This Land Really is Made for You and Me

Maybe symbolism is just symbolism, but the optimist in me says that Barack Obama’s invitation to former Communist and life-long political activist Pete Seeger (along with Bruce Springstein and 89-year-old Pete’s full-throated grandson Tao) to sing Woody Guthrie’s anthem This Land is Your Land, and the fact that the once blacklisted folk legend chose to do not just the feel-good, approved-for-public-school-music-class-use verses, but all the verses, including Woody’s long-censored “commie” verses, and that Obama was right there singing those verses along with the rest of the million people on the Mall, has to mean something.

Now, of course, we need to see if there is more to this than just a change in the Washington soundtrack. A good test of Obama’s real intentions will be to see if his new administration presses forward with winning passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would finally give workers a decent chance at winning union representation in the workplace. Maybe Woody’s old song needs a new verse:

The boss where I’m working is anti-union,
He fires our members, and fights elections.
But with Free Choice we’ll defeat his harassment
And win the union contract we all need.

Here, meanwhile, is the song as Woody wrote it, and as Pete sang it on the National Mall yesterday:

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

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me

Chorus

I’ve roamed and rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

Chorus

The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me

Chorus

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

Chorus

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there whistling
Is this land made for you and me?

Chorus

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.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based folksinger and journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

 

 

 

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).