One of my heroes died yesterday, and I wanted to take this space today to share what I learned from him.
I first met Pete Seeger when I was 18 years old. He was singing at a rally to support the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, an organization he founded to clean up pollution affecting the Hudson river in New York. I grew up along the Hudson, and I appreciate his efforts towards the Clean Water Act and the saving of the Hudson itself.
I was very affected by meeting Mr. Seeger and seeing him sing. I was lucky enough to have that experience a number of times, because he lived and did a lot of his activism in my local area.
Here are some of the things that I learned from Pete Seeger that have stayed with me:
- One person can make a difference, even if the problem seems insurmountable. If Pete and other volunteers hadn’t worked on environmental clean-up the Hudson would have continued to decline instead of getting better. In high school I didn’t follow the news or get involved in causes beyond writing. After I met Pete Seeger I started volunteering for political candidates and organizations I cared about, and I became a vegetarian–one person can make a difference.
- Nice guys can get things done. The media shows us lots of examples of ruthless people winning, but Pete Seeger always seemed like such a kindly person–like a gentle grandfather. That didn’t stop him from being effective.
- It’s okay to take an opposing viewpoint. For every liberal who sings his praises, there are plenty of other people who think Mr. Seeger was far too left-of-center. He taught me that it’s okay to hold and publicly express dissenting viewpoints, and indeed that it’s important to do so.
- Music should be shared. I remember that first time I saw Pete Seeger perform. There were about twenty-five of us in a little park by the Hudson in Poughkeepsie. He had the audience sit around him and sing with him, getting us involved. One of the songs he sang that day was the old folk song She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes, and he had us add in different noises and gestures as the song went along. I learned that day that all forms of art are meant to be participated in, instead of just appreciated by observing. I’ve never forgotten that.
I am saddened by Pete Seeger’s passing, but I also celebrate his life–he lived to the fullest, staying involved even as he aged. He’s still inspiring me, and I hope he and his music continue to inspire for ages to come. I know I will never forget him.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
274. Who are your heroes? Take a few minutes this week to reflect on someone who has been important in your life. What lessons have you learned from your hero? Share some of these with someone else.