Martyrs are not only people who die for the faith. Martyrs are also those who suffer for their beliefs. Pete Seeger is such a martyr.
Those of us who came of age in the 60s hold special regard for the folk singers of that era. Joan Baez. Peter, Paul, and Mary. Bob Dylan. These artists and others articulated the struggles of a generation. All acknowledge a debt to Pete Seeger.
Pete Seeger grew up around folk music and, along with the likes of Woody Guthrie, articulated the anguish of a nation out of work. Through his music, he also confronted racism such that he became a person of interest to the Ku Klux Klan. As he addressed various injustices, for a time he explored the Communist party. As a result, he also became a person of interest to Sen. Joe McCarthy. Because Pete refused to cooperate with McCarthy’s witch-hunt, he was blackballed in the entertainment industry for many years. Even as late as 1968, his Viet Nam protest song presented on the Smothers Brothers show was censored by CBS.
In the 1990s Pete was honored at the Kennedy Center and then President Clinton apologized to him for the suffering he had endured at the hands of the country he clearly loves. Pete is now in his 90s and recently showed up at Occupy Wall Street.
What can we learn from Pete Seeger? In this era of politicized religion we must first and foremost speak out for a spirituality faithful to principles of peacefulness, respect for our earth, and justice for the poor. These important spiritual issues appear to have gotten lost amidst rhetoric about birth control and homosexuality.
Second, we can be inspired by Pete’s passion, letting our own passions become organizing principles in our lives, not merely pastimes.
Finally, those creative ones who are so inclined can perhaps write folk songs for today. They are desperately needed!
Reflection: 1. What have been your experiences speaking up about your beliefs?
2. How are you living your passion?
For listening: Enjoy Pete leading a Wolftrap audience in one of his best-known songs, one especially relevent today. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXqTf8DU6a0
For viewing: Watch the moving documentary “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”, available through Netflix among others.