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On Woody Guthrie’s Centennial, Celebrating the Life, Politics & Music of the “Dust Bowl Troubadour”
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now
Today a Democracy Now! special on the life, politics and music of Woody Guthrie, the “Dust Bowl Troubadour.” Born a hundred years ago on July 14, 1912, in Oklahoma, Guthrie wrote hundreds of folk songs and became a major influence on countless musicians, including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs. While Guthrie is best remembered as a musician, he also had a deeply political side, speaking out for labor and civil rights at the height of McCarthyism.
Amidst commemorations across the country marking Woody Guthrie’s centennial, we’re joined by Guthrie’s daughter, Nora Guthrie, author of the book “My Name Is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s Town”; his granddaughter Anna Canoni; and musician Steve Earle. We hear stories from Woody Guthrie’s family life and his time in New York City, where he lived from 1940 until his death in 1967 after a long battle with Huntington’s disease. Guthrie’s wife Marjorie later dedicated her life to finding a cure for the disease, inspiring young doctors to pursue genetic research and founding what became the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. Earle, a three-time Grammy winner, performs two of Guthrie’s songs and discusses how the singer inspired him as a musician and activist. “I never separated music and politics, which kept bringing me back to Woody, over and over and over again,” Earle says. “I still don’t consider myself to be a political artist; I’m just an artist that — I think like Woody was — that lives in really politically charged times.”
Dougald Hine, the resilients project
The breadline runs through the middle of the Kallio district of Helsinki. On Wednesdays and Fridays, when the Hursti Charitable Association’s regular food distributions take place, queues build up along the pavement of Helsinginkatu all morning. Once a month, there is a special distribution for students.
For some, these queues are associated with the crisis of the early 1990s, when the collapse of trade with a collapsing Soviet Union and the implosion of a homegrown financial bubble sank Finland into economic depression. At its worst, unemployment was five times its pre-crisis level and GDP had shrunk by 14%. The memory of this time came up in conversations during my stay in Helsinki, and while the Helsinginkatu distributions turn out to be older than this – their founder, Veikko Hursti, began handing out food to needy people in the city back in 1967 – it seems that lengthening breadlines during the crisis years left an impression.
Today, Kallio is one of those places you find in most European capitals: a working class district close to the city centre where small apartments and low rents attract the young, creative and broke, until their activities in turn begin to attract those with more money to spend, and the rents begin to rise. No one hates this process more than the artists and activists who are its catalysts, and everywhere it is a source of angst.
The Kallio Movement began here, a year ago, when the city council proposed to move the Hursti food distributions out of the area and off the streets. There had been lobbying from a longstanding local society: the lengthy queues were causing ‘unreasonable inconvenience’ to residents. One resident disagreed and wrote a post on Facebook, a proposal for a movement that would represent the larger group of people living in the area who had no desire to see it ‘cleaned up’. Within three days, over five thousand people had signed up to this proposal. The network that formed as a result has campaigned successfully to defend the food distributions and a local refugee reception centre. It is also organising block parties and flea markets.
One thing struck me, hearing and reading about the origins of the Kallio Movement: there is a clear feeling that something would have changed for the worse if the evidence of poverty were moved out of sight. The breadline acts as a living statistic, harder to ignore than a set of numbers in an official report: so long as people are hungry, its defenders say, this inconvenient reality should be a visible part of the society in which we live.
My host in Kallio, Anu remembers an explosion of flea markets and street stalls during the crisis of the 1990s, as people looked for ways to make ends meet.
There is an ambiguous overlap between the improvised economic activity that may constitute a type of resilience in times of crisis and the forms of activity embraced as a lifestyle choice by the artists, activists and hipsters whose presence brings attention to an area like Kallio.
This ambiguity shows up in another of the projects that people kept telling me about in Helsinki. The first Restaurant Day was in May 2011, the same month the Kallio Movement was getting started, and the plan spread in a similar way over social media. It’s one of those plans that’s simple enough it can travel by word of mouth: for one day, open your own restaurant, anywhere you choose. In parks and clothes shops, at kitchen tables or in a basket from a first floor balcony, people took up the invitation, sharing their passion for food with friends, neighbours and anyone who came along.
It’s easy to see why this would catch people’s imaginations, resonating as it does with the buzz of pop-up culture that has spread from grassroots DIY activity to the blogs of every branding agency in the western hemisphere. I remember MsMarmiteLover, founder of The Underground Restaurant, coming along to the first Social Media vs the Recession meetup I hosted in London in early 2009. A year later, when we were working on the Space Makers project at Brixton Village, it was a one-day festival of pop-up restaurants that gave the first clue to the new popularity the indoor market was about to experience. What’s brilliant about Restaurant Day is the power and lightness with which it scales: with only the barest infrastructure, it has become one of the biggest things happening in the city, providing a strength in numbers that allows unofficial restaurants to go overground. It doesn’t surprise me that, one year on, the idea has spread to seventeen countries around the world.
Yet this is not all there is to say about Restaurant Day. For one thing, while the creativity and imagination people put into their pop-up restaurants is what grabs the attention, it is also a form of non-confrontational civil disobedience: through that strength in numbers and an appeal to common sense, it challenges the strict rules by which the making and serving of food is usually regulated. This is not an accident. The idea began as a protest, a response to reports of small restaurants and kiosks around Helsinki being fined or shut down for minor violations of these regulations. You could call it an occupation of this regulatory space: a challenge to the authorities to cede ground, or else evict an idea that people have taken to their hearts…
The Pain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain (Folk)
Amy Goodman, Truthdig
As Spain’s prime minister announced deep austerity cuts Wednesday in order to secure funds from the European Union to bail out Spain’s failing banks, the people of Spain have taken to the streets once again for what they call “Real Democracy Now.” This comes a week after the government announced it was launching a criminal investigation into the former CEO of Spain’s fourth-largest bank, Bankia. Rodrigo Rato is no small fish: Before running Bankia he was head of the International Monetary Fund. What the U.S. media don’t tell you is that this official government investigation was initiated by grass-roots action.
The Occupy movement in Spain is called M-15, for the day it began, May 15, 2011. I met with one of the key organizers in Madrid last week on the day the Rato investigation was announced. He smiled, and said, “Something is starting to happen.” The organizer, Stephane Grueso, is an activist filmmaker who is making a documentary about the May 15 movement. He is a talented professional, but, like 25 percent of the Spanish population, he is unemployed: “We didn’t like what we were seeing, where we were going. We felt we were losing our democracy, we were losing our country, we were losing our way of life. … We had one slogan: ‘Democracia real YA!’—we want a ‘real democracy, now!’ Fifty people stayed overnight in Puerta del Sol, this public square. And then the police tried to take us out, and so we came back. And then this thing began to multiply in other cities in Spain. In three, four days’ time, we were like tens of thousands of people in dozens of cities in Spain, camped in the middle of the city—a little bit like we saw in Tahrir in Egypt.”
…Stephane Grueso sums up the movement: “We are not a party. We are not a union. We are not an association. We are people. We want to expel corruption from public life … now, today, maybe it is starting to happen.”
Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco: drawing America’s invisible poor – audio slideshow
Chris Hedges, Jim Powell and Tim Maby, the Guardian
For his latest book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, out this month in paperback, Pulitzer prizewinning author Chris Hedges collaborated with awardwinning cartoonist and journalist Joe Sacco to produce a heartfelt, harrowing picture of post-capitalist America. Together they explore the country’s ‘sacrifice zones’ – areas that have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological advancement – and show in words and images what life looks like in places where the marketplace rules without constraints