Pete Seeger epitomizes peaceful protest. With gentle smile, banjo and an arsenal of folk music — songs like If I had a Hammer and We Shall Overcome — he has long stood for both community and personal freedoms.
So I can only imagine what a thrill it was for Occupy Wall Street demonstrators to bejoined by Seeger, 92, walking with two canes and folk legend Arlo Guthrie as protesters marched through Manhattan’s West Side Friday. This one I’d have liked to see in person.
The now-global Occupy Movement remains something of an enigma, as much a symbol of what’s becoming this country’s permanently disenfranchised as a coherent call for reform and change. I still can’t swear it will last the winter months. But with its spread across the country, to warmer climes such as Phoenix and Los Angeles — and with no sign that the Republican Party in particular or our failed political system in general plans to respond with any concrete programs — I still believe it will, hunkering down for the winter and blossoming in the spring.
Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part. There is something fundamentally un-American to me about the high rollers on Wall Street making millions on deals that produce nothing concrete, that merely manipulate and rebundle financial instruments to their benefit and, often, the detriment of those to whom they sell. There is something fundamentally un-American to me about a system in which only the suckers who were given the mortgages they could never dream of paying back are suffering the penalty and losing their homes. There is something fundamentally un-American to me that we — all of us in our tax dollars — have bailed out, and will bail out in the future, irresponsible “too big to fail” gamblers because of the utter collapse of financial regulation in this country, the unwillingness of Congress to reinstate it, and the unwillingness or inability of the Obama Administration to prosecute the most egregious offenders.
In its quirky and fuzzy sort of way, this is what the Occupy Wall Street movement is fighting back against. Its eccentric communities, with their donated libraries and free bread, their hand-painted and eclectic signs and their daily General Assemblies, are an exemplar of egalitarianism and community — the antithesis of the shameless greed that to this day leaves the high-rollers utterly oblivious to why anyone would be mad at them for making a buck.
On Friday, Peter Seeger was the man of the hour. But in a way the movement is a legacy of Arlo Guthrie’s father, Woody. Because in its very occupancy of parks across the country, Occupy Wall Street keeps singing out his words, the words of his most famous song:
This land is your land, this land is my land From California, to the New York Island From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters This land was made for you and me