While making a playlist on my tablet, I realized that I had five different versions of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land” on it. I was not really very surprised by this as it is one of my all time favorite songs and I have several more versions on my computer. I first remember learning to sing the chorus and a verse or two of “This Land” in Kindergarten back in the 1970’s. If you grew up in and attended public school in the USA then likely you learned it at a pretty young age as well. It is one of our most popular folk songs/hymns about the United States of America. BUT that is not what Woody wrote it to be. He wrote it to be a protest song.
In 1940 Guthrie traveled across the United States. Over and over again on the radio he heard a recording of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” as performed by Kate Smith. He felt that this song was unrealistic and did not depict the reality of what was happening in the United States. So, in reaction, he wrote “This Land”. Some of the verses that he wrote reflected his strong views on communism and socialism and are therefore left off of most recordings of the song. These have become my favorite verses. The verse that I love the most contains very powerful imagery and turns the last line from a statement into a question:
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?
IS this land made for you and me? A very important question. Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no. A recent Princeton study says that the United States has become an Oligarchy. Other articles describe the United States as having turned into a plutocracy. And on March 22, 2015 on “Last Week Tonight” John Oliver built on the investigations that came out of Ferguson, Mo. and explained how many municipalities in the US get much of their revenue stream by ticketing and fining the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in our country. (Swear Warning: Semi bleeped “F Words” and others)
As I watched this John Oliver clip and read the above articles I kept asking myself, IS this land made for you and me? In it’s present condition, I don’t believe that it is, but I do not believe that the USA is beyond saving. I hope that Woody’s protest touches hearts and inspires dreams, I hope that the John Oliver video is a wake up call, and I hope that these articles help many to realize that we can no longer let the 1% run our lives. I hope that the dream of what America is supposed to be, the dream of “This land was made for you and me” can be realized. Maybe, like Woody’s guitar, we can all help get rid of a few fascists.