By Rosetta Miller Perry
There are a few country artists whom I enjoy and admire, but my favorite by a large margin is Willie Nelson for many reasons.
First, he’s a strong supporter of social justice.
Second, he has written many great songs that Black artists have covered, most notably “Funny How Time Slips Away.”
Third, he has worked with such Black artists as Wynton Marsalis and Mavis Staples and even recorded a reggae album. Fourth, at 88 he remains passionate and involved in numerous causes even though he could easily just sit back and enjoy his wealth.
This past summer he performed at the Georgetown to Austin March for Democracy, joining other activists in demanding federal action on voting rights legislation. The current laws in Texas are so restrictive that both Nelson and his wife Annie D-Angelo Nelson had to try twice before they could cast absentee votes in a recent election.
Like other states’ restrictive laws, Texas’ SB! has an identification requirement that states a voter must use the same ID to cast a ballot as the one they used when they first registered to vote. D’Angelo-Nelson described the advice she was given, which was to simply list every ID she could think of in hopes of a match.
“I looked up the advice and the advice was: put every number you know. It’s just not right,” D’Angelo-Nelson told the Austin-American Statesman. But the more important thing that the Nelson’s case dramatized was not just high-profile Texans whose ballots were in danger of not being counted: Across 187 of Texas’ 254 counties, 13% of mail-in ballots were rejected—a startlingly high number compared with the under 1% of rejections logged in Texas during the 2020 election.
“If they’re doing it to Willie Nelson, what happens to an 89-year-old woman at home without a lot of help? I’m 65, and I’m fairly technologically capable, and I can find ways. But what happens to all those people? It’s just not fair,” D’Angelo-Nelson added. Nelson and his wife have repeatedly been protesting and demonstrating against Texas’ restrictive voting laws. Nelson even led a demonstration long before the March 1 primary’s early voting period began.
He led the crowd in a rendition of “Vote ‘Em Out” and slammed the more discriminatory elements of SB1. “Laws making it more difficult for people to vote are un-American and are intended to punish poor people, people of color, the elderly, and disabled. Why? If you can’t win playing by the rules, then it’s you and your platform—not everyone else’s ability to vote,” Nelson said in a statement ahead of the rally.
Plus on top of all this, he maintains an extensive traveling, touring and recording session that’s heavier than that of many much younger artists and groups. If more performers had Willie Nelson’s energy and devotion to justice, the world would be a much better place. I laud him for his efforts, and he will always be my number 1 favorite country artist.