“How To Love a Country”–With a Little Help From My Poets and Reporters

As part of my New Year Intention to spend more time with bridge-builders, I recently listened to an On Being podcast I’d stockpiled for moments like these (like, for example, when your country suddenly decides to go to war). I sure picked a good one. When Krista Tippett interviews civil engineer/poet Richard Blanco, these guys give me language to keep looking for bridges.

(Did you catch that? Poet AND civil engineer? How much bridgier can you get?)

Mr. Blanco celebrates what he’s noticing about this country, that whoever “we” are, we’re starting to pay attention to others at risk.

 I just love that we’re stepping up, and we’re realizing, no. OK, this is — I don’t have to go to that protest; it’s not about me. But that poem … you know, “First they came for the so-and-so”? Remember that poem? And I think we’re finally — we’re not doing that. We’re not waiting for them to come for us. We are stepping up and realizing that the quality of life, the virtue of this country, depends on every human being’s story, to a certain degree; that our happiness depends on other people’s happiness, and we’re moving from a space of dependence to realizing our interdependence.

And Krista agrees:

It becomes a discipline, almost like a spiritual discipline, to take that seriously, too. It’s a way of us, some of us, enough of us, collectively, living this phrase that you have at the beginning of the book, How to Love a Country: “Tell me with whom you walk, and I’ll tell you who you are.” So it’s us, expanding that sense of who we are.

As an American, I would prefer to walk in a wider lane than I have, historically, as a White woman. I want a richer sense of who “we” are. Since I moved from a very diverse town and job to an island that is…let’s say NOT diverse, I’ve been finding other ways to broaden my “we.”

The most significant step I’ve taken is to subscribe to the New York Times, and then sign up for its newsletter on the topic of “Race/Related.” That means I get stories right into my inbox that particularly relate to people NOT like me. The other day, for example, I read a wonderful story by Kurt Streeter about the WNBA star Maya Moore taking a sabbatical from basketball at the peak of her career to work on freeing a man from prison whom she believes to be innocent. What a story. What a gift.

Yes, the NYT costs money and CNN is free…but the NYT is doing work I actively want to support. Because it supports US.

Listening to the interview with Richard Blanco left me feeling choked up about my country. (Do you know how hard it is to ride your exercise bike hard while choking up? I had to slow down.) And this is the poem that did it. I’m passing it on to you now, hoping it both chokes you up and builds you up, as it did me. As it could us.

The poem is called Declaration of Interdependence, and is woven through with actual excerpts from the Declaration of Independence. Here’s the poet’s explanation of the title:

...finding language, finding another angle, finding another dialogue, and how easily stereotyped and typecast people can become in the news; and, also, how we do it to ourselves — “Oh, you drive a red pickup truck; therefore, you must be this person. You shop at Whole Foods; therefore, you must be this kind of person. You drive a Subaru; therefore, you must be this kind of person,” and realizing that that’s really something that’s been slowly chipping away at our brains, this sort of immediate — I won’t say “judgment,” but a typecasting that sometimes, we’re not even aware. So I just wanted to break down some of those stereotypes and create empathy across those stereotypes.

But it also, ultimately, comes from a saying, a greeting from the Zulu people, that was the real inspiration here…They don’t say “Good morning” like we do, like we did, this morning. “Good morning; I need coffee.” [laughs] They look at one another, right in the eyes, and say, “I see you.” And there’s an incredible power in seeing and being acknowledged. And if I’m not mistaken, the reply is, “I’m here to be seen. And I see you.” …We’re not seeing each other as clearly, and I think this poem was trying to let us see each other clearly.

And here’s the poem. Happy Interdependence Day!

“Declaration of Interdependence”

 Such has been the patient sufferance…

We’re a mother’s bread, instant potatoes, milk at a checkout line. We’re her three children pleading for bubble gum and their father. We’re the three minutes she steals to page through a tabloid, needing to believe even stars’ lives are as joyful and as bruised. Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury…

We’re her second job serving an executive absorbed in his Wall Street Journal at a sidewalk café shadowed by skyscrapers. We’re the shadows of the fortune he won and the family he lost. We’re his loss and the lost. We’re a father in a coal town who can’t mine a life anymore because too much and too little has happened, for too long.

