Pete Seeger’s life was all about transformation — connecting with people, celebrating positive changes, and challenging the oppressions we consider the status quo. He leaves behind a legacy for change as well as some great leadership advice! He was a jester troubador, a caregiver folk artist, and a heroic leader who stood by his core values of equal rights and environmental justice even though it meant being blacklisted for much of his career.
“Once called ‘America’s tuning fork,’ Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song,” President Obama said in a statement. “But more importantly, he believed in the power of community — to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be.
“Over the years, Pete used his voice — and his hammer — to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger.” (From the Washington Post)
There are a lot of wonderful stories we’re telling in honor of this great ordinary man and his long life. One of my favorites is the story of the sloop Clearwater, and the Clearwater Foundation, a grassroots movement to organize young people to sail the Hudson River and clean up the pollution destroying that waterway.
The motto of that foundation? — Inspire, Educate, Activate! The boat is
only part of the story. Seeger and his colleagues organized festivals, educational programs, teacher resource packages, lobbying groups and arts apprentice programs. Sing Out, indeed!
And on a tribute on NPR, I heard Tom Paxton share Seeger’s advice about connecting with an audience — advice that could easily be applied to leaders everywhere: “Look ’em in the Eye, Make a Gesture of Inclusion, and above all, Always Have a Chorus!”
Claudia Luther called Pete Seeger “America’s conscience.” And Mark Moss, the editor of Sing Out, the folk music magazine he founded, said, “”He taught us to get out in front of the picket line and lead and teach others and learn from each other. Pete lived almost a hundred years, but these things are going to last hundreds of years.”
Seeger often asked himself, “Is the guitar mightier than the sword?” Maybe, maybe not. It is, certainly, a way to amplify visionary leadership in a world desperate to sing along.
Seeger died January 27, 2014. I miss him already.