Whose Land Is It Anyway?

When we first found out I was pregnant, my dad's business partner and his wife, John and Dorothea, gave us This Land Is Your Land, an illustrated version of Woody Guthrie's classic song. We have been reading it to Julian and I always get a little choked up. The song has always done that to me, even as a child, probably because I grew up watching so many members of my mom's family trying to come to the United States because they believed in the American Dream, so the words "This land was made for you and me" ring true in my heart. However, there are other reasons the book gets me worked up.

The book illustrates the words, so when we first arrive at the chorus, the picture of California is of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge and the picture of the New York Island is Manhattan with the two towers of the World Trade Center in the skyline. The first time we opened the book and saw the picture, both Fred and I were stunned, rendered almost speechless by the image. It is so hard to see those buildings, knowing what we know, remembering what happened that day five years ago. And then, it is hard to sing the song when we think about what has happened over the last five years since that day, because of that day. It feels like we have been moved farther away from the vision of inclusion, that our circumstances more closely resemble the sentiments of exclusion expressed in the snarky school yard parody which I recall from childhood, "This Land is MY LAND, it is not YOUR LAND, so go on leave here, you cannot live here" (As it turns out, someone has written a parody for our President to sing which echoes the childish variation). We now are a nation which refuses to recognize the rights of our own citizens because of their religious beliefs. All in the name of keeping us safe.

There have been a lot of tragedies over the years. I worry that, years from now when we look back, the real tragedy of September 11, 2001 will not have been that planes were hijacked , buildings were toppled, and thousands of people died. I worry that the real tragedy which we will all recognize is the one which our government continues to perpetuate. We responded exactly the way the terrorists had hoped we would, by violating human rights and by ignoring the values upon which our nation was founded. All in the name of keeping us safe.

As hopeful as Woody Guthrie's song is, we should never forget that it is a protest song. That is still a right I have as a citizen, the right to respectfully protest, to say that what I see happening is wrong, to question whether this land still belongs to all of us, and to say that I will not accept my grief to be manipulated and used to commit acts which violate human and civil rights. That is, unless the government decides that blogging my displeasure will somehow make us all less safe.
In the squares of the city
In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office
I see my people
And some are grumblin'
And some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking
That freedom highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me

This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From California
To the New York Island,
From the redwood forest,
To the Gulf stream waters,
This land was made for you and me


Judy said…
Well said.

And I must admit being partial to Guthries, Woody, Arlo, or my own little Guthrie. ;)
Anonymous said…
Beautiful post. I've always loved this song, but never thought about it quite like this. I remember saying that the world will watch what we do next and it will speak volumes about us. Unfortunately, our government chose to pervert Christianity and manipulate the fears of the masses to bring greater hate and chaos in order to further its own agenda.

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