A history of repeated injuries and usurpations…

We’re the grit of his main street’s blacked-out windows and graffitied truths. We’re a street in another town lined with royal palms, at home with a Peace Corps couple who collect African art. We’re their dinner-party talk of wines, wielded picket signs, and burned draft cards. We’re what they know: it’s time to do more than read the New York Times, buy fair-trade coffee and organic corn.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress…

We’re the farmer who grew the corn, who plows into his couch as worn as his back by the end of the day. We’re his TV set blaring news having everything and nothing to do with the field dust in his eyes or his son nested in the ache of his arms. We’re his son. We’re a black teenager who drove too fast or too slow, talked too much or too little, moved too quickly, but not quick enough. We’re the blast of the bullet leaving the gun. We’re the guilt and the grief of the cop who wished he hadn’t shot.

We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor…

We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor…

We’re the dead, we’re the living amid the flicker of vigil candlelight. We’re in a dim cell with an inmate reading Dostoevsky. We’re his crime, his sentence, his amends, we’re the mending of ourselves and others. We’re a Buddhist serving soup at a shelter alongside a stockbroker. We’re each other’s shelter and hope: a widow’s fifty cents in a collection plate and a golfer’s ten-thousand-dollar pledge for the cure. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

We’re the cure for hatred caused by despair. We’re the good morning of a bus driver who remembers our name, the tattooed man who gives up his seat on the subway. We’re every door held open with a smile when we look into each other’s eyes the way we behold the moon. We’re the moon. We’re the promise of one people, one breath declaring to one another: I see you. I need you. I am you.

–Richard Blanco

“I see you. I need you. I am you.” (Photo by TPapi, “Crowds on the Mall,” Jan. 9 2009)

Confronting Amazon: Adventures in Moral Cowardice

I admit it: Amazon’s got me right where they want me, and I’ve been mostly loving it. And no, it’s not just ’cause I live on an island where you can’t always get what you want. I’ve slid into loving the whole experience, from the one-click purchase to the insanely speedy arrival of that smiley package at my door.

As an author and a loyal supporter of indie bookstores, of course, I rarely buy books from Amazon. (Irony! Remember when they called themselves “Earth’s Largest Bookstore?” Me neither.) For example, if you want to buy my books, I ask that you request your favorite Indie bookstore to order them.*Click on the link to see how: The Flying Burgowski.

*This shameless self-promotion brought to you by #supportyourlocalauthor

But my own books are published through Createspace, an Amazon company. And I was given a Kindle. Don’t use it much, but when I do–hello, Amazon. And did I mention how much I love finding packages at my door?

So of course I signed up for Amazon Prime. Ooh, free movies and music too! Got a little grumpy when they raised the price, but still–ooh, shiny free shipping. Which just encourages me to one-click more often.

I do support my local stationery/office supplies/gift shop, and my hardware store. I do send most of my loved ones homemade granola for Christmas, and what clothes I don’t buy at our Thrift Shop I buy at REI.

But oh wow, I can get six pairs of garden gloves for the price of one here on-island? And they’ll be here tomorrow?

Lately I’ve become disturbed by my own rampant acquisitiveness, but not enough to slow myself down much. But now, two additional considerations are doing just that.

First, I began hearing and reading news stores about Amazon using unmarked vehicles to ship, and calling the drivers “independent contractors.” Because Prime speed is the ultimate goal, these drivers are not given routes which avoid dangerous left turns (which UPS drivers do avoid). And if an “independent” Amazon driver does hurt or kill someone, Amazon dodges legal responsibility.

Second–and this was the biggie–I learned that Amazon has been making its cloud storage available to Palantir, the data-mining company that ICE uses to target people for arrest and deportation.

According to Karen Hao of MIT Technology Review,

a new investigation, published today, sheds more light on the web of tech companies involved in supporting ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.

The report, commissioned by activist organizations Mijente, the National Immigration Project, and the Immigrant Defense Project, found that Amazon has played as central a role as Palantir in providing the backbone infrastructure for many of ICE’s, and DHS’s, key programs. Amazon has also enjoyed a cozy relationship with the federal government that has helped it secure an outsize number of government contracts.

Hold up. Amazon is helping La Migra do its dirty work? THESE people?

ICE’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

That one hit me right where I live–or try to live. Because my first thought was, Wow, I need to join that Amazon boycott–and not just on Prime Day

And my second thought? I can’t quit Amazon! I just…can’t.

