As the high school gym filled with people, the room got noisier and noisier: people chatting, the squeak of metal as folks shifted in folding chairs, iPhone alerts, a kid laughing as she climbed the bleachers. Then another sound rose above the rest: People singing. From all over the gym, others joined in. Within moments, the nearly 2,000 people who had gathered for this town hall meeting were singing “This Land is Your Land.”
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me
I have no idea who started singing—it wasn’t a staffer from Senator Ron Wyden‘s office, I’m pretty sure. Rather, the inspiration seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. I hadn’t thought of this song since I was a kid, and I’m actually surprised I remembered the words.
But maybe I remember them because deep down, this song represents something fundamental about America. The country is made up of diversity—both in its land and geography as well as its people. And as this Woody Guthrie classic makes clear, America includes us all.
Building an America of inclusion
I raised my voice along with strangers on either side of me, people I’d never met and with whom I may or may not have shared much in common. But as the chorus of this song swelled in that gym—”This land was made for you and me”—it was clear we believed, together, that our country is made stronger by diversity.
There’s nothing in this song that says, “This land is for me, and that part over there is for you, and none of it belongs to those people way over there.” Such a lyric would be ridiculous.
Yet that’s the refrain we hear in politics, even if the words sound smoother. That’s what we hear chorused in Washington, D.C., even if the message is cloaked under phrases like “national security” and “bad hombres.” From the White House to neo-conservative web sites we hear repetitions of division, of exclusion, of superiority.
But that is not my America. Yes, we have come from a history of such things. We cannot deny the genocide of Native Americans, slavery, Jim Crow laws, anti-immigrant legislation, discrimination, sexism, internment camps, forced sterilization and more that make up our past. But it’s up to all of us to make the words of this folk song come true and create a better future.
Riding a wave of hope
After everyone had sung the “This Land is My Land” chorus a few times, the gym erupted in cheers. The spontaneity that moved an entire crowd to sing in public was inspiring.
Not unlike the feeling from being a part of the wave at a football game, I felt part of something bigger than just myself.
These days, even though I’m working to do good every day, I often feel overwhelmed. How can I make a difference? What change can my small actions actually make? How can we resist the terrifying changes coming from the most powerful office in our country?
But that day as my voice mingled with thousands of others, I didn’t feel despair. I felt hope.
Because I’m not alone. I’m fighting with millions of other Americans who believe that this land—our beautiful country of opportunity—is made for you and me.