Remembering Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger2 - 6-16-07 Photo by Anthony Pepitone.jpgI was saddened to hear of Pete’s passing today at the age of 94, but grateful, not only for having seen Pete perform, but for his service to the community that enriched so many lives, and particularly for his contribution to help clean up the Hudson river.

While still living in New York, I had a few opportunities to attend Pete’s concerts playing and singing alongside Arlo Guthrie. Through songs and stories, their performances were always spirited with a love of music and their sharing that love with us. The more Pete could get the audience to participate, the more excited he would get. It would have been a challenge even for the most hardened among us to not feel some enthusiasm witnessing his raw, energetic presence.

Through and beyond the music, Pete had a vision of peace and opportunity for all. Making good use of the time in which he was banned from commercial television, he shared his love of music with school children, encouraging them to sing along. Even after financial success, he kept to a simple life living on a 17 acre farm in upstate New York. Up until the last few days of his life, friends say he still chopped his own wood as he had done most of his adult life.
Here is an excerpt of what I wrote about Pete back in the summer:

Recently, watching a documentary, titled Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (2007), I was struck by the life of this man; one of music, authenticity, energy, controversy, along with contributions to the community that I was unaware of. I have always been a fan of his live performances with Arlo Guthrie, and am thankful to have seen them perform together a few times in 70’s, and the 80’s in small venues on Long Island where I lived at the time. Through interviews, the movie showed Pete’s efforts towards making a more peaceful world both in the way he lived his life and in local causes he embraced.

Bear Mtn Bridge.jpgOne of Pete’s legacies was his initiation of a successful community based effort to clean up the Hudson river in NY by raising awareness of the issue and funding for a non-profit organization dedicated to cleaning up the river and advocating for corporate responsibility for damages done and better stewardship in the future.

There are many others, alive and dead, famous or not, that have dedicated their lives to working for peace. I applaud Pete for working at the local level to make a difference to the local and not so local community.

A petition for a Nobel Prize for Pete Seeger:

http://www.nobelprize4pete.org/

People Get Ready

What is Peace? What does it look like? What are its images? Have we ever known peace? What is the difference between one’s individual practice of peace and world peace?

Would anyone not want peace? Some say we’ll never have sustained peace, but who would reject making peace if understood personally as a practice, accessible and as common as is the practice of writing, or T’ai Chi? And what does the dove tell us? Wiki says:

“Doves mate for life, are incredibly loyal to each other and work together to build their nest and raise their young. Because they tend to nest in areas that humans can watch, people picked up quickly on the idea that doves were dedicated, honorable and peaceful. While hawks and other birds of prey would violently attack their neighbors, the dove was a bird of peace, eating seeds, easily trained to eat out of the hand or to become domesticated.

Beginning with the Egyptians, the dove was as symbol of quiet innocence. The Chinese felt the dove was a symbol of peace and long life. To early Greeks and Romans, doves represented love and devotion, and care for a family. The dove was the sacred animal of Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love. The dove also symbolized the peaceful soul for many cultures.”

Peace Doves

Peace is an important idea, but judging by the lack of its sustained presence it remains one of humankind’s most challenging notions. Even defining peace is challenging…

Questions I ask:

Is peace the absence of something; the lack of war, hate, poverty?

Is peace an addition of something; love, cooperation, compassion, a willingness to resolve conflict through compromise?

Will a political solution bring us peace or is it cumulative through an individual’s practice spreading to others?

I make no claim to having answers – but it’s worth considering and sharing all the many ways we do experience peace, both personally, collectively, technologically and politically. Ideas do have a way of becoming viral and perhaps if we could share with each other our notion and practice of peace, describing the small ways in which each of us already does experience peace, we can deepen, encourage and multiply the practice of peace for ourselves and others.

Why wait for someone else to create peace when we can be creators ourselves? I know, crazy, isn’t it? As the saying goes, “nothing worth having ever comes easy.” As well, many of us already do practice creating peace for ourselves and others, and we aren’t always aware of the impact that sharing our experience can have.

Recently, watching a documentary, titled Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (2007), I was struck by the life of this man; one of music, authenticity, energy, controversy, along with contributions to the community that I was unaware of. I have always been a fan of his live performances with Arlo Guthrie, and am thankful to have seen them perform together a few times in 70’s, and the 80’s in small venues on Long Island where I lived at the time. Through interviews, the movie showed Pete’s efforts towards making a more peaceful world both in the way he lived his life and in local causes he embraced.

Admittedly, I struggle with the perception of him as political figure and specifically his support of communism. I don’t recall Pete and Arlo ever politicizing their performances though, but rather promoting through song and storytelling ideas of peace and freedom for all people and eliminating suffering caused by wars and poverty. I am aware that Pete was involved with the Communist party of the USA, but as the documentary and other sources show, later in life he denounced the violence and harm done by communist regimes that he may have seen as political solutions for humankind. And, even if Pete believed communism to be a solution to humanity’s problems, people’s beliefs do not represent the entirety of their life or nullify their good works (saying this as much to acknowledge the need to dispel this notion in myself as in others).

““I certainly should apologize for saying that Stalin was a hard driver rather than a very cruel leader,” he said. “I don’t speak out about a lot of things. I don’t talk about slavery. A lot of white people in America could apologize for stealing land from the Indians and enslaving Africans. Europe could apologize for worldwide conquest. Mongolia could apologize for Genghis Khan. But I think the thing to do is look ahead.” Pete Seeger in an interview with Ron Radosh. Read more here in the NY Times article.

Bear Mtn Bridge.jpgOne of Pete’s legacies was his initiation of a successful community based effort to clean up the Hudson river in NY by raising awareness of the issue and funding for a non-profit organization dedicated to cleaning up the river and advocating for corporate responsibility for damages done and better stewardship in the future.

There are many others, alive and dead, famous or not, that have dedicated their lives to working for peace. I applaud Pete for working at the local level to make a difference to the local and not so local community.

peace-art

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what peace is and how you practice its presence in your life, in the local community; how is peace made manifest in your life? And is peace in the world composed of our individual practice of peace or is something else needed?

A petition for a Nobel Prize for Pete Seeger:

http://www.nobelprize4pete.org/

For more ideas on the etymology and usage of the word “peace” see here:

http://www.hejleh.com/edna_yaghi/peace1.html

Thank you to Curtis Mayfield:

“People get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.”