We’re Gonna Dump the Judge

The judge took his position,
The judge he wouldn’t budge,
So we’ve got out this petition
And we’re going to dump the judge.

©Malvina Reynolds, 1977.

The Capital Times, Madison, Wisconsin, Saturday, May 28, 1977, page 17:

Simonson faces the music

Internationally-known folksinger Malvina Reynolds, in Madison this weekend for a concert, wrote a song this morning protesting the rape remarks by County Judge Archie Simonson.

Reynolds, 76, the composer of two hit singles, “Little Boxes” and “What Have They Done to the Rain,” entitled her new song “The Judge Said.” Sung to the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” the song urges the recall of Simonson.

In a brief interview early today, Reynolds referred to Simonson as the judge “who sanctions rape.” The song first was sung publicly at 3 p.m. today at the Atwood Community Center and later at the Cardinal Bar.

Reynolds’ song was part of the swell of critical and supportive response that continued to fuel the controversy surrounding Simonson’s remarks on rape, which were made earlier this week.

Simonson’s statements, which have spawned nationwide attention, have incited a drive to recall the county court judge.

His remarks, made in a deposition hearing for a 15-year-old boy involved in a gang rape of a 16-year-old West High student, implied lax community sexual mores could cause rape.

While Simonson brushed aside the possibility of his being recalled, such petitions were being circulated at various points in the area Friday evening and early today….

————–

My mother went on to Chicago after Madison, and her friend singer-songwriter Steve Goodman gathered a group of top-notch musicians to back her in a recording of  “The Judge Said.” I remember that night in the studio clearly. Steve was in charge. Laying down all the tracks went pretty late into the night but Malvina was energized by all the talent in the room, including Kenneth “Jethro” Burns (one-half the music and comedy duo Homer and Jethro) on mandolin. I was in Chicago on my way from the American Library Association conference to the National Women’s Music Festival in Champaign-Urbana and became one of the five back-up singers, all women. Steve had us sing several times to each chorus backup, so we sounded like a bigger group. Malvina had written a song for Steve’s little daughter called “Young Moon” which she also recorded that night.

When Malvina got home from the tour, she wrote in her journal that she didn’t have time to write about it. She did lead off the next issue of her newsletter, Sporadic Times, July 1977 with this:

“On my recent tour of Middle US with Rosalie Sorrels–a good and joyful series of shows–we landed in Madison, Wisconsin, shortly after the infamous decision of Judge Archie Simonson of Dane County justifying the gang rape of a sixteen-year old girl in the hall of West High School. A recall petition was being circulated, and the story appeared in papers all over the country. I wrote a song about it that was published, along with a story about me and about the judge’s decision and the recall, on the front page of the news section of Madison’s afternoon daily, The Capital Times. . . .

“After Madison, Rosalie and I had to go separate ways, she to bookings and recording sessions in the East, me to Denver and home. In the plane to Denver, next to me sat an unpredictable looking couple–nice people, upper middle class, in their summer suits and accessories, possibly in their sixties. I had the clipping from the Capital Times in my purse, and I handed it to the woman to read. She looked at it and handed it back, and I thought, “That’s that.”

“But she was just going in her bag for her glasses. She read the article through, and turned to me, her face luminous, “That’s great!” she said. “That’s beautiful!” and she handed the clipping to her husband to read. He was also very positive in his approval, and offered to buy me a drink. I told him I didn’t drink much, and especially not in aeroplanes, but I thanked him. We became friendly–they offered to have me stay with them in Denver. I could not–they were out in the suburbs and other arrangements had been made for me–but I was grateful.

“They showed the article to the stewardess, and I watched her face as she read. It lit up. She took the clipping to the other cabin attendants to read. I finally consented to take home one of the miniature bottles of whiskey–and the stewardess wouldn’t let the man pay.

“Response, especially of women, to this song, has been extraordinary. Many of them have suffered brutality at the hands of men; most of them, like me, have been warned since childhood, to “beware of strange men” and “not to go with strangers.” These “strange men” have haunted our dreams since childhood, have undercut our natural bravery and curiosity and made us timid against our will.

“The tune of the song is near enough to an old familiar one, that you should be able to sing it. There is the possibility that we may issue a single of this song–we’re working on it.”

