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Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello on May Day 'Guitarmy' and the Occupy Spring

Morello says working-class folk and union people shouldn't just fight bad legislation -- they should put forward their own agenda for a better world.

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"I didn't really choose to be a guitar player," Morello said. "It was like a calling -- something that chose me. And so for my entire career, it's been a challenge to meld my ideas and my passion for social activism with my vocation as a guitar player. And that's led down many winding roads, including performing today for Occupy Wall Street in Union Square, and then accepting this beautiful award from you nice people here tonight.

"The thing that has really pushed me out of the nest into the world of social activism is the double-edged sword of American democracy, which is freedom of choice. You look at it, and some people are free to chose between Rolls Royce and Lamborghini, while others are free to chose which dumpster they're going to get their next meal out of tonight. Some people are free to chose whether they'll spend the evening at their Hamptons estate, their penthouse apartment, while others are choosing which bridge they're going to sleep under tonight. Some people are choosing which homes and farms to foreclose on, and which drone missile to kill which civilians with, while others choose to march in the streets and raise their voices for a more just society. So this award is for them."

As he performed for the eminences of the New York labor movement scene in the TimesCenter, Morello lightly teased his prize-givers as "people in suits," who took his instruction for hand-clapping politely and in unison. "Some of my Occupy friends -- they will not clap rhythmically and in time."

When Harry Belafonte, in his own words, "pass[ed] the torch" of his own Hillman award to Morello, he observed, "To be an activist and an artist is not always the most comfortable thing one can do. There's a price to be paid."

But, truth be told, Tom Morello appears to revel in his role of rabblerousing troubadour. If that mantle causes him discomfort, you'd never know to look at him.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/addiestan