This Land, Independence Day, 2019

Revised & Expanded July 4, 2019

Sheet Music snapshot

Click for music sheet PDF.

I want a new national anthem for the United States.  I want it to be Woody Guthrie’s 1944 song, This Land, and give him the Congressional Gold Medal for it.

If they won’t replace the current anthem, let there be two.  And why not?

My parents’ generation fought World War II.  Actually, my father and his father were in the Navy in the Pacific Ocean at the same time during the war.  This closeness of my generation to that war made it fresh in our collective mind during my youth.

Fighting with Germans was a very popular TV and movie theme (think Vic Morrow in Combat), and we saw propaganda movies made during the war, too.  “We,” in my case, being German Americans.

That paternal grandfather in the Navy in WWII was a “first-born American” to German immigrant parents.  My paternal grandmother’s family was rooted partly in Berlin, Germany.  My mother’s maternal grandparents came from Slovenia to the coal mines of Forest City, Pennsylvania, near Scranton.  My maternal grandmother was born in Slovenia and “brought over” as an infant.  So I’m the grandson of an immigrant and the great-grandson of several other immigrants.

It’s an amazing world, where my connection to Germany was “flavored” by TV-steeped kids teasing me, calling me a Nazi because my name was German, and the Italians were Guineas and WOPS (“Without Papers” … yeah, undocumented immigrants coming over a wall thousands of miles wide in fathomless water … but they climbed that wall), and the Puerto Ricans were Spics, and the Jews were Kikes, and Vietnam gave us Gooks and there were Slopeheads before them, and the Spooks, the Niggers, the Jungle Bunnies, the African Americans, who seem almost never to get a break no matter how long it’s been since they began “immigrating,” people who are more American than almost anybody.  The nation would not exist without them.  Could we have funded the American Revolution without Black slave labor?  (And this is really “Marlboro Country” when you think about the role of tobacco in the Revolutionary economy.)

In this endless American atrocity of degrading, abusing, cheating, even killing human beings because of their color, ethnicity, nationality or religion, we can include putting an ethnic class of law-abiding American immigrants AND CITIZENS into concentration camps while members of their same ethnicity fought for this country.  This is the Japanese in World War II.

They don’t fit the immigrant model, but Native Americans were subjected to genocide, not merely because they were deemed “savages,” but because they were in the way of American “progress.”

This is America, where there are always people underfoot and people walking on them, power thriving on senseless hatred, until the tides turn.  Then, new groups become the underclass (or get added to the list of existing ones).

I guess that’s an immigrant nation for you, where they fight to get here, fight the consequences of being here because they are lowly immigrants mistreated by the “citizens,” then they go fight and kill their relatives “over there” to protect what they’ve been fighting for over here, then become allies with the enemies.  Amazing.  Pay your dues in the blood of both heart and soul, and become American.

Born a white, middle class male “natural” American citizen, I don’t know what it is to be an immigrant of any kind.  My experience of it is only a little sip of the soup, a taste in a tunnel of privilege through a world of endless diversity.  (Being called a Nazi in childhood was understood and taken as a joke.  Those kids didn’t even know what “Nazi” meant.  Neither did I.  They were the bad guys on TV.  Like the Indians, the Japanese, the Communists, and the Southeast Asians.)  I have little sense of what it is to claw one’s way into America, to suffer privation and starvation just to get to the gate, and to be hated for it, demeaned and abused, but grateful to be here despite earning barely beans for work that the privileged won’t do.

Soy un inmigrante en mi propio país.  I am an immigrant in my own country.

I don’t understand the Wall.  I will never accept the Wall.  “My people” came over the wall, then fought to tear walls down, an immigrant kind of thing to do.  Maybe when our newly arriving Central Americans (and others) come to power they will eliminate the walls.  Or will hypocrisy continue to reign?

I am an American, embarrassed to be one lately, so on this Independence Day, 2019, I want to point out and celebrate just whose land this really is, this one so famously called a land of immigrants.

LET THEM IN.
Trump, tear down these walls,
beginning with the one in your mind.
Listen to this, if you can say it out loud
without bursting into flames:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

              –  Emma Lazarus, November 2, 1883

A bronze plaque with the words of the poem

Bronze plaque with the sonnet above,
in the National Park Service Statue of Liberty Museum.

Can you read that aloud, slowly, without choking up at least a little?  That is spirit, a national spirit, but also a deeply personal, soul-bred heart of goodness that ultimately strikes upon the light at the core of humanity, perhaps “the imprisoned lightning” of our being.

Just who are we, really?  Who will we be if we do not defeat Trumpism and its like?

In the name of the Mother of Exiles, the beacon-symbol of this nation, I welcome these tired and poor, oppressed and abused people yearning to be free, willing to work hard every day for the privilege to join us, as did our ancestors for us.

Reading this poem carved into one of our most famous national shrines, this glorious symbol of spiritual concord with justice and mercy, invoking a spirit essential to our being as a nation, this thing too commonly and too loosely called the American spirit, how is it possible to not see that lifting the lamp is one of the sacred duties of being American?  (Another is to VOTE!)