Stop selling my books? Ditch my Kindle? This is where the rubber of social activism meets the road of sacrifice. And I failed the test big time.

To salvage a few ounces of moral authority, I made two decisions.

  1. I quit Amazon Prime. At the very least, they won’t be getting an automatic $120 from me every year. And between my new efforts to avoid Amazon, and the very real costs of shipping, they won’t be getting as much of my money.
  2. I signed up for Amazon Smile, which allows you to donate 0.5% of eligible purchases to the charity of your choice. And I designated Advocates for Immigrants in Detention Northwest as my recipient.

But I’m still not very happy about my dependence on this giant company which I’ve loved so dearly and so long. Can I get an Amen? 😦

Defending What the (Chicago) Defender Defended: The Need For a Non-Dominant Lens

The Chicago Defender, legendary Black newspaper, has ceased printing after nearly 115 years.According to today’s story in the New York Times, by Monica Davie and John Eligon, 

…the demise of The Chicago Defender’s print editions represented a painful passage for many people who grew up in Chicago and for those with memories of its influence far beyond this city. Of its many significant effects over many years, The Defender told of economic success in the North, and was seen as a catalyst in the migration of hundreds of thousands of black Americans from the South.

The article goes on to say,

The Defender delivered news of monumental events — the funeral of Emmett Till, the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the election of Barack Obama — but also of everyday life for black Americans, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said.

“We never saw ourselves listed other places in weddings, funerals, debutantes, so this became a real frame of reference for activities,” Mr. Jackson said. “My career would not be what it is today if not for The Defender.”

Images courtesy of New York Times and Chicago Defender

I won’t say “R.I.P.” because the Defender will continue–and, I hope, thrive–in its digital form.  But the article caught my attention because the news hits in a moment when I, like many White liberals, am scrutinizing what it means to be a part of white supremacist society that benefits me even while I criticize it.

One thing it has meant, over the years, is a comforting sense of “Yep, I’m America,” while minorities, no matter how much I support their rights, remain just that: minorities. Not fully people with their own lenses, lenses which might cast me in a view I’d rather not face up to.

To battle this default, given that I live in a very White community, I’ve been reading and listening to challenging words. My current book is Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric.

Image courtesy Indiebound.com

Part poetry, part essay, part lament, part witness, filled with art and filled especially with pointed pain, this small book skewers any notion of White righteousness with passages like this one:

Someone in the audience asks the man promoting is new book on humor what makes something funny. His answer is what you expect–context. After a pause he adds that if someone said something, like about someone, and you were with your friends you would probably laugh, but if they said it out in public where black people could hear what was said, you might not, probably would not. Only then do you realize you are among “the others out in public” and not among “friends.” (p. 48)

Or this:

At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard?

It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.

I am so sorry, so, so sorry. (p. 18)

Reading Citizen is painful. That’s why I’m doing it. I know The Chicago Defender was not written for me. That’s why I need it to exist. If I think about this a little longer, I’ll probably end up subscribing. 

Yes. I think I will. Because if I’m okay with my lens being the only lens offered to Americans, aren’t I complicit in pushing everyone else out of the frame?

 

 

 

 

When Routine Is Anything But: Finding A Daily Path That Requires Open Eyes

Hey, welcome back to Wing’s World in its non-travel-blog iteration. If you’re hoping to read about travel adventures, sorry–you’ll have to wait till my next trip. THIS entry is about the art of staying home, one day after the next.

Home, for me, begins with a ferry ride.

If I were still teaching school, finding a daily routine would be no struggle; the struggle, as all teachers (and students, and parents) know, is keeping your head above water enough to teach/learn/communicate/eat/sleep/repeat with some minimal effectiveness. In my 20 years of teaching, I got all the news I needed during my commute.

As a former teacher, however, employed in one part-time, manual-labor job and one completely non-paying, artistic one, the idea of routine is usually just that: an idea. I gave up commuting, but I was fine with creating my own balance of baking and writing and keeping vague touch with the rest of the country for the first several years of my post-teaching life. Then came the election of 2016, and the real illusion was revealed: that America was on the right path, that Dr. King’s good ol’ Arc of Justice was bending appropriately.

