Monday, March 7, 2011

Pete Seeger's Log

The first real interview I ever did for KAXE was with Pete Seeger. My husband Dennis and I had gotten press passes to attend the 1984 Winnipeg Folk Festival as brand new KAXE volunteers. We hauled in a huge (by today’s standards) old Marantz cassette recorder, signed up to interview several different performers, and tried to enjoy the festival as we nervously began to prepare for a series of interviews that were to begin the next day.

But that night, at the main stage concert, someone came to get us. “Pete Seeger would like you to do the interview now,” she said. We were stunned. We weren’t ready. And Pete Seeger to boot—by far the most famous person on our list of interviewees!

We needn’t have worried. At that time Pete already had been performing for 45 years. He had been one of the original founders of the Almanac Singers and the Weavers. He had written “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” He had met and worked with Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Josh White. He had been subpoenaed to come before the House Un-American Activities Committee where he had refused to testify. He had been blackballed, had played at FDR’s White House, and had been one of the key people responsible for the folk song revival in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Throughout his entire life, Pete Seeger consistently stood for civil and labor rights, racial equality, international understanding, and anti-militarism.

Pete Seeger had participated in thousands of interviews over the course of his career as a musician and social activist. As much as Dennis and I were nervous, he definitely was not.

One thing Pete said during that interview will always stick with me. He said, “We’re all trying to roll a big log up a hill. No matter what the cause—peace, justice, environmentalism—and no matter where you grab on, we’re all pushing that same log.”

I’ve never forgotten about that log. It’s big alright, and the bark has picked up a lot of dirt. And the rolling of that log up Pete’s hill just doesn’t happen without a lot of sweat and effort. It’s slow; incremental. It takes lots of hands and lots of guts and lots of heart.

People are pushing that log right now. They are clamoring for freedom in the Middle East, fighting to keep their collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere, and working in every way imaginable to alleviate people’s suffering and make a better world, or sometimes just to take care of their families.

It is my job to ask for your help with KAXE’s interest in that log, which is to keep public broadcasting alive and well in the United States and in Minnesota. If the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is zeroed out in the federal budgeting process, those cuts will fall hardest on rural stations like KAXE, which receive a bigger portion of their budget from government sources. People say that once the CPB is gone, there is little chance that it will ever come back. Likewise, we have to tell our story to State lawmakers who are considering additional cuts. This will require some activism, but nothing as hard as putting your body on the line as some in the world are doing—what KAXE needs are letters and phone calls of support to our elected officials. More than once. Maybe all the way until the end of September.

It looks like the US House and Senate might be unable to reach agreement on the budget, so they may keep the government functioning piecemeal, week by week or month by month for the rest of the year. Every time a “continuing resolution” comes to a vote, new cuts may accompany it. The budget question over the CPB might drag on for weeks and months or even through the entire rest of the federal fiscal year. In Minnesota, we’re gearing up for AMPERS’ Public Radio Day on the Hill on April 27th. All in all, it’ll be a long haul. Our effort has to be sustained, like pushing that log.

Pete Seeger will be 92 years old on May 3rd of this year. His interview is on an old cassette tape "archived" somewhere in a big plastic bin in the closet under our stairs. It's good to think about that interview and to remember Pete's log and his advice--that where good causes are concerned we're all in this together. We just have to grab on wherever we can and do our part!

Maggie Montgomery, General Manager
Northern Community Radio

1 comment:

Dawnette said...

Beautifully stated Maggie. You can count on us.