Pete Seeger had been at it so long, plunging himself into the political passions of the day for so many decades, it felt as if he had been around forever and would stay around forever. He died Monday night at 94.
He kept abreast of movements and struggles worldwide and collected and spread a love for the music of the world. He deplored the exaltation of the rich over the poor, deplored racial hatred, exclusion and snobbery.
He believed in the transformative power of art and in the necessity of protest, resistance and talking back to power.
Do we still hold those values true today?
Inside Story: What was your relationship with Pete Seeger like?
Joe Uehlein: I knew him well for decades. We co-founded the Labor Heritage Foundation together. I performed with him many times, including at the Birchmere a few years ago. I visited him at his house several times. We talked all the time about labor and environmental struggles and about peace and freedom.
Here’s a guy for seven and a half decades who applied his voice and his music to every social movement. In addition, what he did when he was blacklisted was go into churches and schools and teach children. That spawned a whole movement of young people in folk music and political activism. He had an amazing contribution as a teacher.
Inside Story: Where are today’s protest movements? Has protest gone out of fashion?
JU: I don’t think protest is out of fashion. There was an article in Rolling Stone that asks that question. I got a call from a reporter, “Why are there no protest songs?” I said, “Jeez, there are more than there ever have been!” What has changed is that the airwaves are not as open to them as they once were.
In terms of protest, I think we’re seeing it in the environmental movement. It’s the fastest-growing movement in the world today, the climate movement. And all of those kids know Pete. It inspires young people that he stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee and paid the price professionally.
Inside Story: Who was Pete Seeger to you?
Sandi Bachom: I met Pete last year. I went to his cabin that he built in upstate New York. He was the activist’s activist. When I was there, I reminded him that I met him in the 1960s when I was member of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee).
We went up to San Francisco when we were protesting in the 1960s for the SNCC. I held his hand and sang “We Shall Overcome.” He corrected me and said that the right way to cross hands is right over left. He also said the song was rewritten for the union, so we changed it to “We will overcome.” It was a wonderful moment to me. He remembers every single moment of that, and it was almost 50 years ago.
One night I was on Facebook at midnight, and I saw that he was marching on Broadway (in New York City), so I got to Columbus Circle. It was dark, and there was a whole group of people nestled around the monument. All of a sudden, somebody shone a light, and they started singing “This Light of Mine.” Pete did the mic check, and when he spoke, he was all about world peace, world hunger and love. He was there, even when he got so old.
He championed for peace in the world. He fought against war and poverty. He worked for the children. He was an environmentalist. He was just tireless.
IS: Where have all the protest movements in America gone? Are there no more modern movements left in the U.S.?
SB: God, no, there are movements still around. This is my second revolution. My first was in the 1960s. I have my original peace button. We protested against the war in Vietnam. We ended the war in Vietnam by getting out in the streets and protesting. That’s what appealed to me about Occupy Wall Street — power to the people! No, it’s certainly not gone.
The above panel was assembled for the broadcast of Inside Story to discuss.
For future hard-hitting conversations, find Al Jazeera America on your TV.