They say history repeats itself. That it has done so in my “short” lifetime, well, I can’t think of the the right adjective to describe it right now. Music from the 1960s and early 1970s aptly and sadly applies today, reflecting a repeating history that in my opinion doesn’t reflect well upon our country.
For the record, and this is no surprise to those who follow my blog, Beverly’s Thoughts, I’m mostly conservative politically, yet socially progressive. Or as the socially far-right may derisively demonize, a “lefty liberal.” I don’t identify as such. As for fiscal policy, I’m pragmatic. Capitalism is a good system when greed is held in check. I love my country, but I reject nationalism and understand like most educated and rational people that we are a global community — structurally, economically and collectively as human beings sharing space on this small third rock from the sun.
With the current nationalist and authoritarian posture of ultra-right-wing forces, I long for the days of the Republican establishment. Though I’m not sure just how “compassionate” it turned out, I want Republicans to embrace George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.”
More and more over the past year or so my mind has drifted back to a time in my youth when the cry for social justice and political change was in the streets and in the music. The song reflected in the title of this op-ed piece speaks to me about the conviction turned into action during that earlier turbulent period in our history.
The song performed by Peter, Paul and Mary was originally written and performed by the then-lone-voice of Pete Seeger, folk singer, social justice protagonist, and economic fairness advocate. Seeger followed in the courageous, albeit character-flawed, footsteps of Woody Guthrie.
Seeger bravely and passionately held firm to this commercially unpopular music genre in the face of being attacked as a subversive socialist and anti-patriot, sounds familiar, who threatened to undermine the oppressive and discriminatory establishment of his time. Bob Dylan later covered his song, as did many other folk musicians up until today. Who could have predicted that it would become timeless and still speak to subsequent generations? Lasting change is excruciatingly slow and takes generations, as we have witnessed.
It seems Americans today have adopted a frighteningly new norm, numb and tone deaf to what’s happening around us. Perhaps it’s over-indulging in mindless and vapid entertainment as an escape from their unhappiness and boredom, or because people don’t care any more with an “it’s-not-my-problem,” “let-them-eat-cake” attitude.
Music emotionally touches us more than any other form of art. It has the potential to reach deeply into that neglected place most people rarely visit; the heart where lies concern for others, for all. Many entertainment stars are speaking out to what seems like an empty audience. Is it time for a more activist grassroots and music revival of the 1960s?
Not to paint every musical artist of all genres with a broad brush, but most of the new music I enjoy today is trite, formulaic, narcissistic, and largely void of social or intellectual value. It’s all about the cash record labels can bring in, and social topics that might make us think are taboo, being viewed by the execs as antithetical to sales and profit margins.
But, let’s not point fingers. Before we get all self-righteous, this says more about us than executive boundaries set in response to consumer demand; though profit isn’t inherently a bad thing as long as it’s not at the expense of others. Indifference is of greater concern than empty art and all the tribal bickering being aired by networks, cable news and talk radio in response to ratings, i.e., public demand. In other words, the plural we have ourselves to blame. Nothing political or in business happens in a vacuum.
I’m all in for doing what’s necessary to improve our economy and increase the number of jobs. I’m all for that, but I am disturbed that the top one percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. The most wealthy were given a disproportionately beneficial tax break, which will add trillions to our national debt.
When left to their own devises, corporations and investors have historically used such windfalls to beef up their P&L statements and stock portfolios, with little to no “trickle down” effect. I don’t begrudge corporate tax reform. I think it was needed, but I want tax reform to also benefit the bottom 90 percent. I’m not prejudging it before the proof is in the pudding.
On the social justice front, discrimination has gained new force fostered by extremist politicians on the left and right drunk on the toxic Kool-aid being served to a minority base of supporters whose notion of “make America great again” or “tear it all down” is destroying America from within. We don’t need the Russians or Chinese to do it for us.
The humanitarian answer and outcry for justice and equality isn’t “blowing in the wind,” which was Seeger’s poetic euphemism for the grassroots voices and social movements of the day beginning to stir up a breeze. The blowing wind is here, but it’s coming from two wrong directions with a lot of hate-filled hot air.
So, here is the tough soul-searching question we each must ask ourselves. Do we have an answer and care enough to start the wind blowing again from the American middle? You know, “we the people” who are immune to the hypnotic and hyperbolic rhetoric simultaneously coming from the far-right and far-left? The best answer can be given at the ballot box by electing pragmatic leaders with common sense and the best interest of all citizens at heart.
Can we together make Pete Seeger’s song relevant again and bring about positive, common-sense social, human rights and economic fairness change? Doing so is my calling and yours, too. Cheering from the sidelines won’t get it done. We must start a revival of what was meant by the lyrics “blowing in the wind.” Peace.