Thursday, November 24, 2011

This Land Was Made for YOU and ME

For Thanksgiving 2011, I went looking for a version of  Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” to share with you.  It’s a song Sarah probably doesn't like because far right-leaners and dominionist say it is a communist/Marxist theme song.  By now, you know me well enough to assume I’ve done a bit of research.  Here’s what I learned that I think is important to today’s Americans sitting down to give thanks together.

Woody Gutherie saw the Great Depression first hand. Americans then, like today, needed jobs, needed to feed their families, and sought assistance from the government. 

When "God Bless America"by Irving Berlin was topping the charts, Woody Gutherie had “had it” with Americans being fed the message “don’t worry about anything”  through songs and pop tunes.  "This World Is Not My Home” and  "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams, and Dream Your Troubles Away" troubled him, too. Woody didn’t think it was right to tell people not to worry, that God was in the driver's seat. 

I’m not in a position to get into Woody’s religious beliefs, but I think it’s safe to say he would joint todays' Occupy Wall Street movement. He and Sarah Palin would have differences of opinion.  Michelle Bachmann might say he was anti-America. Newt would tell him to get a bath and a job.
But he isn't here. His time was earlier, and "This Land is Your Land" began to be written in 1940, a time when folks still hitch-hiked legally and safely. While he hitched north and east through Appalachia, Woody put together some verses. Eventually, they were written down on a piece of loose-leaf paper,. With "God Blessed America" at the top, he began the first verse:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to Staten Island

He stopped, crossed out "Staten", and put in "New York"

From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters
,  God Blessed America for me.

He wrote five more verses working in a fleabag hotel room. "All you can write is what you see," he wrote at the bottom. He signed and dated it  "Woody G."  February 23, 1940.  He didn't do anything with it for another five years, then it became published and popular. At least some of it did.  Some verses are less well known, and there’s good reason-- they challenged the big money monopolies that were quite comfortable letting "lesser people" struggle. Have you learned these verses?
Was a big high wall [there] that tried to stop me

A sign was painted, said, 'Private Property'
But on the back side it didn't say nothing
God blessed America for me

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the Relief office I saw my people
As they stood hungry I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me

 [1993:] And Woody later added a new last verse:

Nobody living can ever stop me
 As I go walking my freedom highway
  Nobody living can make me turn back
  This land was made for you and me

There’s some political history about the trimming of verses from “This Land is Your Land.” Washington Bigwheel Clark Clifford in March 1950 addressed the wealthy businessmen at Chicago's Executive Club explained it to peers:
"[...] The people have to feel that their small share of this country is as much theirs as it is yours and mine [...]." With only half of Woody's verses, This Land Is Your Land falls right into Mr. Clifford's trap. In other words, "Let people go ahead and sing the song. It makes them feel better. Meanwhile you and I know who really controls the country."

Everyone reading this is part of the 99%.  Well, almost everyone. The one percent that isn't?  Say "Hi" to Bristol, or Willow, or Sarah - you know one of them is on duty reading anti-Palin blogs even today. My message to the 1%:

"This land was made for you AND ME."
Here is Woodie Gutherie's song sung by Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen.  This links to the performance in Washington during  the Obama inauguration celebration.  (Warning – if you are so inclined, it will give you goose bumps.)

Pete Seeger has sat at my kitchen table. He’s a gentleman and a fighter. He fought for Civil Rights when dogs and hoses were used to punish protesters and now he’s fighting for the 99% in the OWS movement.  This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for patriots like him, and thankful that the 2008 election turned out as it did.  Enjoy the day and your family, Truthers, we have much work yet to do

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That lifted my heart. Thank you Allison.