———-

My mother left out the part about going to Chacago. She did arrange to have a single made from the Chicago recording session, “The Judge Said” backed by “Young Moon,” and then Malvina was in a swivet because the manufacturer was taking a long time and she was afraid it wouldn’t get out before the recall election, but it did. She advertised it at cost in Sing Out! Magazine so it would get around quickly.

In her journal she wrote, “This single will probably cost me in all half as much as an album would have–but, as someone correctly remarked, it had to be by itself as a political document, not part of a record, tho singles generally are losers. However, the response to ‘The Judge Said’ is justifying my strong feeling about it–the song, the relationship of the words and music, militant, without whining, certain, superior, humorous, not bitter. And it came together so easily.

“Still, now that I am up against petty details of outlay I tend to forget that I deliberately decided (tautology) to put out this money. This is what it’s for, even more so than donations to good causes. This instrument furthers the cause of liberation in the way I do best, and it is effective.“

Thirty-nine years later, history repeats itself. This time the perpetrator is a Stanford student, an athlete, and Aaron Persky, the judge who lets him off with a light sentence (six months in jail, not prison, of which he served half), is also recalled. The case reminded Stanford history professor Estelle Freedman of the Simonson recall and of Malvina’s song about it. In a June 10, 2016 opinion piece in the New York Times, she wrote about a long-ago repeal of another California judge, Charles Weller, also for leniency in a rape case, just a few years after women in California got the vote in 1911. Freedman continued:

Only after the revival of feminism in the 1960s did another judge, Archie Simonson of Madison, Wis., fall to recall as a result of a rape case over which he presided. He had sentenced a 15-year-old to one year of home supervision after he pleaded no contest in the gang rape of a girl in their high school stairwell. More than the sentence, it was the comments made by Judge Simonson that led to the recall. He claimed that the boys had behaved “normally” in reaction to the revealing clothing worn by girls. When challenged by a female prosecutor who said she found his remark “sexist,” Judge Simonson replied: “You bet it is. I can’t go around walking exposing my genitals like they can the mammary glands.”

Outrage ensued, and feminist networks in the area led the response. The local branch of the National Organization for Women convened a meeting at a women’s bookstore. The feminist singer-songwriter Malvina Reynolds, who happened to be performing in Madison, wrote and immediately recorded a song, “The Judge Said,” with the refrain, “We’ve got out this petition and we’re going to screw the judge.” Leaders of the recall focused on the judge’s remarks, and their effort succeeded. The one woman running to replace Judge Simonson was elected.”

Professor Freedman told me a few days later that she had been inspired by my mother’s song to write her book, Redefining Rape, on which the article was based. Here are the full lyrics:

The Judge Said

(Tune: When Johnny Comes Marching Home)

The Judge said “Screw ‘em!
Boys, you’re only human.
They brought it on themselves
By being born a woman.
Like a mountain’s there to climb
And food’s there to be eaten,
Woman’s there to rape,
To be shoved around and beaten.

Chorus:

The judge took his position,
The judge he wouldn’t budge,
So we’ve got out this petition,
And we’re going to screw the judge.

Now if you beat a horse or dog
Or violate a bank,
Simonson will haul you in
And throw you in the clink.
But violate a woman
Your equal and your peer,
The judge will slap you on the wrist
And lay the blame on her.

Chorus

To draw a true conclusion
From what Simonson has said,
Woman has to live in fear
And cover up her head.
She has to dress in purdah
And lock herself in cages,
And this kinky judge in Madison
Is from the Middle Ages.

The judge took his position,
The judge he wouldn’t budge,
So we’ve got out this petition
And we’re going to dump the judge.

©Malvina Reynolds, 1977.

Since the internet, songwriters don’t have to worry that the manufacturer of a political song recording won’t deliver it while it’s still hot. After Dr. Christine Blaisey Ford testified in Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing as a nominee for the Supreme Court that he had attempted to rape her when they were both in high school, someone posted “God Bless the Grass” from YouTube onto Facebook right away (“God bless the truth, that fights toward the sun…”) which reminded me to post “The Judge Said.” People have put Malvina’s albums on YouTube, and her guest appearances on Pete Seeger’s black-and-white television show, Rainbow Quest, have also made their way there.

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