Pete Seeger was a huge influence on the 20th century struggle for justice and peace. He epitomized the values of the left and fought for trade unions and against racism at a time when people got killed for taking a stand. He mobilized a successful movement to clean up his beloved Hudson River. Our middle class owes its present numbers to people like Pete who risked much to fight for a living wage for workers. He was a young man during the Great Depression and rode the rails with the hoboes. He sang with and shared the values of the iconic artists who opposed the excesses of “Daddy Warbucks” type capitalists, wars like the Vietnam War, and the racist Jim Crow laws.
He was a beacon of ongoing hope even while, in recent decades, he watched the middle class shrink and inequality grow as the corporations, given more and more power, have destroyed what he and his contemporaries had fought and even died to gain.
History, I fear, may have to record Pete Seeger’s time as the highest period in human evolution. The apex. It was a time of material and moral progress from the thirties to the seventies, as the period during which humanity, given the leisure to reflect and confronted by committed young people, began to become aware of, and to seek, a higher ethical way. We still hold some of these values, but our democracies have been reduced to shams by corporate interests running amok.
Our young people no longer even remember how their standard of living was earned with the blood and guts of those in Seeger’s tradition. Those who hold the last of the secure jobs are now isolated and portrayed as outliers, lazy and unjustly privileged. Good jobs stand out and those who hold them are objects of jealousy and ridicule.
Small wonder, when the media are overwhelmingly part of the established right and owned by the fewer and fewer, richer and richer, rich.
It saddens me to think that the world for which Pete Seeger lived and fought is now surrounded and besieged by interests whose sinister control is, all too quickly, becoming insurmountable. One of my favorite Seeger songs:
Pete Seeger, R.I.P. Here’s hoping you can find a hammer where you are now. Anyway, it’s now the fight of us who are left behind. May we find leaders like you to guide us through the 21st century. May we not break faith with you. May we be worthy.