Clearwater, Flowers, and Overcoming
In late fall of 1958, as a very young boy, I saw armed cars and tanks and soldiers marching through a city. I saw them from the back seat of a car. The city was Little Rock, Arkansas, and school integration had begun.
Just a few years before that, I saw my dad leave work as a Geiger counter was circled around his body. My dad worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on the Manhattan Project. The Geiger counter was used to see how much radiation he had picked up during the day.
A few days ago, Sister Megan Rice, with others, was convicted of sabotage for last year’s break-in into the nuclear weapons plant at Oak Ridge, a symbolic act to draw attention to America’s stockpile of nuclear weapons that they believe to be immoral and illegal.
For eight days in 1968, protesters and the Chicago police fought in the streets during the Democratic National Convention at the International Amphitheater. Ever been chased, shot at, and tear-gassed? It helps to sing as you run. I know. I was there.
Pete Seeger, the man who produced the soundtrack for much of the civil rights, peace, and human rights movements, passed away at age 94 on January 27. On October 21, 2011, he was still going strong as he took part in a solidarity march with Occupy Wall Street in New York City. He walked along singing and smiling, aided by two canes. His heart and spirit were still strong, but his body was failing him, this man who loved the outdoors.
In 1969, four years before the first Earth Day, Pete Seeger started another cause, cleaning up the Hudson River, with the construction of the sloop Clearwater, and over the next four decades, he and his boat were instrumental in undoing years of pollution, a success many thought impossible.
Perhaps we all have many parents. Parents are more than teachers. They make us feel love and give us strength, nurture the spirit as well as feed the mind. In that fall of 1958, I didn’t know Pete Seeger, but ten years later in Chicago I did, and he helped me overcome fear, not just through his music but his actions.
As peace activists in the 1960s, we nonviolent protesters faced the bayonets and clubs and would often sing “We Shall Overcome,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Which Side Are You On,” and more.
Thank you, Pete Seeger, for being a parent, teacher, singer, and activist. You still help me overcome. As we lose more and more people like you, the void I feel grows larger. Where have all the flowers gone?
There’s more on these and other stories on the shores of Rambling Harbor. Give a listen.