Pete Seeger, defender of clean water and progressive politics, has died

Pete Seeger was more than an icon – he was a good and decent man. From his collaboration with Woody Guthrie in the ’30s to his radio hits as part of the folk music supergroup The Weavers in the ’50s, to his championing of the environment with his Hudson River Clearwater organization in the ’70s, to his support two years ago for Occupy Wall Street, Pete Seeger walked the walk and sang (and wrote) the songs, and left the word a better, cleaner, and freer place than he found it.

In 1966, New York’s Hudson River was so polluted that you couldn’t swim in it, and it was barely able to sustain any sort of life. Pete saw that and thought something oughta be done. So he formed the Hudson River Clearwater organization, they built a replica of an old river sloop from out of the previous century, and they sailed up and down the Hudson Valley, performing concerts and staging community festivals and doing workshops for schoolkids, raising awareness and consciousness.

The Clearwater was in the vanguard of the environmental movement that swept the US in the ’70s, and Pete was its prophet and its spokesman and its conscience. And he turned that river around, so that now you can swim in it, you can fish in it, and you can even eat the fish you catch.

“Of time and rivers flowing
The seasons sing a song
And we who live beside her
Still help to sing along
Of rivers, fish and men
And the season – still a’comin’
When she’ll run clear again.”

He was a giant of both the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement of the ’60s. He stood up, he marched, he even appeared on national TV to point out that the generals were in way over their heads and maybe “Just pushing on” wasn’t the best idea…

And then there was the anthem of both what we’re doing to the planet… and to our minds…

“We’re filling up our minds with garbage
What will we do when there’s nothing left to read
And there’s nothing left to need
And there’s nothing left to watch
And there’s nothing left to touch
Nothing left to walk upon and nothing left to talk upon
Nothing left to see
And nothing left to BE but… GARBAGE.”

But Pete wouldn’t want us to be sad.

He’d say “We SHALL overcome.”

And, “Don’t mourn, organize!”

And, “Well may the world go/ When I’m far away.”

“Sweet may the breezes blow
Clear may the streams flow
Blue above, green below
When I’m far away.

Swift may the skiers turn
The swimmers churn, the lovers burn
Peace, may the generals learn
When I’m far away.

Well may the world go,
The world go, the world go,
Well may the world go,
When I’m far away.

(Pete Seeger photo for the Clearwater organization by Donna Crawford)

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