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“This Land Is Your Land?”


Ted Glick

Several

days ago I was asked to be part of a program next month commemorating the 60th

anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s song, "This Land Is Your Land." This

got me thinking.

I

thought first of the late Jim Dunn. At a conference in Ohio in the mid-’80s, Jim

was leading a group of us in song. I asked him if he could lead us in singing

This Land Is Your Land. His response was something to this effect (I still

remember his words): "Well, I’ve been working with some Native American

people in the Southwest recently, and they really don’t like this song, so I’d

rather not sing it."

Every

time since then, whenever this song is sung, I’ve thought of Jim and what he

said back then.

So

when I received a request to be part of this program I started meditating on

what I would say if I accepted it.

Here’s

what I’ve come to. What I would/will probably do is to begin by singing an

additional verse to this song that I hope Guthrie’s descendants, those who knew

him, and our pro-justice movement generally, would agree should be added. This

is the proposed new verse:

"This

land was stolen from the Native Peoples And they continue to suffer still, It’s

time to right this, it’s time for justice, United, we can, we must, we

will."

There’s

some personal irony to all of this. Five days ago I began a water-only fast in

connection with the urgent efforts to free Leonard Peltier. We’re in crunch time

right now as this is written. Peltier, innocent of the crime he has been in

prison for since 1976, has his best chance of being released through a grant of

executive clemency from Clinton before he leaves office. I am sure that my being

on this fast, the constant thoughts and/or actions about Peltier and Indigenous

People as a result, contributed to my ability to even conceive of writing a

proposed new verse to Guthrie’s song.

But

there’s more.

The

inspiration to write this verse literally came while I was in the shower. As I

jumped out, dripping wet, I rushed to find a pen and something to write on so

that I didn’t lose the words which were coming through me. I grabbed a manila

envelope in the hall outside the bathroom and wrote them down. Then, after

drying off and getting dressed, I looked inside the envelope. Inside was a

picture of my late brother-in-law, Joe Califf, as a young child wearing a very

full "Indian headdress," with his arms folded, looking very serious,

obviously posed to look like an "Indian chief."

My

wife’s, Joe’s parents, were not racists. Indeed, they were long-time

progressives going back to the ’30s. Until they died, they were as active as

they could be in support of a wide range of pro-justice issues, including issues

specific to people of color. And yet, back in the ’40s and ’50s, when this

picture, and Guthrie’s song, were taken and written, there seems to have been

very little consciousness on the Left about issues of importance to Indigenous

People.

So

what does all this mean?

I

like This Land Is Your Land. I still sing it, even as, every time I do, I think

about what Jim Dunn said. Maybe I’ve been wrong to continue singing it, but it’s

hard to deal with everything that is racist, or sexist, or heterosexist that

we’re exposed to in this society. Besides, I don’t think Guthrie meant in any

way to express white chauvinism. My hunch is that, if he were alive today, he

would take Jim Dunn’s words seriously and maybe do up a new verse himself, or

revise the song.

But

he’s not alive, and it’s incumbent on those of us who are to carry on the

pro-justice tradition in every way that we can. One of those ways is to

"correct," upgrade, if you will, songs, expressions, cultural

patterns, ways of speaking and doing, that are offensive to those long-exploited

or oppressed. And we need to do so in consultation with the people in those

victimized groups.

I

hope to hear from my Native American friends on what they think of all of this.

P.S.

We should all be calling the White House comment line every day to express our

view that Peltier should be granted executive clemency before Clinton leaves

office. Call 202-456-1111, and press "O" to bypass the messages and go

directly to an operator. More information can be obtained from the Leonard

Peltier Defense Committee, 785-842-5774, [email protected], www.freepeltier.org.

 Ted

Glick is National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network

(www.ippn.org) and author of the recently-published, Future Hope: A Winning

Strategy for a Just Society. He can be reached at [email protected], or at

P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003.

 

 

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