Protest: Valerie June on Climate Change and the Black Lives Matter Movement | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, October 3rd, 2023  

Protest: Valerie June on Climate Change and the Black Lives Matter Movement

Dream Weaver

Dec 08, 2021 Photography by Tommy Kha Issue #68 - Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)
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Where most may find it ironic that songwriter Valerie June made masks for Memphis police officers in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is as natural to her as the way her songs come to her. Or how she subtly weaves her compassion for Mother Earth in with racial justice issues. June is no doubt a gentle and caring soul, but like her songs’ impact on the listener she can get your head spinning with a patchwork of thoughts and ideas before you realize where you have ended up. To her, it’s all part of the same package.

On climate change issues, June has wide ranging concerns. “From fossil fuels, to the basic way we treat our planet and being able to get healthy foods to underprivileged communities in New York and throughout the poverty stricken parts of the world,” she says. “And as we see our planet becoming more populated, we really need to start to make the shift, or I’m worried that we won’t have a planet for these younger generations.”

June, who earlier this year released a new album on Fantasy, The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, participated in last year’s virtual Farm Aid benefit and learned about regenerative farming as well. “We can reverse much of the cycle of our carbon footprint that we put upon the Earth, because the carbon will be stored in the dirt,” she explains. “So the soil could actually heal the planet.” She’s also encouraged by a rise in the numbers of African American farmers who had the deck stacked against them going back to right out of slavery.

With respect to the racial equality movement, June’s focus has been on the African American woman. Though her “Say Her Name” protest sign was inspired by Breonna Taylor it is also much broader. June splits time between Tennessee and New York. “As soon as I got back to Brooklyn, I was told that we had a Black Lives Matter street painted on Fulton Avenue,” June says about a recent return to New York. “I took a walk down there, and you see Black Lives Matter written, but they also wrote every name thus far of known cases of police brutality. And it’s just so emotional. You’re walking over the names, and there are so many women that are affected. And it can be easy to think that it doesn’t affect Black women as well, but it does.”

Though the extent of the problem is overwhelming, June also sees a chance for change. “The veil has been torn, and we see exactly where we need to heal as a nation,” she says.

June was given a recent opportunity to participate in a virtual mindfulness project aimed at Memphis schools and one of the other participants was a Memphis police officer. And it was for this officer and his squad that June made and delivered masks. “When I’m speaking to you about loving kindness and mindfulness, the only way is that we embrace and we respect and appreciate everyone, uniform or not,” June explains.

“At the end of the day,” June concludes, “any changes that we wish to see with ‘Say Her Name,’ with climate change—if we can personalize it all, if we can go within and take it as our personal responsibility, even a spiritual responsibility, then our Earth can be elevated.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online. The issue was our 2021 Protest Issue, in which we once again examined the intersection of music and politics and conducted photo shoots with musicians holding protest signs of their own making.]

Also read our interview with Valerie June on The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers.

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