This past Sunday, Pete Seeger became the oldest person to perform publicly as part of Barack Obama’s inauguration festivities.
Singing the “greatest song about America ever written” (Bruce Springsteen’s words) before 500,000 people and tens of millions more on television, the 89-year old legend crooned two little-known verses of his friend Woody Guthrie’s 1940 patriotic standard, “This Land is Your Land” — one about Depression-era poverty, the other about trespassing on private property — restoring the song to its former glory over the sanitized version that ruled for so many years.
Watch the performance:
Seeger has been an inimitable ambassador for peace, social justice and the best kind of patriotism over the course of a remarkable lifetime. As a prominent musician his songs have engaged people, particularly the youth, to question the value of war, to ban nuclear weapons, to work for international solidarity and against racism wherever it is practiced, and to assume ecological responsibility.
A particular hero to the civil rights movement on whose behalf he worked so tirelessly, Seeger made his first trip south at the invitation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1956, and returned in ’65, again at King’s personal invitation, to join the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Amid the tension and heat, Seeger went from campfire to campfire when the march stopped for the night, raising people’s morale with rollicking sing-alongs of new freedom songs.
One of the seminal political events in his life, and the one which solidified his intent to make actively combating racism a lifelong pursuit, was the 1949 Peekskill race riots. In this short video, Seeger recounts his experiences:
Without doubt the most influential folk artist of the past century, Seeger deserves at least one more moment on the world stage — at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway. The prize is only bestowed on the living. Although still spry, Seeger turns 90 on May 3. And, as writer and activist Peter Drier writes on the Huffington Post, a Nobel Peace Prize would be “a fitting and much-deserved final tribute for the world’s preeminent troubadour for peace and justice” and would serve as important recognition for the many progressive causes to which Seeger has lent his name.
To advance the idea, a new campaign has begun in earnest to persuade the American Friends Service Committee — which is entitled to put forward submissions — to enter Seeger as its nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize 2009. Join the cause by signing the petition asking the AFSC to nominate Seeger by the February 1 deadline and check out nobelprize4pete.org for more info on how you can help.