When I was just a little girl, my father introduced me to the “champion of the working-class.” It was on Dad’s high-fi that I first heard Pete Seeger herald the unions while protesting the abuses of the bosses. As a rebellious teenager, from a tiny portable reel-to-reel tape machine, I listened and sang along to Seeger, the anti-war hero, as my own politics were being formed. Later in my adolescence, on the streets, protesting the testing of nuclear bombs off the coast of British Columbia, we sang Pete’s anti-nuclear songs. As a young woman protesting the military forays into South American countries, Seeger’s musical cries for justice inspired us. When the AIDs crisis began to take friends from us Pete’s songs helped us to demand research dollars and program funding. For a long time now, Pete’s anguished cries on behalf of this fragile planet have not only inspired us to speak out on behalf of the environment, they have motivated us to change our ways and try to touch the earth lightly.
Pete Seeger has been described as “America’s conscience”, but I suspect that he is the conscience of all the have-nations of the world. I certainly know that my own conscience was aided in its development by the life and witness of Pete Seeger. I am not blessed with a talent for singing. But, Seeger’s music encouraged me to sing along and in the singing my voice was honed so that I too am able to cry out for justice, peace and compassion.
Pete Seeger’s passing, although expected, brings tears of sadness; for we shall not see his like again. But then some people are worth weeping over. Let our sadness move our hearts and minds to the things that Pete was passionate about. Let us lend our voices to the poor, the working-class, the quest for justice, the cries for peace, and the plight of our planet. Let us use our voices the way he taught us. Let our actions be his legacy! We shall overcome!