This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender

 

Pete Seeger's banjo

This is Pete Seeger’s banjo, emblazoned with the phrase “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender”

 

For me, one of the most romantic stories of my musical education at Brandeis has been the rediscovery of “This Land is Your Land.”

We all know the opening stanza to the song -

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Most people don’t know the last, famously “lost” stanzas -

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

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

Puts a new spin on things, huh? This Land is Your Land was actually written as the liberal counterpoint to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”

And here’s Pete Seeger, the folk muse of the land, reteaching the common history of America to millions of people, for President-Elect (but not for long) Barack Obama’s pre-inaugural musical celebration:

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Al Giordano, protege of Brandeis grad Abbie Hoffman, explains:

Pete sang on picket lines with union organizers and joined forces with Woody Guthrie and others in the 1940s to give voice to their struggles through The Almanac Singers (later known as The Weavers). After a number one hit with Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene” they were blacklisted as communists from radio play in 1953. In 1955, Pete was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (he brought his banjo and tried to sing them a song, which they would not allow, so he recited the lyrics instead to “Wasn’t That a Time” while also refusing to name names, telling the committee, “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”) For that he was sentenced to ten years in prison for contempt of Congress, a conviction later overturned on appeal.

Pete marched from Selma to Montgomery in the Civil Rights struggles of 1965, played tirelessly at rallies for that cause, also for ending the war in Vietnam, for the environment and always for unions and against censorship. He was with us time and time again in the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s, so on and so forth. Living in Beacon, New York, with his wife, Toshi, I saw him there two years ago by his beloved Clearwater Sloop boat, continuing the fight. In 2006, Bruce Springsteen and friends called the Seeger Sessions Band tour resurrecting Seeger’s music and struggle for a wider public and on Sunday Pete will be there to ring in the new president of the government that spent decades trying to silence and even destroy him. It will be an especially emotional moment for many of us.