“The Beautiful City”

 I feel like the revival preacher who led a wild youth and now goes around urging people to walk the straight and narrow. Having sung the praises of traveling, this reprobate is remorseful. I used to quote Woody Guthrie, “If I didn’t travel you’d have to travel, because there’s lots of traveling to do.”  OK, agreed. The world needs diplomats, salesmen, circus performers, and revolutionary travelers too.  But after these travelers have done their jobs, the work begins to save each neighborhood of the world, and this is going to be done by people who dig in and don’t run away from the job.

In America we have too long glorified the person that has pulled up stakes and moved on. The brave immigrant. “Pioneers, O Pioneers!” exulted Whitman. But Bob Dylan punctured this ideal a bit with his song, “Pity the Poor Immigrant.” You can still be world conscious while digging in. You can read, you can write. You can exchange songs, pictures, ideas with the rest of the globe. But use all this to help your neighborhood be proud of its own, while being friends to all. Neighborhood? It might be a small town, it might be a stretch along a river, a lake, a mountain range or a city block. Who’s going to save it? Not the compromisers, the cowards, the people who call themselves conservatives just because they allow the rape and destruction to continue.

 

Working people can save it, if they’ve organized. Who will organize them? You. OK, travel first, learn. Ho Chi Minh traveled the world, then came back to the job of organizing the people of Vietnam. Ben Franklin spent twenty years in Europe and glorified the philosopher who could set foot on any part of the world and say, “This is my country.” But then he came home. The Beautiful City that will be the world is going to have a lot of neighborhoods. Poets and singers are essential to each neighborhood, to help keep up its morale, to cherish its traditions, to sort out false from true, to give a vision of the future

 

…When I sang in Hanoi, March 1972, I ended with some Hudson Valley songs. A Vietnamese novelist, a fighter from South Vietnam told me later, “That was when I decided I could believe you. For only when Americans realize that they too have no place to run to, that they too must stay home and fight to free their own corner of the world, as we are fighting for ours, can the world live with.

 

Come home from Canada, you exiles.

Pete Seeger, 1919-2014“Take it easy but take it”

From Seeger’s regular “Johnny Appleseed, Jr.” column in Sing Out! Magazine, no. 22.6, January/February 1974.

 

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