Saturday, September 24, 2011

Texans I Am Not Ashamed Of II: Willie Nelson

Almost everybody is familiar with Willie Nelson's (born 1933 in Abbott, TX) enormous contributions to the music world. He was one of the founders of the "outlaw country" movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, along with Waylon Jennings (another Texan who I am not ashamed of!), Kris Kristofferson, and other great performers who rebelled against the Nashville country music establishment. His album Red Headed Stranger from 1975 is widely regarded as one of the greatest country albums ever made. And he continues to record and tour actively well into his 70s.

But Willie Nelson has also been an outspoken and active advocate for numerous progressive causes during his long career. Probably the two that he is most well known for are the annual Farm Aid concerts that he started in 1985 with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, to raise money and awareness for the struggle of American family farmers, and his advocacy for reform of restrictive marijuana laws through his position as co-chair of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In 2010 Nelson also created the Tea Pot Party, with the slogan "tax it, regulate it, and legalize it!"

Nelson also has been active in environmental causes and animal welfare. In the 1980s he was one of several celebrities who recorded commercials for the anti-littering "Don't Mess With Texas" advertising campaign. He and his wife Annie have advocated for and invested in the production and use of clean burning bio-diesel fuels made from soybean oil for use in long-distance trucking. He also has worked closely with the Animal Welfare Institute for passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, and has campaigned against cruel living conditions for dairy cattle.

In both the 2004 and 2008 Presidential Elections, Nelson campaigned actively for progressive Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich. He even filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kucinich in 2008, against the Texas Democratic Party, when the party refused to allow Kucinich on the ballot in the Texas Democratic primary.

Willie Nelson has enjoyed a long career in country music. Just as importantly, he has sought to make a positive difference for American society and for the world. He is truly a Texan who I am not ashamed of.

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