When I was child, we used to sing This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie.
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 as made for you and me.
The song caught my attention again about six months ago. I began noticing the imagery: “As I was walking that ribbon of highway.” my mind traveled back to my childhood of riding down two lane highways to visit grandparents. I remember seeing those “ribbons” cutting through the rolling farmland. (Of course this took place in a smoke-filled car, AM Radio, parental bickering, extreme boredom, and an occasional bout of car sickness.)
As I further reflected on this song, I began to notice Guthrie’s alliteration:
I roamed and I rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
Then, what fascinated me was his progression of ideas. It seems to go from a general declaration that “This land is your land, this land is my land” to his own experiential conclusion as he “was walking” that “This land was made for you and me.” The progression continues. He was no longer directing his own journey by walking – he was compelled to continue: “I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps”. When he did that, all nature spoke:
While all around me, a voice was sounding
This land was a made for you and me.
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.
In the early versions of the song, Guthrie included other lyrics. It seems to maintain a tension: This magnificent, beautiful land belongs to all of us and yet no longer experienced by everyone because of the No Trespassing Signs and the hungry and alienated people.
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?
As I listened to this, my mind drifted to other forms of alienation. I thought about Colin Kaepernick who made a thoughtful, powerful, and peaceful statement by kneeling at the national anthem. So, I wrote my own verse of “This Land is Your Land” in the spirit of Woody Guthrie and in honor of Black Lives Matter and Colin Kaepernick’s protest:
We sang the anthem, a man was kneeling.
He was rejected for speaking freedom.
As he was silenced, I began to wonder
Is this land still made for you and me?
A few days after the protests began following the death of George Floyd, someone on Social Media said something like, “Enough with the protests, let’s move on!” But, “Let’s move on” is a major part of the problem. I say, “Enough with the just moving on — let’s stop, listen, and find change.”
This land doesn’t only belong to some of us. This land belongs to all of us. Until we can say “this land is your land”, I don’t think we have any business saying, “this land is my land”.