The environmental and human rights movement has lost their tuning fork on Monday, the great Pete Seeger. I was fortunate enough to be one of the many to see and hear Pete sing live at President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. A year before that I got to listen to him give a private concert with his grandson in the Catskills. But Pete really didn’t give concerts – he led sing-a-longs. Anywhere Pete was singing – whether it was a gathering of 50 people or millions, he always got everyone together to join him and sing. He had the immense power to bring people together.
There is much that can be learned from the example of Pete Seeger. He is a man that has always fought for the less fortunate, always stood for what is right, never wavered from his path, and always stayed true to himself. There is one thing though about Pete Seeger that has always stood out and has always inspired me: his activism. I remember an interview he once gave on Democracy Now! and I whenever I get discouraged about making a difference, I always remember it:
I imagine the future is going to be a million little things saving the world. I imagine a big seesaw. And at one end of the seesaw is on the ground with a basket half full of big rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air, it’s got a basket one-quarter full of sand. And some of us have got teaspoons and we’re trying to fill it with sand. A lot of people are laughing at us & saying “oh people like you have been trying do that for thousands of years, it’s leaking out as fast as you’re putting it in.” But we’re saying “we’re getting more people with teaspoons all the time and we think one of these years you’ll see that whole seesaw go in the other direction.” And the other people will say “gee how did it happen so suddenly?” Us & all of our little teaspoons.
This analogy of the seesaw is something that stuck with me. Sometimes, whatever task us activists take on, feels monumental. It feels like there’s no way we can make a difference. But it is important to remember that we are. Pete often said “the future is going to be a million little things saving the world.” I frequently have heard him say this in other interviews. It is a message that needs to get out there to every activist that is trying to save the world. It makes a difference to every tree we plant, to ever bird we release, to ever piece of plastic we recycle. These are all the teaspoons of sand we are putting in the basket that will eventually tip the seesaw in our favor.
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