Since that time I, like a lot of my White friends, have been working hard to re-educate myself in American reality, recognizing my own unwitting but comfortable complicity in helping make Trumpmerica possible. Routine is long gone as I cast about for the best way to make of myself a better instrument, a better citizen.

Going back to teaching is a decision I have moved beyond. I’m too deeply immersed in my writing career to be willing to sacrifice it, and too respectful of both jobs to be able to do justice to both at once. So I work at the bakery I continue to love, and fill my non-baking, non-writing time with a slew of different types of volunteer activity. This makes for a ragged schedule. I rather like the variety of my days…after breakfast. It’s that first hour that, since 2016, has really gotten to me.

See, my Mate is an early riser, and starts his day with a workout. Which he does in front of the TV, watching the news. He keeps the volume low, but our living room lies between our bedroom and kitchen. So by the time I’ve prepared my tea and sat down with my cereal, I’ve had, willy-nilly, an injection of CNN that makes my stomach hurt.

How I don’t want to start my day: angry, defeated, cynical, self-berating.

How I do want to start my day: hopeful, inspired, open-eyed, empathetic, challenged.

I’m lucky to live in a place where the scenery itself can inspire. But this view is NOT available to me first thing in the morning; it takes a 25-minute drive to the ferry dock. Not to mention clear skies.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to try to shape that first hour:*

  1. Hum to myself to drown out any CNN until my tea kettle does it for me.
  2. Before turning on my computer, re-read the poem I read yesterday from the collection of poetry I keep on the kitchen table. (Currently: Seamus Heaney.) Then read a new poem. (By this time CNN is a mumble in the background, nothing my brain cares about.)
  3. Turn on my computer, but before going to email, read some news stories. Lately, after finding myself turning to BBC, NPR and the Christian Science Monitor to escape CNN’s Trump focus, I decided to subscribe to the good old “failing” New York Times. The story that really got me today was about the escalation of violence against women in Honduras.
  4. Again, before email, I look at the weather forecasts, not just for Lopez Island, but for the whole country. I try to imagine how different people are being affected in different states and regions. (Road trips help with this–we know a lot of folks in a lot of different states and regions!)
  5. OK, now it’s time for email, Facebook, all that delicious focus on ME and my near-and-dear, or far-and-dear. But because I started with the bigger picture, it stays with me in perimeter even as my focus narrows. And because of the poetry, my brain feels brighter, my noticing muscles primed to do their job.

*on baking mornings, which start around 3 a.m., this routine is foreshortened, of course. I don’t need to worry about the Mate’s news habits; I’m actually up before him. But I spend the first ten minutes of my ride (if biking) or my drive, saying the names of people in need of special attention and love–anyone from an ill neighbor to, for example, the people of Puerto Rico.

I have tried, by the way, to internalize this kind of empathic meditation and make it part of my day when I’m not leaving for the bakery. But I haven’t yet found a place and time that feels natural. Still a work in progress.

“No man is an island, let that be my prayer/ no matter how alluring be the shore…”

Because of that, I would love to hear of other people’s routines. What special things do you do to start your day off on the right foot, for both brain and soul? 

 

An Unexpected Gift: Music From The Supposedly Destitute

Last week when I came in to work at the bakery, a colleague handed me a note. “Someone left this for you.”

“This” turned out to be a New York Times article about a group of musicians, all refugees, in a camp called The Jungle in the Parisian outskirts known as Calais. “For Gretchen,” was all the note said–unsigned.

I read the article, titled “Musicians in a Refugee Camp in France Record ‘The Calais Sessions.'” I was so moved by the story, I immediately went to the musicians’ website to buy their album.

I listened to one song before buying, but honestly–I didn’t need to. The idea of people crawling out of evil and hatred and misery and death to come together to produce music–that ultimate expression of humanity–that’s all I needed to know. That, to me, IS music.

I imagine some of you might feel the same way. To read more, and/or to order your own CD or digital version of The Calais Sessions, click here.

And to the person who left me that article? Thank you. You rock.

Baltimore: In Need of a Laugh, Or at Least a Smile?

What’s there to smile about in Baltimore? Good question.

Baltimore saddens us–not just because what happened to Freddie Gray fits a sickening American pattern, but because the reaction to his death continues to remind us of the disgusting disparities in American socioeconomics.  Last weekend felt like 1968 all over again–yes, I was just a kid then, but I vividly remember those riots, that televised hopeless anger. Our lack of progress is as sickening to me as Mr. Gray’s death.

