Who knew that a five-string banjo could be so powerful? Pete Seeger did and he has been wielding that peaceful weapon for
decades making himself a hero to millions and a musical inspiration to rock stars. The American folk singer who was blacklisted in 1950 by the House Un-American Activities Committee, walked with Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement and lent his voice to environmental work and peace activism turns 93 in May.
“An Inconvenient Patriot” was a sing-along celebration of Seeger hosted by Central Oregon Community College staff and faculty on Feb. 23. Dozens of people showed up to belt out “Where have all the Flowers gone?” and “Oh Freedom.” There were over a dozen musicians and singers leading the audience.
The event was lead by Jim Stedman, a writing professor at COCC who sought collaborators across the campus and community when coming up with the idea. Karen Roth is the Multicultural Activities director and Tom Barry is a sociology professor at COCC.
“Karen Roth, Tom Barry, and I were tossing some ideas around about a locally-developed activity that would honor the intentions of a “Season of NonViolence.” The collaboration has been between many members of staff and faculty, as well as members of the community,” Stedman said.
Before the event, Stedman hoped that people would come away with some new songs and some old songs remembered. He hoped the event would help the participants recognize “the strength behind commitment as well as the responsibility we have to each other.”
The Season on NonViolence on the COCC campus will wrap up in March. The event series was started to honor the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Caesar Chavez and Wilma Mankiller for both their activism and their commitment to see change occur through non-violent means.
“Pete Seeger was more than a musician, he was also a fierce warrior for civil rights,” said Roth. “I would like students to realize that each of us can be advocates for equality and social justice, that ordinary people can do extraordinary things by following their passion in service of others.”
There is a campaign to honor Seeger with a Nobel Peace prize. A website and a Facebook page advocates for the award to be bestowed on an artist who suffered through years of political censorship and blacklisting, sang out against war, travelled the world and used his power to clean up the Hudson River.
Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received the National Medal of Arts. He has released 80 recordings.
But Peter Dreier of the Huffington Post wrote about another of the artist’s accomplishments. Seeger through “persistence and unrelenting optimism, … endured and overcame the controversies triggered by his activism.”
Many at the “Inconvenient Patriot” event applauded the idea of the Nobel Peace prize for Seeger.
“Pete Seeger dedicated his life to this extraordinary method of bringing people together,” said Stedman. “ Harmony is not just a musical term.”
Natalie Carter contributed to this article. (Contact: Kirsteen Wolf at email@example.com. Natalie Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org)
This article has been edited from it’s original version, which was printed on Feb. 29 in The Broadside, to correct reported errors.