BY SHARON MARTIN
This past weekend, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie, poets rose up in Okemah, OK, to speak about injustice, the rights of the marginalized, and the work to be done to insure that every citizen matters.
They rose up just in time, too, because as Dorothy Alexander wrote in Elegant Rage: A Poetic Tribute to Woody Guthrie, “Things are bad…again.”
Civil rights are under attack. This time, the scapegoats for all the ills of an unjust society are gay people and women. Next election, when the gay folk and the women are down, there will be another culprit.
Politicians don’t have the courage to name the real problems, but the poets are talking.
When banks get bailed out but working families in foreclosed homes do not, it is time for the poets to speak. When CEOs get bonuses for moving jobs to the next low-wage country and the president is blamed for unemployment, it’s time for poetry. When war decimates the public treasury and politicians presume to fix that problem by cutting taxes, gutting social programs, and calling for another war to fill the coffers of arms makers, the poets should be delivering their lines on every street corner.
This year, citizens get to decide if we are a country where equal rights are guaranteed or if only the moneyed have power. We can choose winners-take-all and losers-go-to-hell or power to the people. And it isn’t just a presidential race.
The policies that matter to each of us are more often decided in local and state races.
Voting is a citizen’s responsibility, not just a right, but this right is endangered by new voter ID laws, obsolete registration practices, and cries of voter fraud.
The real voter fraud is attempts to keep voters from the polls. Fraud is secret money that floods the airways with half-truths and outright lies. Fraud is organizations that buy politicians and create model legislation for their hired hacks to ram through state legislatures.
Yes, Dorothy, things are bad again, but we can fix the problems. We need this generation’s Woody Guthrie. We need anthems and poetry and we need to take to the polls and the streets.
This land is our land, and with the poets urging us on, we can set things right.