I been stuck in my wordly ways
Propaganda, press pan to camera
Please don’t look at me in my face
Everybody might see my pain
Off the rail, might off myself
Bored with life as I board this plane
--Lyrics from “Party People” by Vince Staples
When Indiana University philosophy major Carter Hays was 16, he remembers hearing the song “Party People,” by Vince Staples in a friend’s car. The lyrics woke something within him.
Hays became more immersed in music. He started to freestyle while he was driving. Over time, he entered a new headspace, an emotionally complex space, that he had heard musicians describe but had never experienced. A clear connection emerged in his mind between music and language and another personal passion: environmental preservation.
At a March 2021 campus protest on carbon neutrality in Dunn Meadow, Hays performed his new climate change-themed song “The View” as spoken word poetry and gave a passionate speech encouraging action to dismantle Senate Bill 389. (The bill, which later passed in April 2021, essentially deregulated 80% of Indiana’s protected wetlands. Indiana has already lost 85% of its wetlands.
“The View” started as a homework assignment -- to write a song about social chance -- for an IU class called, “Music Changes the World.” Hays was riding his bike back from a grocery shopping trip when inspiration struck. He dropped his bike and wrote down the first lyrics that came to him, sun beaming through the trees and groceries on the sidewalk beside him.
He speaks for the trees
Hays said his passion for the environment developed as a child. At a Dakota Access Pipeline protest in Indianapolis in the spring of 2017, he met senior members of the Indiana Forest Alliance. While protesting the detrimental environmental effects of the 1,172-mile-long underground oil pipeline from North Dakota through Illinois on sacred Native American land, he learned about an issue closer to home; the old-growth forest surrounding the Indianapolis-based Crown Hill Cemetery was threatened by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
Hays became a Crown Hill Protector, working alongside community members to prevent the land from being developed. 15-year-old Hays scaled a cherry tree in the forest and remained there more than six hours to bring attention to the issue. The increased media coverage, along with pressure from many other activists and groups, were ultimately successful in saving the 15-acre forest at the north side of the cemetery.
Hays appreciates being surrounded by over 200,000 acres of some of Indiana’s oldest and most biodiverse forest in Bloomington. “We have such amazing opportunities here to explore the woods, said Hays, who plans to graduate with a B.A. in philosophy in May 2024.
Going forward, Hays plans to work on more musical and creative projects, including a trip to Belize to collaborate with 3P, one of the artist features on the Many Worlds EP. His work fighting for Indiana forest will never stop. “Other than that, I’m just blowing where the wind takes me.”
If we pander to the leaders who let money wear the pants
Then we’ve sold off our autonomy, economy be damned
We’re in somebody else’s hands, and they’ve got sinister plans
I just hope we see before the leaves quit growing on the plants
--Lyrics from “The View” by Carter Hays
Hays suggest students check out Students for a New Green World, an organization that works to secure a sustainable, carbon-free environment.
Are you an IU student interested in protecting and promoting the Indiana National Forest? Carter Hays launched IFA at IU, in the Spring of 2020. Members and participants meet for regular hikes, weekly meetings, and tips on how to help keep Indiana’s forest alive and beautiful.