If there is one thing that tells everyone that things are going to be different in America, it’s the We Are One inaugural concert (HBO excerpted version) today at the Lincoln Memorial. As I watched Bruce Springsteen call on the 89 year-old Pete Seeger to “lead us” in what he called the greatest song ever written in America, emotion flooded through me. What could be more perfect to mark the change that’s a comin’ than Woody Guthrie’s This Land in Your Land? Also perfect was their singing not the verses that everyone knows, but the rarer, more politically radical verses:
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
I always felt that those verses were somehow so radical and subversive. Yet here they were being sung under the gaze of the Great Emancipator himself and before the next president of the United States. Amazing.
I thought also of how amazing it must be for Pete Seeger, victim of the anti-Communist blacklist in the 1950s, to sing before 750,000 fellow Americans and Barack Obama and not have to hide anything. Not have to hide who he is or his politics or values. But instead to be celebrated for them. How amazing.
I thought of how Pete Seeger must’ve felt standing on that stage honoring this incoming president. He can’t have had much in common politically with any previous president during his lifetime (except perhaps Roosevelt). What joy and pleasure and even vindication he must’ve felt to be on that stage honoring a man with whom he likely shares much more.
And I cannot leave off discussing this remarkable event without marking another amazing comment by Bono after singing In the Name of Love and channeling the spirit of Martin Luther King’s dream:
“Let freedom ring. On this spot where we’re standing 46 years ago Dr. King had a dream. On Tuesday, that dream comes to pass,” before launching into ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’, U2’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“This is not just an American dream,” he said, adding that it was “also an Irish dream, a European dream, an African dream… an Israeli dream… and also a Palestinian dream.”
One of the Hollywood celebrities spoke these memorable words of Abraham Lincoln which called to mind Israel’s Occupation and the corrupting influence it has on Israeli democracy:
“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”
To quote another classic song sung in this concert: “I know a change is gonna come.”