The “woke culture” of the 2010s has finally come for its biggest target yet: the hippie culture of the 1960s and its all star cast of outspoken leftists, including legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie.
Oddly enough, the “hippie movement” and its counter-cultural push is the natural predecessor of today’s “woke” progressives, who believe they’re only continuing the work begun by Vietnam War-era feminists, cultural agitators, anti-war protesters, change agents, and the occasional domestic terrorist (the ones who were just blowing things up to make a point, of course).
But there comes a point when children begin to recognize the limits of their parents’ and grandparents’ progressivism, and according to the Smithsonian publication, Folklife, that moment has finally come for Guthrie over his classic song, “This Land is Your Land.”
Guthrie penned the song back in 1940, as a way of deliberately countering more theistic, less “inclusive” patriotic songs, like “God Bless America.” He abandoned it after composing a few verses, took it back up in the mid-1940s, then passed it on to prominent folk singers of the 1960s, like Bob Dylan and the group, Peter, Paul & Mary, who sang the most famous rendition.
It’s widely recognized as a protest song. Just…not the right kind. At least, not anymore.
In a grueling 3,000-word article for Folklife, Native rights activist Mali Obomsawin calls the song an embarrassment for liberal culture, and admits to being “shaken up like a soda can” every time she hears the lyrics — to the degree that she believes the song itself should either never be played again, or come with a trigger warning about Guthrie’s limited, mid-20th century view of American culture.
“These lyrics shake me up like a soda can every time I hear them. As an activist, folk musician, and songwriter (in Lula Wiles), and recent label-mate of Woody Guthrie on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings,” she says, “my social circles tend to worship Guthrie as the father of all musical protest. But as a Native person, I believe ‘This Land Is Your Land’ falls flat.”
The problem is that Guthrie simply wasn’t woke enough about “this land.” Although one of the founding fathers of protest music, Guthrie somehow missed that the land he was singing about — the United States — was, in fact, land stolen from Native Americans, so it wasn’t really “his land” at all.
“In the context of America, a nation-state built by settler colonialism, Woody Guthrie’s protest anthem exemplifies the particular blind spot that Americans have in regard to Natives: American patriotism erases us, even if it comes in the form of a leftist protest song,” Obomsawin says.
“This land ‘was’ our land,” she continues. “Through genocide, broken treaties, and a legal system created by and for the colonial interest, this land ‘became’ American land. But to question the legitimacy of American land control today instantly makes one the most radical person in the room–even in leftist circles. And because Indigenous critiques of this country are so fundamental, our voices are often marginalized to the point of invisibility.”
Guthrie, she says, can almost be forgiven. After all, he was raised in a less woke era and inculcated in an American culture that he may have resented, but which brainwashed him with certain values, anyway, like imperialism and, yes, white supremacy and white nationalism.
That’s right, by penning one of the earliest and most famous protest songs in history, Woody Guthrie inadvertently contributed to the spread of white nationalism. And it’s not only up to modern leftists to reject “This Land is Your Land,” out of concern for their Native bretheren, it’s required that they make amends and alter their outlook so that they don’t repeat Guthrie’s crimes.
“By critiquing ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ I don’t mean to imply that Guthrie himself promoted conquest, but the song is indicative of American leftists’ role in Native invisibility,” Obomsawin says, “The lyrics as they are embraced today evoke Manifest Destiny and expansionism (‘this land was made for you and me’). When sung as a political act, the gathering or demonstration is infused with anti-Nativism and reinforces the blind spot.”