Sunday, January 22, 2017

How do we make hate surrender?

Yesterday's Women's March took me back to the time of anti-Vietnam war protests. (Yes, I participated in them.) One major difference is that there seemed to be no tear gas, no arrests and no police cars on fire yesterday, at least none related to the marches. Those were the days of Dylan's early songs like "Masters of War," which then made me think of Woodie Guthrie, who, at one time, lived in an apartment building owned by Donald Trump's father. As you might expect, Guthrie and Trump didn't share much in the way of a world view. As the New York Times informed us about a year ago: Woody Guthrie Wrote of His Contempt for His Landlord, Donald Trump’s Father. (The times may have been a'changin' but people, not so much.)

All of that, plus the way the new Trump administration is starting, reminded me of Guthrie's "This machine kills fascists" sign on his guitar and his song All You Fascists. Funny, and sad, how some themes keep repeating themselves in America.

another American folk hero, Joan Baez
"Nasty Women," like Joan Baez, are American folk heroes
Photo by J. Harrington

Now I don't know if it was Guthrie's guitar sign that inspired Pete Seeger's banjo head inscription or if Pete's inscription preceded Woody's words. "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender," is a very different message than the one Woody displayed. I suspect that part of the difference was that Guthrie's fascists and the US engaged in a shooting war and Pete was later dealing with cultural war battles. There were, no doubt, other factors too. I admire both Guthrie and Seeger but am more comfortable with Seeger's philosophy. It can't just be that the "times make the man" or something like that, since both Woody and Pete were largely contemporaries. Each artist has left us wonderful works.

To close out a triumvirate of people who may have helped inspire the administration's desire to gut funding for the arts, the issues, actions and reactions of the Trump campaign and administration during the past several months keep bringing to mind Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I hope it turns out to be less prescient than some of her other works. America is greatest when we care for all of us equitably.

They are hostile nations

By Margaret Atwood


In view of the fading animals
the proliferation of sewers and fears   
the sea clogging, the air
nearing extinction

we should be kind, we should
take warning, we should forgive each other

Instead we are opposite, we   
touch as though attacking,

the gifts we bring
even in good faith maybe   
warp in our hands to
implements, to manoeuvres


Put down the target of me
you guard inside your binoculars,   
in turn I will surrender

this aerial photograph   
(your vulnerable
sections marked in red)   
I have found so useful

See, we are alone in
the dormant field, the snow
that cannot be eaten or captured


Here there are no armies   
here there is no money

It is cold and getting colder,

We need each others’
breathing, warmth, surviving   
is the only war
we can afford, stay

walking with me, there is almost   
time / if we can only   
make it as far as

the (possibly) last summer

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Please be kind to each other while you can.