In North Carolina that same weekend, I had spent time with an old classmate who now lives in Baltimore, and several of us immediately emailed to express our sorrow over what was happening in her city. But Rachel’s reply was heartening:

Wow, thanks everyone. We’ve been untouched other than a cancelled doctor appointment. And of course having our hearts broken and filled like everyone else here. Holding hope it can be the start of a break from the patterns that led to it. Not sure how much the national media are covering all the little moments? The drumline and step dancers at the central spot. Everyone sweeping and cleaning together. Street corner and basketball court conversations between elders and young people. The symphony playing outside at lunchtime.

That statement about the national media touched a nerve. Not only are they generally playing up the worst of the situation while missing those smaller human moments–let’s face it, flames and looting make for more titillating coverage than street-corner conversations–they are, apparently, having trouble distinguishing the individuality of Baltimoreans themselves.

Comedy Central’s John Oliver weighed in hilariously on this topic during his latest episode of Last Week Tonight. The YouTube link was blocked, but I’ll let The Daily Beast take over from here, quoting John Oliver:

“It has been a delicate situation handled by the media with all the deft, not-at-all racist touch that they’ve become known for,” Oliver said. “Please watch as Geraldo Rivera greets someone as Russell Simmons who is absolutely not Russell Simmons.”

Yes, the man marching with NBA star—and Baltimore native—Carmelo Anthony is none other than Kevin Liles, who bears only a very slight resemblance to Simmons.

“Geraldo, you do realize that when African Americans stand together as one, that does not mean they’re all literally the same person, right?” he continued. “Geraldo Rivera is supposed to be a journalist, and I suppose we should all be thankful that at least none of his colleagues made the same mistake.”

Oliver then cut to a clip of CNN reporter Brian Todd, who also mistook Liles for Simmons—and not only that, kept harassing him about it, proclaiming, “I’m not sure I believe you. We think this is Russell Simmons, Wolf.”

Then Oliver got serious. “This week has shone a serious light on the disparities in Baltimore between the community and the police force—disparities that were highlighted when six officers were arrested on charges in Gray’s death, and were then released on bail,” he said.

He threw to a news clip announcing that the six officers charged in Gray’s death had bail amounts ranging from $250,000-300,000.

“That sounds like a fair amount for such serious charges, but juxtapose that with the bail set for people involved in the protests, like this 18-year-old who helped smash in the windows of several cars, including a police car. How much was his bail?” asked Oliver.

The young man in question is Allan Bullock, who allegedly was captured on film bashing in the windows of an unmarked police car with a traffic cone. And his bail was set at $500,000—more than for any of the officers charged with Gray’s death.

“Five hundred thousand dollars for breaking car windows!” he said. “To put that in context, even Robert Durst had his bail set at just $300,000 after definitely not killing that guy in Galveston, Texas. That amount of money makes absolutely no sense! That kid’s crimes were misdemeanors, he turned himself in—in fact, the only explanation for his bail being set that high is that, just like Geraldo Rivera and that guy from CNN, judges in Baltimore can’t look at black people without seeing millionaire Russell Simmons.”

I salute John Oliver for pointing out this hypocrisy. I salute the strong citizens of Baltimore who are out there cleaning up their streets and safeguarding their young people. I salute any politician at any level who is doing the necessary work to address the income gap in our country which has turned cities like Baltimore into powder kegs.

(Copyright Shannon Stapleton/Reuters, Newsweek.com)

(Copyright Shannon Stapleton/Reuters, Newsweek.com)

 

If I could vote right now to raise my own tax rate to deal with this appalling inequality, I would. Failing that, right now, the least I can do is to send a check to help restore the Baltimore neighborhood foundation building that fell victim to the riots. And publicize whatever there is in Baltimore worth smiling about.

To Kill a Rumor About a Mockingbird: Have it Be True

“When he was thirteen, my brother Jem had his arm badly broken above the elbow.”

Two points if you can identify the book and the speaker of that quote; an extra point for identifying its place in the novel. (Note to my former 10th grade English students: you better know this one!)

‘Course, my post title’s a bit of a giveaway. And it’s possible that I’ve quoted imperfectly. Thing is, that quote’s from memory. Want some more?

