Saturday, December 15, 2012

"IN TIMES LIKE THESE"


Harry Targ

In times like these when night surrounds me
And I am weary and my heart is worn
When the songs they’re singing don’t mean nothing
Just cheap refrains play on and on


When leaders profit from deep divisions
When the tears of friends remain unsung
In times like these it’s good to remember
These times will go in times to come
 
I see the storm clouds rise above me
The sky is dark and the night has come
I walk alone along this highway
Where friends have gathered one by one

I know the storm will soon be over
The howling winds will cease to be
I walk with friends from every nation
On freedom’s highway in times like these.

(From Arlo Guthrie, “In Times Like These,”


All year we have been celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie. “This Land is Your Land” has become the new national anthem, particularly for the 98 per cent of the population, mostly the American working class. Singers now sing the forbidden verses challenging the rights of private property and choruses of cheering people, young and old, black and white, straight and gay, join in. It is a song of struggle, pride, and recognition that this world belongs to everybody.
 
Although the song has inspired us all as we sing it, sometimes we forget that the trajectory toward progressive change is not smooth. Guthrie’s friend and voice of our times, Pete Seeger, reminds us that “it is darkest before the dawn.”
 
Perhaps the anthem of these times, after hundreds of domestic instances of violence from Columbine to Newtown, from Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis, to the streets of Chicago, is most poignantly articulated by Arlo Guthrie. And it is an anthem that peace activists should sing as we struggle against bombings, drones, economic blockades, covert interventions, assassination lists, killer teams, wars on drugs, huge appropriations of human resources to kill, violent video games, war toys, endless television shows and films that portray and normalize killings, as well as the tragedies such as at Newtown.
 
Major targets of violence and murder are educational institutions and particularly students. It is ironic that it is in these institutions that some of the most creative debates ensue around direct, or physical, violence and structural, or economic, sexual, and racial, violence. After World War II, scholar/activists concerned about atomic war, arms races, and war on poor countries introduced Peace Studies into university and public school curricula. Educators and activists had studied and advocated for peace for hundreds of years, but in the environment of the Cold War distinguished academics demanded that the tools of modern research and education be applied to war, the social cancer of our time.
 
Peace Studies programs since the 1950s have taken many forms. Some concentrate on the “war problem” and engage it through studies of philosophy, social theory, and theology. Others, using modern statistical techniques, gather data on war and other forms of violence and test hypotheses about causes. And finally, others, the “radical peace educators” argue that research and teaching should use all available techniques to study violence. In addition, we should include in our study of violence, the violence of exploitation, discrimination, the prerogatives of institutionalized power, and the manipulating of minds as well as bodies. These latter peace research/educators also argue that a connection needs to be made between theory and practice, reflection and action, studying causes and working to eliminate them.
 
Today there are some 250 peace studies programs. Some emphasize one or another or all of the three approaches. Despite efforts of rightwing political forces to eliminate Peace Studies programs, they persist. They persist because university alums, professors, teachers, and students remain committed to addressing the problems of violence in the 21st century. So researchers continue to learn more about the problem of violence, teachers (kindergarten through college) try their best to develop curricula that celebrate the preciousness of all human beings, and activists continue to struggle to eliminate institutions and cultures of violence.
 
In sum, in the midst of our deep sorrow, we remember Arlo Guthrie’s words. “In times like these,” despite the emotional energy and time spent achieving some electoral, labor and Occupy victories, we get weary and our “heart is worn.” While we see the “storm clouds rise above,” we should remember that “the storm will soon be over.” Why? Because “I walk with friends from every nation, on freedom’s highway in times like these.”