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Songs for a Populist Movement

This Land

by MISSY COMLEY BEATTIE

When I was a kid, I loved singing those patriotic songs in music class. One, in particular, gave me goose bumps. These Irving Berlin lyrics, with their dramatic arrangement of notes, made me dizzy with pride:

God bless America, Land that I love.
Stand beside her and guide her
through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home.

Ignorance was not only blissful, it was pervasive–in our textbooks and curriculum. History books told happily ever after tales of generosity, goodness, and Manifest Destiny. Our country spread idealism, freedom, and democracy to territories and countries grateful to be recipients of such magnanimity. After all, these places were populated by people incapable of self-government.

We had missions to accomplish, a desire to expand, and there were lands to occupy. Needs had to be met. But it was symbiotic. We required resources; they required leadership and our example of civilized behavior. The political power we attained couldn’t have been a motive; it was simply collateral advantage. Of course.

In high school, my son was required to read the true saga of this country, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. This was in New York City, though. I doubt Zinn’s book is the standard social studies text throughout our country. I wonder if students who’re taught, today, the saccharin-coated stories I learned are blissfully ignorant–like the females recently polled who said they’d much rather be America’s Next Top Model than winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

For all our young who are painfully aware of this country’s obscene acts of aggression, imperialism, support for Zionism, and allegiance to
mega-corporations, I despair. And, now, they probably do, too. For they were misled by candidate Barack Obama who made promises to transform the United States of America. Instead, President Obama is embracing the same exploitive foreign policy of his predecessors, and he answers to Wall Street, not to us.

Obama is sinking his presidency and, along with it, the hope of a new generation of voters–all those galvanized by and desperate for a message of change.

It is a tragic truth that if Obama really had been a candidate who as president would deliver change, the party’s nomination wouldn’t have been his.

I wish I could sing patriotic songs with the childlike pride I once felt. I wish I had reason to. This would require a populist movement, organized and huge, to restore faith in government leadership that has for years failed to represent the people.

And, so, I think of another song, one by Woody Guthrie. Let’s dust it off and remember that only we can bring about change–the kind that doesn’t occur in the voting booth. March. Make noise. And demands. Sing loudly and in solidarity, because:

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.

Missy Beattie lives in New York City. She’s written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. An outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, she’s a member of Gold Star Families for Peace. She completed a novel last year, but since the death of her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase J. Comley, in Iraq on August 6,’05, she has been writing political articles. She can be reached at: Missybeat@aol.com