Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Recognizing Lives of Substance: A Nobel Peace Prize for Pete Seeger and Ingerman Birthdays

On the weekend a friend sent a link to a clip of Pete Seeger singing at the pre-inaugural concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial January 18, along with the truly wonderful idea of nominating Seeger for a Nobel Peace Prize.

I can’t think of an American who deserves it more at the moment. What a grand way to recognize the best in American culture: its rich musical heritage, its free-thinking critical side, its perserverance.

As it happens, last weekend we also celebrated the 80th birthday of Doris Ingerman, one of the world’s niftier souls with whom I went to see Seeger campaign for peace and clean water at least 35 years ago. Doris is of the same cru as Seeger: one of those children of the Depression who become stalwart lefties and who (unlike the creeps Doris Lessing portrays) remained true, and kind, and loyal. An African-American, she came to Montreal with her husband Sid (whom she met during the Henry Wallace campaign in 1948 and that’s another very good story) and their three children in 1967. Judy, Tom and Paula always seemed sort of like nieces and nephew to Lee and me, while Doris and Sid have been honorary grandparents to our kids, particularly since their real grandparents were so far away.

It was Doris who showed me New York for the first time, in the summer of 1969. Always ready for adventure, she also was ready one Sunday three or four years later to drive down to some place on the Hudson with her kids and me in order to join Seeger’s campaign to clean up the Hudson. The trip was a good four or five hours each way, but I don’t remember much grumbling from the back seat. Instead, my memories are of Seeger singing to a small crowd on the edge of the water, followed by a chance to talk about environmental problems, and the war in Viet Nam. Doris introduced herself, of course, and I think they discovered mutual friends from the Wallace era.

One of the great joys of the Obama inaugural was seeing people like Seeger in the spotlight again, and hearing the same kind of principled discourse that Seeger has always undertaken in his music and his life. Sign the petition to nominate him.

And happy birthday again to Doris! She, by the way, watched inaugural with sisters and friends from the house of a niece who lives in Alexandria, VA. A great experience, she says. Sid, a triathalete who turned 80 last November himself, held down the fort in Montreal, monitoring the world scene. He was the one who sent the Pete Seeger link, in fact.

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