As part of the protests, I was thrilled to see one of my great heroes: Pete Seeger. One reason why this comes as a surprise is that Seeger is 92. Pete has spent his long, rich life pursuing the values that he most cares about -- social justice, racial equality, environmental protection, and world music. Seeger's not just a folk music hero to me; he's worshiped by many important singers who've followed him -- Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Steve Earle just to name a few. (See the "iPod" on the side of this blog to hear Earle's recent song called "Steve's Hammer for Pete").
Seeger is a man of tremendous principle -- and his life embodies much of the opposition to civil liberties' abuses we are studying. He married a Japanese woman in the 1940's when our country was throwing many Japanese-Americans in prison camps. He fought for civil rights, singing with Mahalia Jackson and Paul Robeson when it nearly cost him his life. He inspired many famous civil rights leaders, including Julian Bond, who credits Seeger for opposing Jim Crow laws before the Civil Rights Movement really got underway. Pete even wrote some of the lyrics to "We Shall Overcome". He fought for unions and common working men (and women since he also advocated equality among the sexes). He traveled the world and recorded world music like no one had ever done before.
For all this he was branded a Communist (read: witch hunt) and was blacklisted from appearing on TV for 17 years at the height of his popularity. When the ban was finally lifted he shocked everyone by defiantly singing an anti-Vietnam War song called "The Big Muddy." Since then has sung to end apartheid in South Africa and almost single-handedly cleaned up the environmental disaster of the Hudson River. He's 92 now and he gets my vote for "the American who best exemplifies the values I hold most dear." Who are your heroes?