In 1955 Pete Seeger wrote the first three verses of one of the most familiar folk songs, Where have all the flowers gone? The final two verses were added in 1960 by Joe Hickerson, who made it a “circular” song, returning in the end to the flowers that were long gone. Seeger was a legend in his own time, a musician, songwriter and song collector-historian who helped spur the politically tinged folk music revival of the ’50s and ’60s, spoke out against the Vietnam War and remained an activist to the end, notably on environmental issues. Seeger’s roots reach back to the time before the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Byrds, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan, to name a few. Pete, whose father was a pacifist musicologist, studied sociology for a while at Harvard before dropping out to spend the summer cycling through New England, painting watercolours of farmers’ houses in return for food. Failing to get a job as a newspaper reporter, he worked at the Archives of American Folk Music in Washington. In 1942, the Army sent him to the Western Pacific. In 1950, he formed The Weavers, a group that became the first commercially successful folk group, selling 4 million records in two years before the House Un-American Activities Committee blacklisted them in 1952, preventing them from recording or appearing on radio and television.
In 1955 during the “Red Scare,” HUAC subpoenaed Pete to appear before them. In the hearings, he refused to disclose his political views and the names of his political associates. Instead he replied, “I am saying voluntarily that I have sung for almost every religious group in the country, from Jewish and Catholic, and Presbyterian and Holy Rollers and Revival Churches. I have sung for many different groups over the twenty years or so that I have sung around these forty-eight states.” He was sentenced to one year in jail but successfully appealed the decision after spending only four days behind bars.
Thereafter, Pete began touring, inspiring a new generation of musicians. He created many popular folk revival songs, including If I Had a Hammer. He used Old Testament references and Welsh poet Idris Davies for lyrics in songs such as Turn, Turn, Turn and The Bells of Rhumney. A leader in the peace and civil rights movements, Pete recorded We Shall Overcome and sang it on the 50-mile walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, with Martin Luther King, Jr. and 1,000 other marchers. That song went on to become the anthem for the civil rights movement and was translated into many languages.
Where am I going with all this? I am not sure. I have been off-island for over a year and am extremely gratified at meeting many, even perfect strangers, who ask me where I have been and seem genuinely happy to have me back. My own feelings are mixed. Naively, I had expected some change at least. After Kenny regained power in 2011, the citizens of this nation, the majority of whom had enjoyed Tom Chou’s extended tour of duty here, had to suffer through a year of frankly idiotic vacillation by the new leader while he pondered on the choice between China and Taiwan even though the whole world knew the two countries had reached an agreement not to poach each other’s allies. China was never going to replace Taiwan in Saint Lucia, but Our Leader in his infinite wisdom failed to grasp this elementary truth and insulted our most reliable benefactor by his pitiful communist dalliance.
And now, in 2017, it seems, nothing has changed. Ungrateful idiocy is no respecter of colour, for the reemergence of Yellow, (which is Tom’s favourite colour because his mother once gave him a yellow sweater as a child, a fact that enraged Kenny and prompted him to complain to the Taiwanese government) has not heralded any change. Apparently the country is so awash with funds and riches that more than three months into 2017, not a cent of the millions of dollars in Taiwanese aid has been touched or even requested because our two leaders, the Terrible Twins, do not want to accept the proffered Taiwanese riches for fear of compromising their chances of returning the evil clutches of Mainland China, despite the wishes of the majority of the Cabinet that supports Taiwan.
Taiwan remains a steadfast, reliable ally that allows us to live our own way of life, build our own projects, keep our independence, while quietly going about the business of being a benevolent ally bound by friendship, mutual respect and support. With Taiwan by our side no one need fear an influx of Chinese labour and antiquated labour practices reminiscent of the days of slavery. Taiwanese-supported projects provide work for Saintt Lucians who pay Saint Lucian taxes and spend their money in Saintt Lucia.
Where have all the young men (and women) gone, long time passing? When will they ever learn to stand up for their rights and demand that our leaders act with common decency towards our friends?
It is time to rise in protest!