Trumpist Wall-mindedness, the very idea of it, is an enemy of any people who claim such spirit as their own.  The Wall is a virtually demonic force against the people and nation whose virtue is proclaimed in this poem.  Trumpism opposes the essence of the Statue of Liberty and the entirety of what it stands for, and more.

Trump will be voted out of office next year, and physically removed if he refuses to leave (because even a mere vestige of American spirit will not tolerate that), and then we can begin rebuilding what he has torn down and begin tearing down what he has built up.

It will not be easy.  Trumpism will still exist.

For the moment, for Independence Day, in a symbolic gesture, I call for a boycott of all Fourth of July activities in Washington DC as long as Trump makes it the disgusting militaristic event he needs it to be, an event about himself, and giving seat tickets away for free to Republicans who shamelessly accept them.  Don’t listen to your radio on July 4.  Don’t turn on the television.  Don’t expose yourself to any July 4 activity in Washington DC, and ask everyone else to do the same.  It won’t change anything except ourselves, strengthen our resolve a little, clarify our position, raise our hopes for America far above and beyond his or any he has ever known, or could ever know.

Do enjoy your local Independence Day celebrations.  And include singing the new national anthem!

This rant now ends, I suppose, for now, but that’s what the song’s mention of a wall got me thinking about, especially since Walls are so big these days.  And now back to the national song for a renewed America, an America refined and enlightened as never before, a future not just to believe in, but to begin today.

Let the renewal begin today.  Sing it.  You have a lot of help below.

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia‘s article telling much of the story supporting those “radical” verses in This Land:

A March 1944 recording in the possession of the Smithsonian, the earliest known recording of the song, has the “private property” verse included. This version was recorded the same day as 75 other songs. This was confirmed by several archivists for Smithsonian who were interviewed as part of the History Channel program Save Our History – Save our Sounds. The 1944 recording with this fourth verse can be found on Woody Guthrie: This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recordings Volume 1, where it is track 14.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.

Woodyguthrie.org has a variant:

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.

It also has a verse:

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.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

[…] As with other folk songs, it was sung with different words at various times although the motives for this particular change of lyrics may involve the possible political interpretations of the verses. Recordings of Guthrie have him singing the verses with different words.

The radical verses […] can be best interpreted as a protest against the vast income inequalities that exist in the United States, and against the sufferings of millions during the Great Depression. America, Guthrie insists, was made—and could still be made—for you and me. – This interpretation is consistent with such other Guthrie songs as “Pretty Boy Floyd” and Guthrie’s lifelong struggle for social justice.

Okay, so now, what you’ve been waiting for (I hope).  This 1976 performance of This Land can’t get more American.  It is by Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Fred Hellerman and Arlo Guthrie.  (Arlo sings the two “political” verses.)

It is introduced by a brief speech by the inimitable Studs Terkel, where he rallies emphatically for songs of equality, “No matter what color or what size you are, or how you’re built, I’m out to sing songs that make you take pride in yourself.”

First, the lyrics, to make sure you can sing along through all of it and not miss any lines!  This wording is as sung by the group.  I put Guthrie’s original words in parentheses.

This Land is Your Land
Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

[Seeger:]
As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

[Collins:]
I roamed and rambled, I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And (While) all around me a voice was calling (a’sounding)
This land was made for you and me.

[Hellerman:]
As (When) the sun came shining, and I went (was) strolling
Through (And) the wheat fields waving, and the dust clouds rolling
As the fog was lifting, a voice was chanting, saying
(A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,)
This land was made for you and me.

[Guthrie:]
When I went walking, I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said no trespassing
But on the other side, didn’t say nothing
That sign was made for you and me.

(There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.)

[Seeger:]
One bright sunny morning, (In the squares of the city,) in the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I saw (I’d seen) my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there whistling (asking),
This land was made for you and me.
(Is this land made for you and me?)

[Guthrie:]
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking my (that) freedom highway;
Nobody living can (ever) make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Link to the video: https://youtu.be/h-aeweP-BFU

Independence Day?  There is no independence without mutuality, without interdependence, without unity, without compassion, without truth and justice.  It’s because the independence we’re talking about is not independence from the rest of the web of life, not isolationism, not xenophobia.  It’s about breaking free of injustices and creating a new way to do things, independent of the old ones.  It was never about closing doors to others seeking that same freedom, those others willing to fight and die for it just as much (or more) than “natural” citizens, just as much as the ones who made Independence Day possible and meaningful centuries ago.

Woody himself, 1944:

Link to the video: https://youtu.be/1my1jn6QHzE

Bruce Springsteen, who calls it, “the greatest song ever written about America,” is perhaps a vote for the call to make it the national anthem (recorded live in concert, 5 minutes):

Text of Springsteen’s introduction to the song:

I’d like to do a song for you that I guess is about the greatest song ever written about America.  It’s by Woody Guthrie.  What’s so great about it is it gets right to the heart of the promise of what our country was supposed to be about.  And I guess, I don’t know, if you talk to some of the unemployed steel workers from East L.A. or Pittsburgh, or Gary, or a lot of people out there whose jobs are disappearing, I don’t know if they’d feel if this song is true anymore.  I’m not sure that it is, but I know that it ought to be.  So I’d like to do this for you reminding you that with countries just like with people, it’s easy to let the best of yourself slip away.  — Bruce Springsteen, Live at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA on September 30, 1985

Link to the video: https://youtu.be/1yuc4BI5NWU

More songs for the Fourth of July:

Enjoy Harkup Music’s fun 3-minute instrumental American Medley of great American songs, in Dixieland style: Yankee Doodle, I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, This Land is Your Land and Grand Old Flag.  The second and fourth songs here are by George M. Cohan, awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (a civilian award, not the military Congressional Medal of Honor) for his patriotic contributions to the American spirit in the songs Over There and Grand Old FlagThe only tribe in it is the American one, not two.

Here is the magic moment in cinema, music and dance, James Cagney (as George M. Cohan) performing Yankee Doodle Boy in the 1942 movie of the same title:

(Link to the video: https://youtu.be/N8wxb-wwQnA)

.

If you don’t vote,
it’s the same thing as voting
for the person you don’t want.
Why?
Because it makes their votes count more.
Don’t give up.  Don’t give in.

Ply your power.
Vote.  Please.

.
Just for fun:  In case you’re not sure if Cagney was much of a dancer …

Recommended Reading:

  • In his July 3rd post, A Declaration, educator Rus VanWestervelt (The Baltimore Writer) bounces the wisdom, passion and compassion of his patriotism from several surfaces to converge in a declaration that ought to “go viral.” I hope this mention helps. In any case, he proves that the spirit yet thrives in the dark, and is rising. His beautifully written six-point Declaration is something to frame and put where you’ll get reminded every day. Embrace it and recite it on every national holiday. It fits them all.  Thanks, Rus.
  • Then … And Now, by Jill Dennison, who shares the history of the Statue of Liberty, what it stands for, and what we are now doing on the Mexican border.  WARNING: her big pictures of the border atrocities are gripping, to put it mildly.  In her July 3, 2019 post about The Fourth of July’s Trumpworld sickness in D.C. holiday events, she lays out what’s going on, and defines it for what it is, and what it represents antithetical to Independence Day.  Thanks, Jill.
  • The Colossus by Emma Lazarus, Statue of Liberty

    The Colossus, by Ben Ditmars, who (among other writings) combines graphics and words to magically drive home messages we know we want to hear when we see them.  His take on the Emma Lazarus poem (click to read it):

  • I love Ditmars’ July 3 post about July 4, too.  Thanks, Ben.

 

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I condemn Donald Trump and Trumpism.
If you support him, I would love to hear your top three reasons.

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8 thoughts on “This Land, Independence Day, 2019

  1. First, I have to tell you I’m part German. I’d thought I was mostly German until I had a DNA test done and found I’m about half Danish! So much for 70 years of assumptions.
    Also, my mother’s family is from Western PA, the town of Corry. I spent wonderful childhood days there and some adult days as well. I’m feeling the need to go back. My cousin is still there, only recently leaving and selling his family home.
    I’ve always thought Woody’s song made the best possible national anthem. It is certainly MY national anthem. And here’s one of my favorite versions. I’m SO glad Pete lived to sing it here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So, maybe we’re cousins! You never know, because my family history is blurry.

      Since my one of my paternal German families came from Alsace-Lorraine (so I’m told), I probably have a splash of French in this blood.

      I grew up never knowing my mother’s family. We thought my mother was of Polish descent until I was in my 30’s and did some research. It led me to a big family of of Mom’s aunts, uncles and cousins, living and dead Slovenian descendants in PA who we’d never heard of, but some of them remembered Mom as a child. They gave me a family history book that my Slovenian family made a long time ago.

      With my Arizonan Yaqui-Apache Chicano wife in tow (speaking of diversity), I found my 2 maternal grandparents’ and 2 of my great-grandparents’ graves in NY and PA, people I met only posthumously. Odd experience.

      Some of those folks in Forest City were perturbed that we’d been pegged Polish.

      My risky tinkering led to opening somewhat dark tunnels between Mom and her estranged siblings she had not seen since 13.

      Thanks for the video. It is an ideal rendition/performance, sung by what, millions?, in the ideal setting, to portray the song as a valid national anthem.

      And I seriously see nothing wrong with having two anthems, since I strongly doubt enough people would let the old one step aside.

      Like

    • By the way, you’re so close to the border. Do most of the local people support or oppose the immigrant “concentration camps?” Or is it split about 50/50 like so many things? I read an anecdotal (unconfirmed) report that the authorities are not letting people bring humanitarian supplies to the kids and families trapped there.

      Like

      • It’s split, but in Bisbee maybe 60/40 on out side. There’s a Lights for Liberty vigil on Old Bisbee Friday, and another near Naco, where I live, across from the border patrol station.
        It is true. Humanitarian aid is not let in, and volunteers are not allowed in to comfort and play with the kids. What can be more evil?
        Look up Bisbee sometime. Amazing little town!

        Like

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