This Land is Your Land:
The Truth About the Song
Too many Americans forget or ignore what so many great songs, books, movies and spiritual teachings have taught us. Instead, they have followed right-wing political and religious ideologues who pay lip service to patriotism and God but falsely believe that the rich are blessed by God and entitled to rule, and that the poor deserve their lot.
Such beliefs betray the intent of America's Founders, and they also turn Christianity up-side-down. But such beliefs have justified the greedy who assume a mantle of patriotism and religiosity in spite of being unwittingly misguided and corrupted. They claim to serve God and Country, and yet they demonstrate a remarkable lack of knowledge, kindness, compassion, empathy, or understanding. They are unaware that they serve “Mammon” rather than God.
That is why they need to be reminded of true spiritual values, as reflected in all the best works of talented humanitarians -- like Woody Guthrie.
For example, in 1940, to help good progressives like Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and to collaborate with other progressive folk singers like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie wrote and sang the great folk song, This Land Is Your Land.
The problem is that after Woody died, the song was essentially coopted and crucial verses were cut out of popular versions that most people usually sang, and still sing. Thus most Americans just know the chorus, which says:
"This land is my land, this land is your land, from California to the New York island; From the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me."
Consequently, today most Americans do not know it was and is a protest song. Woody, bless his soul, was pointing out how the wealthiest few still owned most of the land, controled most of the wealth of the nation, and treated everyone else unfairly.
That has once again become increasingly the case during the last 30 years, even more during the last 20 years, and especially during the last 10 years. That's why in the 1980s Woody's son Arlo Guthrie, along with good folks like Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, have been trying to tell people the rest of the story.
You see, most Americans now forget or don’t realize that these are the last three verses to that song:
"As I went walking I saw a sign there, And on the sign it said "No Trespassing." But on the other side it didn't say nothing. That side was made for you and me."
"In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, By the relief office I seen my people; As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking: Is this land made for you and me?"
"Nobody living can ever stop me, As I go walking that freedom highway; Nobody living can ever make me turn back. This land was made for you and me."
Here's Woody's son, Arlo Guthrie, singing that last verse (after some discussion).
Bless Arlo's heart. He is such a kind, free soul, and one of the most honorable souls on the earth today. And he understands the heart and spirit of his father, Woody Guthrie, a true Christian.
However, in the 1930s, some of the wealthiest few hated people like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joe Hill, Paul Robeson, Josh White, Dorothea Lange, Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and many others who were pointing out injustice and advocating liberal, progressive, truly Christian values, which are empathetic, compassionate and charitable, especially toward the working poor, the poor, and the least of our brethren.
In those days the good progressive advocates were accused of being "Communists." In fact, throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, and particularly in the ‘50s and ‘60s the most corrupt of the Republicans (like Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan), who were advocates for the rich and wealthiest few, accused good liberal progressives of being "Socialists" and "Communists," and were quite successful in slandering good people who advocated for the working poor. (See the page on Little Known American History.)
It’s pretty much the same today, except now the rich Republicans accuse liberal progressives of being "unpatriotic," or of "starting class warfare." But, the truth is that right-wing Republicans, and especially those in the so-called "Tea Party," are the ones who are un-American and un-Christian.
Right-wing Reaganite Republicans not only slander good people with democratic, Christian values. They have also been waging political-economic war against the poor and the working poor — because they mistakenly think patriotism means fighting to gain or maintain private wealth, power and domain, not advocating for peace, freedom, equality and justice for all.
That’s why Woody Guthrie’s song is quite relevant once again, and it’s been growing more and more relevant for the last two and a half decades since the dark cloud of Reaganism and Bushism has increasingly blocked the sun from the vast majority of people, while increasingly enabling the wealthiest few to live more and more luxuriously and bask in the sun. (See the page on Poverty: America’s Hidden Shame.)
