Folk singers and protests go together like hippies and not showering. But the '60s revivalism/revisionism of antifolk, the nebulous tag attached to such oddball singer/songwriters as Kimya Dawson and Jeffrey Lewis, exists largely absent a political protest culture, despite there being plenty to rally against—war, recession, environmental peril that makes Silent Spring seem positively quaint. So the opportunity to see Kimya Dawson perform at a real, old-fashioned sit-in at the Evergreen State College (staged by the school's chapter of the recently re-formed Students for a Democratic Society, no less) was well worth a Greyhound freedom ride down to Olympia.

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The sit-in, started on May 21, was to protest the SDS's suspension as an official student group, following a concert planned in the face of a schoolwide moratorium on concerts after the Valentine's Day Dead Prez concert that ended in a clash with campus police. By its 14th day, shortly before Dawson's scheduled performance, the sit-in numbered around 10 to 20 people—one cluster right outside the office of Vice President of Student Affairs Arthur Costantino and another in a triangular lobby down the hall. In the lobby, an older man with shiny white hair and tan skin was talking to a circle of half-interested students about the old days.

"I think we occupied our share of buildings in our time. This is so different from what we did 40 years ago; the people today want to break the laws but they don't want the consequences."

"We didn't vacuum the floors," adds an older woman.

Two students, one absently strumming an acoustic guitar, discussed the previous night's entertainment, a double feature screening of antifascist fairy tale Pan's Labyrinth and perennial dorm-room stoner fave Dark Side of Oz, in which The Wizard of Oz is played in sync with Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.

"You know what's awesome? Dark Side of Oz. It was weird how the lyrics spoke to what was going on."

As 7:00 p.m. approached, the crowd tripled, then tripled again, until the oddly shaped lobby was wall to wall with cross-legged students gossiping about last night's party or who from class they hoped wouldn't show up tonight. Someone said, "It's stinky in here." Another person replied, "It's just Evergreen." The guitar strummer stood on a chair and unscrewed the fluorescent overhead lights until they flickered off, leaving the lobby lit only by the gray light streaming in from a large window partially obscured by an SDS poster. Some serious-looking (by the standards of radical leftism) students left to go negotiate with the administration.

Kimya arrived to silence then applause, weaving through the seated throng to a chair and a microphone in front of the window. The guitar-strumming student read a short, nervously delivered statement over a megaphone about the SDS's goals—first, reinstatement as an official student group; eventually, a campus free of police and run in cooperation with students. A young woman, charged in the Dead Prez "riot," asked for pledges of support to cover her legal fees. Kimya sang, "Doo doo doo," checking the mic.

I'd somehow managed to never see Kimya Dawson before, or indeed listen to more than a handful of her songs. Even if you're a rabid consumer of music, there's simply too much to catch everything; entire cultural phenomena can pass you by, easily. In preparation for the show, I picked up Remember That I Love You and watched Juno. It occurred to me that her songs—funny and personal and precious, only occasionally about politics, and then only peripherally—maybe made more sense soundtracking a determinedly "quirky" film than a sincere, self-righteous protest.

But if her songs were on odd fit, Kimya herself was seemingly an ideal spokesperson—a former Evergreen student, she had been expelled for writing graffiti critical of the administration's policies regarding sexual assault and rape; originally, she was to be charged with a felony, but after a sit-in staged on her behalf, she was merely expelled. Kimya told the story between songs, cracking jokes and rambling and apologizing for being jet-lagged (she had just flown in from Paris). She said she was later invited back to Evergreen at various times, under various conditions, that she was recently asked for an interview in the alumni newsletter (she never did graduate), and that the current president of the college had written her a letter saying how proud Evergreen was of her. She said after she left Evergreen, she "couldn't stand it," that she "was an alcoholic for four years," that she became "jaded" because she "couldn't change anything." In the end, Kimya maybe wasn't the most on-point spokesperson for the SDS, as she seemed equivocal about the value of staying in school and fighting the administration as opposed to just dropping out. "I couldn't keep giving them money," she said of her own decision not to complete her studies, noting that she's done all right without a diploma.

She played around 15 songs, taking requests after the first few, playing even the ones she worried she couldn't remember, only flubbing a few lyrics or chord changes here or there (the crowd helped her fill in the lyrics). The only request she denied was for a Moldy Peaches song, which she said she doesn't play anymore. Her last song, "Loose Lips," finally felt like a real protest song (even if it was as lyrically nonsensical and childlike as anything in her oeuvre), with the whole crowd singing along, "We won't stop until somebody calls the cops/and even then we'll start again/and just pretend that nothing ever happened."

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The SDS is set to be reinstated on a probationary basis in the fall. recommended

egrandy@thestranger.com