Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan: Three Democracy Lessons We Learned from an American Icon

As we celebrate Dylan's 75th birthday, here's what the music icon taught us about democracy.

Olivia Lutwak
Vania Canales-Canales

Seventy-five years ago today, the iconic Bob Dylan was born. He’s remembered not just for his music, but as an artist who pushed social and political boundaries. His folk music told the story of a world in conflict, and his lyrics inspired Americans across the country to address the challenges of their day. Today, we look back on the greatest lessons about democracy we learned from Dylan’s music. 

Dylan wrote The Times They Are a-Changing as an anthem of the shifting political and social dynamic of the 1960s. By definition, change is not static, and his song lives on as a message of change today.

In a political world reshaped by Citizens United and big-money politics, Americans across the country are again struggling to take control of a changing democracy. This year’s election is on track to be the most expensive in history thanks to funding from Super PACs and mega-donors. That gives special interest groups unprecedented influence, all while regular Americans are pushed to the sidelines of our democracy.

“Come senators, congressmen/Please heed the call,” Dylan sings. Today we ask the same. The American people aren’t being heard in our democracy, and it’s time for Congress to act. Ask your representative to support an amendment overturning Citizens United.


Dylan was able to inspire his generation because he refused to confine his thinking to the status quo. He believed that political and social norms were meant to be pushed forward and highlights this in his song, Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.

In many ways, today’s politics are stuck in a holding pattern that can only be broken with a change in the way we think about the problems our country faces. Some lawmakers have accepted big-money politics as an irremovable obstacle in our political landscape. But voters and everyday Americans know it doesn’t have to be this way.

Polls show that a full 78 percent of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support overturning Citizens United. Another 85 percent believe our country’s campaign finance system needs fundamental changes or must be completely rebuilt.

Across the country, Americans are turning that anger into action by passing local and statewide resolutions to overturn Citizens United. In the six years since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates of our democracy to big-money politics, sixteen states and nearly 700 communities nationwide have called for an amendment to overturn the decision.

Will you take a stand against Citizens United?

Released in 1964, Dylan emboldens the voice of the people over the powerful in his song inspired by a storm, Chimes of Freedom. The back and forth of the gloomy, thunderous, dark skies with the sharp and bright lightning bolts enlightened Dylan on the political inequality of his time. He compares the thunderstorm to the overwhelming political system in place and the lightning bolts as the voice of the next generation. 

Dark clouds might loom over today’s politics, but young Americans have struck light on opportunities for campaign finance reform. At the polls, in the streets, and online, millions are calling for reforms that would empower everyday voters over special interests and mega-donors. This spring, Democracy Awakening mobilized 5,000 individuals to march on Congress, demanding an end to Citizens United politics and voting rights protections that give all Americans fair access to the polls.

Today, as we celebrate Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday, his music remains an inspiration in our fight for stronger, more inclusive democracy. “A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom,” Dylan once reflected. As we work to grow our movement to build a government of, by, and for the people, those words are as true as ever.


Olivia Lutwak

Vania Canales-Canales