Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Poster of the Week

Pete Seeger
Earl Newman
Silkscreen, 2009
Summit, Oregon

Those of us who work for peace with justice lost one of our most creative and legendary cultural activists. Pete Seeger used the power of music to make the world a better place for more than seven decades.  He helped create the modern American folk music movement.  In 1940, he performed “This Land Is Your Land” with Woody Guthrie—shortly after Guthrie had written it as a response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” Over the years Pete turned   “This Land Is Your Land” into an alternative national anthem for progressive activists.

In 2009, Pete and Bruce Springsteen sang “This Land Is Your Land” during President Obama’s inauguration—including the often censored verse:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

This poetic and powerful verse exemplifies Pete Seeger’s lifelong political activism.  He wrote or co-wrote many consciousness raising songs, including "If I Had a Hammer," ''Turn, Turn, Turn," and ''Where Have All the Flowers Gone." He is also credited with popularizing "We Shall Overcome” into the anthem of the 1960’s liberation movements.  He sang and marched against fascism, racial injustice, nuclear weapons, the Viet Nam War, and the death penalty. He sang and marched to support countess just causes, including peace, civil rights, migrant workers, political prisoners, the environment and the Occupy movement.

He was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and black-listed from commercial broadcasting for 17 years.  In 1967, the Smothers Brothers convinced CBS to break the network black-listing and invite Seeger to perform on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Seeger performed his latest hit, the powerful “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” about  a commander who, against the advice of his men, drowned while leading his troops into a river without knowing how deep it was.  CBS deleted the last verse which left no doubts as to its reference to President Johnson and the Viet Nam War:

Now everytime I read the papers
That old feelin' comes on
We're waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
(Copyright 1966 Melody Trails)

Through the years, Mr. Seeger remained determinedly optimistic. “The key to the future of the world,” he said in 1994, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”
Pete Seeger


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