There they are: two of the cultural icons of my political life. Pete Seeger, close to 90, peer and colleague of Woody Guthrie, creator of We Shall Overcome and Turn Turn Turn, of Abiyoyo and Sam the Whaler, leader of The Almanac Singers and the Weavers. If there was a civil rights rally or a labor rally or an anti-war rally, he was there.
Beside him, Bruce Springsteen, a modern troubadour whose songs speak for many Americans whose opinions are never sought, whose voices are seldom heard.
As they stood together at the Lincoln Memorial in celebration of the Inauguration of Barack Obama, they represented, to me, all that I had believed and tried to help bring into being. To many, though, they were "the ultimate in subtly old-left populism." Speaking about the concert early Sunday before it began, I kept talking about Bruce. A younger friend gently suggested that he was probably not the day's headliner. That would be Beyonce Knowles, she said. I'm sure she's right.
As one who was present the last time "the torch was passed to a new generation;" as a strongly defined Baby Boomer, it's painful to hear anchormen celebrate the fact that "there will never be another Baby Boom President." It' s not that I mind the fact of that; it's just painful that it seems to be something to celebrate. So many of us have tried so to be productive agents of change, have spent our lives working either full or part of the time to see that our country offers more to the least powerful, demands quality education, justice and maybe, even peace. So to hear Joe Scarborough revel in the fact that "16 horrible years of baby boomer presidents is over" really hurts. All my adult life we've been tarred by the brush of the least attractive of us while the work of the rest of us went unnoticed. For most campaigns, as I've written before, we were the secret weapon of the right.
So as exciting as all this is, especially for one who has supported Obama for so long, it's also bittersweet because I feel the shadow of the disdain in which so many of us are held. I really don't know how to respond. If I were to try, it might be by offering some of the words to Si Kahn's They All Sang Bread and Roses. It's better with the music, but it does the job.
They All Sang "Bread and Roses (Si Kahn, 1989, 1991)
The more I study history,
The more I seem to find
That in every generation
There are times just like that time
When folks like you and me who thought
That they were all alone
Within this honored movement
Found a home.
And 'though each generation fears
That it will be the last,
Our presence here is witness
To the power of the past.
And just as we have drawn our strength
From those who now are gone,
Younger hands will take our work
And carry on.