My job is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.
—Pete Seeger (1919-2014)
I’ve witnessed great social change in my lifetime; the 20th century was full of tremendous progress thanks to an ever-flowing river of brave leftist advocates and leaders who kept us moving forward…
Eugene Debs, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thurgood Marshall, Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, Rachel Carson, Martin Luther King Jr., Betty Friedan, Cesar Chavez, Harvey Milk…
They inspired progressive action towards the ideals of liberty, equality, justice and opportunity for all.
Today we lost Pete Seeger, another shining star among American progressives. His voice lulled me in my childhood, singing out against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War and steadfast in facing the coercive House Un-American Activities Committee. He opposed the arms race and the Vietnam War and staunchly supported the environment and civil rights.
We heard his patriotic shouts of protest in “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer, “We Shall Overcome”, and “Turn, Turn, Turn!”. These verses are now part of America’s forward-looking psyche.
Pete Seeger’s words and works will embolden future Americans wanting to forge a more perfect Union. His now-departed soul is another seed planted in the fertile ground of progressive America, blooming with the cosmic energy building towards a better world.
A good song reminds us what we’re fighting for.
This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender ☮
I was in the second trimester inside my mother’s womb when the Stonewall riots erupted in 1969. I was born at the dawn of the modern fight for gay and lesbian rights in the United States.
I was three years old when the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. I was growing up in a world where the medical establishment would not consider me sick.
As a teenager I was frozen by the horrors of AIDS and the clashes between regressive government policies and fearless gay-rights activism. I knew I was attracted to males but amidst this conflagration my future was uncertain.
In my twenties I marched in Pride parades, raised thousands of dollars and bicycled 500 miles to support AIDS-related charitable organizations, and worked at pioneering companies that offered benefits to same-sex domestic partners. Yet as an out gay person I was excluded from serving in the US military and witnessed the odious Defense of Marriage Act become law.
I was living with my partner of nearly eight years in 2003 when the Supreme Court struck down Lawrence v. Texas. It was no longer illegal for me to expressly love someone of the same sex.
During the past ten years, politicians and religious leaders shamelessly made gay people scapegoats in campaigns and pariahs on television and radio across America. They called me immoral. They blamed me for the decline of the country. They accused me of taking away rights of others, corrupting children and destroying marriages and schools and churches.
While this was going on my country didn’t stand up for me. The federal government told me my love didn’t matter and that my relationship wasn’t real. I wasn’t entitled to the same recognition and rights that other couples have. While it collected more taxes from me for the same-sex benefits offered by my employer, it told me that I wasn’t capable of serving my country, that I wasn’t worth protecting if I were fired from a job or denied housing, and that it didn’t matter if I were the victim of a hate crime.
I’ve been thinking of the 1970’s lately, not exactly sure why. Although I was born in the 60’s (albeit in the final 3 weeks), the 1970’s was my first real decade. I was a youngster, too young for much of the fun and frenzy but not too young to miss its new vibe. This was the decade in which I became aware of the world: the music, the television, the politics, the people, the fads, the crises, the cultural tensions. The chaos of the sixties spilled into this decade: Watergate, ‘Nam, gas shortages, ERA, nuclear weapons proliferation, airplane hijackings and conflict in the Middle East… tumultuous times indeed.
But as a kid what I remember the most was the popular culture: America’s glittering face and glowing body during these years, those soaring sounds on the radio, bold fabrics scratching our skin, heavy cars in the streets, extravagant colors ablaze on toys, television and t-shirts, a powerful exhale for equality (now voiced by women and gays), the unsettling and seductive sexual revolution, a new concern for protecting our environment, our patriotism on display at the nation’s bicentennial birthday bash.
There was a collective energy and emotion during these years that I find myself yearning for lately. Yes, the 1970’s were in many ways hard years and there was a lot of silliness too. But despite the insecurity and disruption, America was beaming.
Today I see none of that express enthusiasm, America is bitterly divided and the toxic politics of “No We Can’t” rule the day.
Maybe that’s why the 1970’s are on my mind; I want that smile to return.