We Are All ‘Reds’ Now

I am reading a very short biography of Pete Seeger, The Protest Singer, by Alec Wilkinson. (If you don’t know who Pete Seeger is, ask your parents. If they don’t know, ask your grandparents. Seeger is an energetic 92-year-old.) Stella gave the book to me as an anniversary present (we reckon the start of our relationship as March 7, 1997, though we had known each other for quite some time before that… gosh, 3/7/1997 is 15 years ago now!). I gave her a book of haiku, as she is very fond of writing them.

Anyway, back to the book about Pete Seeger. Wilkinson writes about Seeger’s politics (p. 73, paperback ed.) with an unexpected choice of words:

Seeger’s politics are of the most extravagantly conservative kind. He believes ardently in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. His interpretation of them is literal. In his years of activism, through the movements for workers’ rights, civil rights, the movement against the Vietnam War, and the ecological movement, in all of which he figured prominently, there is no conceit that he has more emphatically embraced than that all human beings are created equal and have equal rights.  In the early and middle parts of the twentieth century, such a conviction made a person not a patriot, but a socialist.

And so Seeger, “conservative” in the old sense of the term, was eventually called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where his testimony… or lack thereof… regarding his association with the Communist Party and various individual Communists frustrated the committee so much that they managed to get a grand jury to indict him for contempt of Congress. (Ironically, Seeger had quit the Communist Party in disgust several years prior.) After that, the trial court jury promptly convicted him and sentenced him to a year in jail. An appeals court the following year ruled that there was a flaw in the indictment, and dismissed the charges, more or less with prejudice: “We are not inclined to dismiss lightly claims of constitutional stature because they are asserted by one who may appear unworthy of sympathy.” Seeger was understandably bitter about the “unworthy of sympathy” assessment, but taken all in all, he took it all in all.

If the 1950s in America were the primary era of ‘Red-baiting,” today’s radical right-wing fanatics are no different from those in that decade: substitute “DHS” for “FBI,” “terrorist” for “Communist,” any arbitrarily chosen GOP member of Congress for Joe McCarthy and any unlucky Muslim… indeed, any unlucky non-Christian… for Pete Seeger and similar performers, and the match is nearly exact. We live in an era of “terrorist-baiting.” And just as in the Red-baiting era, people’s lives are being ruined by premeditated acts of people willing to prey upon mostly unsuspecting Americans through their own sense of FUD (“fear, uncertainty, doubt”). The right of peaceful dissent is being premeditatedly squelched by right-wing radicals willing to do literally anything, however dishonest and destructive, to their political opponents.

Welcome to the New McCarthy Era. Enjoy your stay… in jail.

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  • jams o donnell (Shaun Downey)  On Saturday March 10, 2012 at 3:57 am

    I’ve found the rhetoric coming from the right re the Occupy and other protests to be quite horrifying. Those who effectively call legitimate protestors *whether one agres or not with the cause) fellow travellers of terrorism (or worse) really do need to get th i heads out of their arses pronto

    • Steve  On Saturday March 10, 2012 at 11:01 am

      That won’t happen, Shaun… such language is fundamental to their power over the larger society, which would never accept the nut-jobs’ insane ideas if they expressed them in respectable language. So they use the inflammatory language of the day, and that involves directly or indirectly calling people terrorists.

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