A long time ago, when I was an aspiring journalist, the Newspaper Guild, the union for writers and editors, was on strike against the daily newspaper in the town where I lived. A lot of newspaper unions, like unions everywhere, were losing ground in those days. If these editors and reporters lost the strike, they’d lose their jobs, and then if they wanted to keep working on newspapers, they’d have to move somewhere else. Where their future would be just as shaky.
The strike hung on through the winter. The cold often exceeded -20 degrees. Walking a picket line in that kind of weather isn’t just miserable; it can be life threatening. Because many of my friends and acquaintances wanted to be hired into those good jobs, too, we wanted that union to survive. And to help out the strikers, we often walked the picket line that winter to show our support.
The shift changed at 6am, so it was important to be out there when scabs drove through the gates for the morning shift. And one day when I got out there at 6am, standing in wind so cold I thought my teeth would shatter, there was Pete Seeger. He took off his gloves and played his banjo and sang a song. I think it was “This Land Is Your Land,” but I wouldn’t swear to it. We all knew it, and we all sang along.
Pete Seeger died today. When I looked at the photo tribute The New York Times posted, I noted how many times he’s standing on a stage with other people, highlighting and sharing their stories. That’s the way I’ll remember him, too. Standing outside on that freezing road, singing his heart out with a bunch of people who needed his voice.