Every time I hear “If I Had A Hammer”, I think of three things other than a hammer, a bell and a song. I think of nuns, protesting, and then Pete Seeger.
Back in the early 1990s, I lived at the Queen of the Holy Rosary convent for a spell. Not all of the nuns living there were social justice activists, but a few were, and they were my ride to anti-war protests. I worked with them in a clinic for the homeless and uninsured by day, and by night, they kept living their faith promoting peace. In the space before I went off to spend two years volunteering full-time, it was eye-opening for me to see how strongly they tried to live their principles.
It was at one of those peace rallies that I first understood Pete Seeger’s influence. We sang several of his songs – all easy to sing, all songs for regular people to join in on – and I was struck by how powerful it was to sing together of hope, love, and the future. It all sounds hopelessly idealistic, I know.
Let Your Voice Be Heard brought me back to that time. Pete Seeger’s long life was filled with social justice activism, from standing up for the poor and working men and women to working for voting rights and against the Vietnam War. He was also an environmental activist and cared about people just listening to and getting along with each other. His story may seem far away from young people today – he was actually called before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s—but his life is really the story of all of us. What do we care about enough to stand up and be heard? Can we do that and be nonviolent? Can we create a better future for all children, not just our own? And what will that demand from us?
There’s a lot to think about after reading this book. In the author’s note, Anita Silvey comments on the wealth of information out there about Pete Seeger because of his very public life. I imagine it was difficult to narrow it down into this beautiful and moving remembrance of his life, but I’m glad she took the time, both so I could walk down memory lane a bit, and so I could learn a few new things about an exceptional person who shared the earth with us for a good, long life.
Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger by Anita Silvey