Friday, December 25, 2015

IN TIMES LIKE THESE (revised version)

By Harry Targ /The Rag Blog /original December 19, 2012

Thinking about 2015 and the year ahead, I remembered Arlo Guthrie’s poignant song and what I previously had written about it.

-- Arlo Guthrie, “In Times Like These.”

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.

All year (written in 2012) 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 activists should sing as we struggle against bombings, drones, economic blockades, covert interventions, assassination lists, killer teams, police violence, 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 (and New York, Ferguson, Chicago, Charleston, San Bernardino and on and on).

Major targets of violence and murder are educational institutions and particularly young people, Black and white, men and women, and gay and straight, often students. It is ironic that it is in these institutions and among young people in general that some of the most creative debates ensue around direct physical violence and structural violence, economic, sexual, and racial.

Therefore, 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.”

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at
Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his book from Changemaker Press which can be found at Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]