Chicks They Ain’t

“Sunday morning – I heard the preacher say –Thou shalt not kill – I don’t wanna hear nothin’ else – About killin’ and that it’s God’s will – ‘Cause our children are watching us –They put their trust in us – They’re gonna be like us – So let’s learn from our history – And do it differently – [I hope] – For more love, more joy and laughter – [I hope] –We’ll have more than you’ll ever need – We’ll have more happy ever afters – [I hope] – And we can all live more fearlessly – And we can lose all the pain and misery – [I hope]. . .

-“I Hope,” by Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Keb ‘Mo’, from Taking the Long Way

Somewhere toward the latter part of the last decade I started hearing about this country group, the Dixie Chicks. Having been first exposed to the women’s movement about 30 years previously, I knew enough to raise an eyebrow at the “chicks” name. I remember thinking something to the effect that they’re probably the stereotypical “stand by your man” type, conservative white women.

Then I finally saw them on TV and/or heard one of their albums. I loved their music and got their first album, Wide Open Spaces. Like most country music, the songs were mainly about love, relationships and human interactions. There was no inkling these “chicks” were in any way political.

A couple of years later, they came out with Goodbye Earl, a tongue-in-cheek ballad about two women joining forces to kill a violently abusive husband. It was a great song, artistically and politically. It also stirred up a lot of reaction among some of the right wingers, mainly men of course, who like women in their proper roles in the songs they sing and in real life.

But the s— really hit the fan in March of 2003 when Natalie Maines, the lead singer, said publicly while performing in London that she was ashamed that she was from Texas, referring to George Bush. And despite much hostile reaction from official Nashville, the group has refused to back down. They continue to speak out against the war and on other social issues, and they’ve made it clear that they can’t stand Bush.

Their courage cannot be underestimated. As one of the most popular musical groups in the country, they have set an important example not just for other artists but for all of us.

They have had a tremendous mass impact, and more power to them.

In an article on their website (, Martie Maguire “says that all three Chicks believe they’ve grown as a result of the incident. ‘I learned I was ready to put my career on the line for something I believed in,’ she says. ‘Emily and I could have pressured Natalie to apologize, and I was so proud that I had that inner strength – that nothing is as important as standing up for what you believe in.’”

And a few weeks ago, on a Larry King interview, Maguire said this: “I just was raised always to question and be as informed as I can be. You know, I think it’s something I want to teach my children, to ask questions and not be afraid to disagree with people in power. Always question, scrutinize everything they do, because they are leading the country, and it’s important to me. That is patriotic.”

There are some lessons to be drawn from all of this.

First, of course, is **not to stereotype.** I periodically hear people who have progressive ideas talk about white southerners as if they’re mostly ignorant members of the KKK. They’re not. While it is true that attitudes of white supremacy and political conservatism are more extensive, in general, among this constituency, that in no way means that they should all be written off, as indicated by a continuing base of support among many white folks in the South for the Dixie Chicks.

Second, **people can grow.** Maguire has said that they’re more interested in continuing to grow with those among their fans who also want to keep growing rather than appealing to the lowest common denominator of their former fan base. And it’s clear that they still have a huge fan base, given the tremendous positive response to “Taking the Long Way,” their latest album, which explicitly affirms that they’re “Not Ready to Make Nice,” the title of one of the major songs, with those who have been attacking them for their political views.

Finally, **there is hope.** This is but one of many examples that things really are turning around in this country. The April 29th march was another one. Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”—the positive response to it—the poll a month or so ago that 70% of the soldiers in Iraq want the military out of there in a year—the massive immigrant rights demonstrations all over the country—all of these are additional indicators that progressive politics are back, and popular.

Maines put the short-term agenda succinctly on Larry King: “We must put an end to mad cowboy disease.”