Tuesday, January 20, 2009
THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND
Make no mistake, what's happening in Washington DC today matters. It's important. Historically important. From our perspective, with the short memory of modern life, we may think that Obama's election means nothing much. But it means more than anybody can really say in words, without a concomitant photographic display, appropriate music, a long and detailed lesson in history (how we need that lesson in history).
Look at the video above, while YouTube allows it to be displayed. That's Pete Seeger up there singing. Pete Seeger, who testified before Senator McCarthy's Un-American Activities committee in the 1950s and almost went to jail for his presumed Communist affiliations. Pete Seeger, who sang songs exhorting everybody to join a union and fight the insane greed and violence of the capitalist bosses. And he's singing a song by another radical, Woody Guthrie; a song that reminds people they are free men in a land that belongs to them, not their leaders, who are supposed to go to Washington to serve the people, not dictate to them, manipulate them and steal from them. And he sings the verse about welfare lines and private property which almost everybody who's performed "This Land Is Your Land" since--including Springsteen--has edited out.
And what are they all there for, singing and playing out in the cold in front of a beautiful monument to the democratic ideal? To celebrate the 80th birthday of the American twentieth century's most beloved campaigner for peace, equality and justice Martin Luther King; and in anticipation of the inauguration of America's first black president, Barrack Obama.
Think about that for a moment. Dr. King's birthday draws thousands to Washington on a public holiday given in his name. And only fifty-some years since racial segregation was ended in American schools by force--because a Republican president, oddly, had the courage to send the Army in to Arkansas against his own population--forty-some-odd years since racially-motivated lynchings were a common occurence and Civil Rights workers who went in to to assist their black brothers and sisters were also killed--a black man is about to become President of the United States.
I'm not stupid enough to believe that this means racism has disappeared from the world (though legislative racism is in for an even bumpier ride). I'm not stupid enough to believe that the world is going to become a beautiful loving home for everybody overnight once Obama has been sworn in. I know there is still enough work to do in our efforts to fulfil the dream of Dr. King to keep our hands busy for another generation, and a generation after that. But one very important mile marker has been passed in the journey towards a world every man and woman can live in equally, regardless of the colour of their skin. And that's something, even if it isn't everything. Let's allow ourselves one small pat on the back and take the night off to celebrate, if only for the memory of all those people who were murdered along the way.
They, surely, wouldn't be sneering about Obama's inauguration and pointedly finding something else to do tonight to prove how real or sophisticated they are.