|Woody Guthrie / Inks on Bristol / 2009|
Today, I’m sitting in a pasture in Okemah, Oklahoma – the town where Woody Guthrie (most famous for writing “This Land is Your Land”) was born 100 years ago today. Okemah is typically a small, quiet town but the town’s population doubles around this time each year to honor Woody, much like it doubled literally overnight during the oil boom in the 1920s when the musician lived here. Okemah is where Woody began to learn about the life of the working class as he said in Bound for Glory, it “was one of the singingest, square dancingest, drinkingest, yellingest, preachingest, walkingest, talkingest, laughingest, cryingest, shootingest, fist fightingest, bleedingest, gamblingest, gun, club and razor carryingest of our ranch towns and farm towns, because it blossomed out into one of our first Oil Boom Towns.” This is also where he first saw the oil boom workers in their miserable shacks which were built for around $10 and apt to catch on fire. This added to their already hard-working conditions. He saw these workers as an oppressed people, and he saw that people shouldn’t be oppressed. Woody also saw the working people could overcome these conditions and live.
Woody continued to see the workers’ connection with each other and their sense of community as they struggled during the Great Depression in the Dust Bowl. He lived it and saw the dust which he described as being so thick that a light bulb at noon looked like the end of a lit cigarette at midnight. He saw the dust bowl refugees turned away at the California border by the LAPD. Seeing the mistreatment of workers led Woody to fight for workers’ right to unionize and to fight back against oppression. Throughout his travels and experiences, Woody never gave up hope, which we can see in the more than 3,000 songs he wrote. As he said, “I hate a song that makes you think that you're not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are either too old or too young or too fat or too slim or too ugly or too this or too that ... songs that run you down or songs that poke fun of you on account of your bad luck or your hard traveling. I am out to fight those kinds of songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood.” Woody wanted his music to uplift the people who listened, to take away a small part of their hardship for a few moments, and to give them hope. Even though he suffered many tragedies throughout his life, Woody held on to his hope until he died of Huntington’s disease in 1967.