These are the times that try men's souls.
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will,
in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country;
but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
Pete Seeger passed on yesterday. He was a true Winter Soldier of the American dream.
He was on the picket lines and sit-down strikes for workers rights and union recognition in the 1940s. In the cold winter of McCarthyism he stood his post without flinching, without naming names, without retreating or surrendering. He kept the candle flame burning when so many others faltered. He was one of those through whose hands we received "We Shall Overcome," and I so remember him singing on the steps of Brown Chapel and plucking his banjo on the lin in Selma (and so many other southern battlegrounds). "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," he fought and sang with us against the Vietnam War, and into the 70s and 80s and on defending the environment and supporting all the other movements born of the freedom struggle.
They say he was a folk singer, and that's true. But his was a higher calling than that, he was a song leader. Yes, he performed, but at heart he was not a performer, he was an organizer who educated and mobilized people into participation by leading them into singing.
As a child I attended his blacklisted concerts and even with my tone-deaf voice he got me to sing along on "Joe Hill" and "We Shall Not Be Moved." I didn't realize it then, but his songs and my singing were watering in my soul the seeds of protest and a commitment to justice.
Pete Seeger, Presente!