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.”

 

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

 

“Pass the damn ham.”

OK, that last one’s not particularly significant–except that it makes me laugh. Which I guess is significant. Considering that To Kill a Mockingbird is, nearly 55 years after publication, still the most widely-assigned piece of literature in American high schools (along with Huckleberry Finn and a few Shakespeare plays), the fact that this densely-written, theme-heavy book filled with challenging vocabulary is also FUNNY is a minor miracle.

Harper Lee only wrote the one book. For decades, rumors have floated about a second one, but nothing has ever come of them. Until now. We get a prequel!

cover

 According to the New York Times, the recently-discovered manuscript of Go Set a Watchman “takes place 20 years later in the same fictional town, Maycomb, Ala., and unfolds as Jean Louise Finch, or Scout, the feisty child heroine of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” returns to visit her father. The novel, which is scheduled for release this July, tackles the racial tensions brewing in the South in the 1950s and delves into the complex relationship between father and daughter.”

The article goes on to say that Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman first, but her editor, “captivated by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, told her to write a new book from the young heroine’s perspective and to set it during her childhood.”

And the rest is history.40 million copies sold, with a million still sold every year. Translated into 40 languages. Like I said–history.

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

When my husband, watching CNN, first told me of this news, I blurted, “That’s a literary bombshell!” He laughed. “Maybe to you English teachers…”

It’s true–I’m a lit nerd, and proud of it. All of us lit nerds are. But I can’t help thinking this is somewhat larger than us. This is an author whose career has been created–game, set, match–by A SINGLE BOOK, about which, famously, she has given no interviews for 50 years. And now–another book? This is much bigger than JK Rowling writing under a pseudonym.

I hope Go Set a Watchman doesn’t disappoint. Most of all, I hope its release doesn’t disappoint Ms. Lee. I hope all of us Mockingbird fans (even those who might have been forced to read it initially by a teacher like me) read it, have good discussions, and write Ms. Lee some more fan mail. But even if we don’t, let’s not speculate on or judge her motivations for releasing it now, at age 88. After all, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

What was your experience of To Kill a Mockingbird? Love, hate, don’t remember? Never read it? Well, lucky you. Just, if you can–read Chapter One aloud, in a Southern accent. Take it from a teacher–it’s so much better that way.

 

Where Have All My Heroes Gone? R.I.P., Pete Seeger

Uncle Pete is gone. I miss him already.

He lived to 94, but considering what he packed into those years, I’d say he was really more like 188 when he died the other day. Consider these facts:

Pete Seeger wrote, co-wrote, or adapted all of the following songs:

  • We Shall Overcome
  • If I Had a Hammer
  • Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
  • Turn! Turn! Turn!

All the royalties from We Shall Overcome go to the We Shall Overcome Fund of the Highlander Center, which provides grants to support the organizing efforts of impoverished Southerners for improved conditions.

He and his group, The Weavers, were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, then blacklisted for their Communist ideals (i.e., the shocking notion that people ought to be treated and paid fairly).

Later, when The Weavers recorded a song to advertise Lucky Strike cigarettes, Uncle Pete left the group, not wishing to support the tobacco industry.

 

Uncle Pete traveled the world with his guitar and banjo. Twice, he came to my town, Durham, North Carolina. One of my earliest memories is of him bounding around the stage as he enacted the chorus of a song–something about a giant named “Abayoyo.” “Aba-yoyo…Aba-yoyo…” I must have been about six years old, but I can hear him now.

Uncle Pete was married to the same woman his whole life. They lived in a modest cabin in upstate New York where, in his 90s, Uncle Pete still split his own wood.

I won’t even go into all his efforts to stop the war in Vietnam, to support the Civil Rights Movement, to clean up the Hudson River, to bring Israelis and Palestinians together…You may already know. If you want to learn more or spend some time remembering, you can read about them in his New York Times obituary.

For now, I just want to say: Thanks, Uncle Pete. Thank you for lending your voice to the voiceless. Thank you for giving your boundless energy to the poor, the desperate, the war-weary, the polluted waters. Thank you for your beautiful example, living your life with such humble simplicity.

What’s your favorite Pete Seeger song? What does it evoke for you?  Please share–then take some time to hum or sing it to yourself as you go through your day.