through and participated in protests in the1960s and 1970s, both here in the United States and abroad inEngland, wrote the song in the early weeks of the OWS movement,playing it on his own and with other musicians who wandered over tohim in Zuccotti Park and simply joined in. One of them stayed.

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It was October, 2011, when Stephen Carl Baldwin, a Dyker Heightsresident, father and activist on behalf of Brooklyn’s wild parrots,decided to visit the OWS protest/campsite with a tambourine. Whenhe met Paul, he gained the courage to perform more regularly – withhis guitar.

I helped to bring out the inner performer in Steve, who’s usedto being in a band. I’m a solo act, said Stein. We gave eachother confidence. I always feel better when performing with Stevebecause he’s a good singer and guitar player.

Since then, the two have gone on to become the unofficial Occupymusicians, performing classic protest songs such as We ShallOvercome alongside original songs written by Stein and set tofamiliar melodies. There is the Occupy Thanksgiving Song set to anursery rhyme from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Occupy’s theWay set to the tune of Jingle Bells, and Occupying Homes forthe Holidays – written to protest home foreclosures by banks thatthemselves received government bailouts.

Together, they are the Occuponics, an inclusive, eclectic andparticipatory musical project meant to complement the Occupymovement. On their websites,, they post lyrics and press coverage oftheir many performances across the country at different events andprotests. Locally, the Occuponics have performed at Wall Streetmarches, with Occupy Sunset Park, and Occupy the Bronx.

We send messages through music to people [live] and people whohear it on the radio. Singing is a wonderful way to bond, it raisespeople’s spirits, said Stein. I’ve written topical songs for along time, [including when] I was a civil servant and active in theunion. In the 1990s, [during a city parade], we rented a truck andsound system and I sat there and played labor songs. ‘Organize’ wasmy original.

Although he was late to the protest music scene, Baldwin saidthat after nearly five months, he already feels a sense offulfillment from his music and being part of the Occuponics.

Music is what I feel most comfortable doing, most alive doing,he explained. Last Saturday, three drummers were arrested and itbrought everybody down. What do you do? You’ve got to choose asong, lift and turn the mood.

One does make economic sacrifices – this is a terrible careermove for me – and I probably could have found another editing jobin this time, but it’s something I was born to do, he added.

As described by Stein, the three aspects of Occupy folk protestmusic are: sending a message about what the issues are, bringingpeople together to participate, and uplifting people in the faceof a difficult struggle.

That spirit of open, inclusive participation is a corephilosophy of the Occupy movement, as well as movements past andfuture, said both men, who noted that being from Brooklyn, theyalso appreciate the diversity and universality of the people andmusic they bring.

Recently, at Washington Square Park, I saw kids with bannersand had a flashback to the ‘70s. The kids aren’t the same, but Isee continuity, said Baldwin. The music changes, the issueschange, but the feeling stays the same.

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