This is an opportunity to honor a great American

Pete Seeger has passed. I loved the man and truly respect all he did for our environment, particularly his work on the Hudson River. One day I sat with him in his two-room cabin in Beacon and watched the eagles fly over the Hudson. I saw the joy on his face as he responded to the beauty of nature. His goal was to be able to fish and swim in the once polluted cesspool of a river that has always been one of the most beautiful of America’s assets. Among all that Seeger did during his long, fruitful life, to me his contribution to the restoration of the Hudson stands out. His music extolling the Hudson, his commitment to teaching people about the river through his and his wife Toshi’s sponsorship of the Sloop Clearwater and all the environmental programs that it has generated leaves us in debt to the man. His legacy cannot be erased — he was a giant who left such a mark on all of us that there is no way we can repay him.

Years ago, it occurred to many people that naming the new Walkway Over the Hudson would be a fitting memorial to Pete. Many people loved the idea and came forward to endorse it. People from then-Governor Paterson’s office loved it; Maurice Hinchey, the then top environmental congressman in the nation who represented the district loved it; Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, whose district included the lower Hudson River loved it. Since the Legislature would have to get involved, all of that was a very good sign. We were ready to go.

Then one day, the phone rang in my office. It was one of Pete’s grandsons. He told me that Pete had gotten wind of the plan and didn’t want it to happen. That was typical Pete. He generally eschewed personal honors, though there were two that he accepted — playing at Barack Obama’s inauguration and accepting the Kennedy Center’s top honors. It was hard not to cry as I saw the man who had been hounded and nearly imprisoned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities reach the apex of the country. No matter how leftist his politics were, one should take into consideration that World War II would not have been won without the Soviets. At the time, Franklin Roosevelt had a very good relationship to Stalin.

I sure loved Pete who was far and away, with no exceptions, the best folksinger and most principled human beings this country will ever see. I got to know him quite well and did a series of six hour-long interviews with him that lay out this incredible man’s commitment to social justice. No matter what the risk, he was there — in Selma, Alabama, at the great marches on Washington, and out on his local roads protesting wars that were based on lies and false information.

Now some people want to name the new Tappan Zee Bridge for Pete. It would be a great honor but this massive highway bridge hardly respects the man the way that naming the Bridge Over the Hudson would do. Pete believed in keeping things local. Plus, rumors abound that the new Tappan Zee will have the Cuomo name attached to it. Self-serving politics will all too often trump everything else, including extraordinary people like one of the greatest men America has ever produced. We have bridges and tunnels named for politicians like Carey and Koch and RFK. This is a chance to honor one of the greatest of Americans for what he has done for all of us. Every time you run by the Hudson or drive over it or just think about it, think about Pete. Think about his work. Think about “We Shall Overcome” and get to work making this happen.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/3/14

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One Comment on “This is an opportunity to honor a great American”

  1. As a volunteer for the Walkway Over the hudson’s opening day festivities, I was in a great position to take this photo of Pete as he performed at the mid-point of the bridge.

    Pete Seeger on Walkway Over the Hudson opening day

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