Monday, January 19, 2009

This Land is Your Land

Woody Guthrie was inspired to write the song "This Land is Your Land" as a reaction to what he saw as a growing rightwing nationalism. Specifically Woody was disturbed by the prevalence of the song "God Bless America" and originally titled his own piece "God Blessed America For Me".

The original lyrics to Guthrie's peoples anthem were far more political than what we know today. The so-called "radical" verses were recorded but not released until much later. Yesterday at the pre-Inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial Guthrie compatriot Pete Seeger performed and he sang the radical verses. The folks at Crooked Timber fill us in on the details,

Perhaps you gotta be steeped in left history to get excited by this or be Joe Klein—But the only time I broke down in tears watching the big concert today was when Pete Seeger, all 89 years of him, started singing the two “radical” verses of This Land Is Your Land that almost always get cut when the song is sung in public, or in countless elementary schools across the nation (pasted below). I bet Pete was thinking, “This is the way Woody wrote it and so I’m going to make sure the whole country hears it.” How long before some right-wing blogger mentions that this song was written by a member of the Communist Party—whose best buddy and fellow comrade made it to the Lincoln Memorial to bring it all back home?
When you add this to all the encomia to King and to Rosa Parks and to Lincoln the Emancipator—well, the left’s definition of patriotism is now dominant—only six years after anti-war posters reading, “Peace is Patriotic” sounded absurdly marginal. Change I can believe in…
“As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said – no tress passin’
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.”

Reading this story gave me goosebumps. Pete Seeger is a national treasure and the fact that he was asked to perform at all is, I think, very telling about the social conscience of the man we just elected to lead us and the people that he has chosen to surround himself with. On my desk sits a famous picture of Woody Guthrie, cigarette falling out of his mouth, guitar hanging there with the the saying "This Machine Kills Fascists" prominentley displayed. Woody and Pete used the power of song to organize workers, to protest racial discrimination and to bring a social conscience to the world.

This is indeed a time of great hope for our nation. This land was made for you and me.

No comments: