Daily Archives: January 10, 2014

As Joanna and I have driven through wide-open spaces, past empty unused homes and storefronts, or past construction taking place where a perfectly good building has been demolished to make room for something new, she has often commented about the disparities in the world. It’s in her nature.

My wife is a proud socialist, if not a communist. Of course, virtually all Americans are socialists, and we have been for some time; some just aren’t so proud about it. We’re good at ignoring political reality and our own history.

Incidentally, our ability to forget history is why Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land” — once considered a communist song — has become a staple for kids’ summer camps. Even the Boy Scouts now sing it.

We once were invited to the monthly Socialist Potluck in Madison, Wisconsin, and sang the song there. We also once saw Guthrie’s son, Arlo, sing it in a park in Moscow (the city in Idaho, not the one is Russia). Perhaps even more surreal, Arlo has also performed it with the Boston Pops.

I share some of the song’s history with my media history class, comparing a verse about welfare lines with a much later song from Tracy Chapman.

From Woody Guthrie’s song:

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?

Lyrics from Chapman’s “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution”:

While they’re standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines

Guthrie wasn’t always a rabble-rouser, of course. Like the rest of us, he worked for a living, and some of his songs — including what is now the Washington State folk song — were written more for money than for ideology. Joanna and I have driven over the Columbia River dozens (perhaps hundreds) of times, and thanks to a historian folk singer friend of mine I now sing a chorus of Guthrie’s “Roll On Columbia” to Joanna almost every time we cross the river. We also sang it at that friend’s New Year’s Eve wedding reception.

But Joanna prefers “This Land is Your Land.” Lyrics here, with video (including some 1940s video of Guthrie, though the short version of the song) below.