After all, because the wealthiest few have been enabled to rake in or inherit their vast fortunes and control most of the wealth, they have drastically changed our economy. They’ve been able to purchase the most prime real estate, and drive the working poor and the poor out of many areas. Gentrification is dispersing the urban poor into overcrowded suburban areas, and some have even become homeless and live in trailers and campers.
The wealthiest few can easily afford college tuition costs that average about $50,000 per year and higher to send their children to college, which has rapidly been making college education a privilege of the "upper" class only. For while many college age students still manage to go to college, it is at a tremendous cost which puts them deep in debt for many years after they graduate.
Meanwhile, the majority of us grow less and less financially secure, and in growing instances we are even deprived of beauty and pleasure. The wealthy are buying up real estate for vacation homes in resort areas, driving up prices and driving out the working poor. Bleachers in stadiums and arenas are shrunk so more extremely expensive "skybox suites" can be constructed to cater to the wealthiest few. The prices of all entertainment keep rising, which is gradually making it unaffordable for the working poor, and even for the lower middle income population.
That’s why the Pew Research Center has found that happiness is unequally distributed. Most people earning more than $150,000 a year describing themselves as "very happy," while that is not the case with most of us. Most Americans are not as happy as the people in several other countries that enjoy much greater and more widespread prosperity equity, including countries like Denmark, Iceland and Norway, which rank highest on the happiness index.
Ironically, all this is actually and inevitably causing discomfort for the wealthy too. As prices for real estate, goods and rents rise in resort areas and towns with service-oriented economies, the farther away its service workers have to live, which causes traffic congestion and commute problems.
The Good News About Being Born In the U.S.A.
The good news is that this "bubble" that has concentrated and redistributed most of the wealth to the wealthiest one percent of the population, will burst like all other bubbles. One way or another, this inequity, unfairness and corruption will come to an end, and the wealthy will ultimately realize that as you treat the working poor, the poor, and the least of our brethren, so you treat the son of man and the Lord God who he serves.
That could be, and probably will be, when enough Americans get the message and abide by the actual New Covenant with God.
It should be added that just as Woody Guthrie’s song, This Land is Your Land, is misunderstood by many people, so is Bruce Springstien’s song, Born in the U.S.A.
Most people don’t hear the verses, they just hear the chorus, which says "Born in the U.S.A.," repeated three times. Like Woody’s song, Bruce’s song has been coopted by those who want you to think it’s a patriotic song lauding the U.S., when it too is actually a protest song.
In the song Bruce tells about being "born down in a dead man’s town," about being "kicked when your down," about the government putting a rifle in his hands and sending him to Vietnam to "kill the yellow man," about his buddy being killed there, and about having "nowhere to go." So his song, Born in the U.S.A. is a critique, not an anthem.
Many songs tell the truth, but many songs are sung to the air. Many people hear what they want to hear, and either ignore the rest, or interpret it as they wish.
The point is this: This land is your land, and was made for you and me. And that is not to suggest that there be no private property. It is to suggest that the unfair income disparity and the huge and growing income gap between the richest and the poorest is a result of unfair and inequitable legislation. The inequity is deliberately built-in to our political-economic system, and it has enabled a wealthy few to live palatially in extreme luxury while everyone else has become less and less financially secure and the working poor and poor suffer from poverty and even hunger and homelessness.
We, the people, can fix this.
Here's another video, of Sarah Lee Guthrie, singing for the "Occupy" movement before it was rendered ineffective by anarchists and right-wing news media.
By the way, speaking of the Occupy Movement in America, the American people should realize that the basic spirit of the movement was peaceful, and those participating believed they need to protest and demonstrate their resentment of the inequitable political economic system American has been infected with. Everyone should also be aware that the forces of greed and self-interest hired masked goons to cause trouble in some cities to make the movement seem bad, and some television stations focused on that, rather than report on the true meaning and motivation of the movement. And now Occupy has largely been taken over by anarchists.
(This article was inspired not only by Woody, Arlo and Sarah, but also by Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, This Land is Your Land, which was also inspired by Woody's song.)