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Freedom Ride

Before reading on, listen to and watch Taj Mahal, Joan Osborne, Garth Hudson, Rob Hyman, Eric Bazilian (on the hurdy gurdy!) perform “Freedom Ride,” from the 1998 album, Largo. The song’s soulful energy, optimism and sheer joyful determination make it a pretty good soundtrack to the powerful movement a-borning before us.

I’ve been captivated by Largo since it was released 13 years ago. I give it to friends. I play it over and over. I’ve even used parts of it in various videos. It’s got deep roots in many American musical traditions, to say nothing of its thematic use of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.”

I am greatly heartened and moved by all that’s happening in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and I salute everyone participating or even watching hopefully as events unfold. I think its future – its methods, its messages, its achievements – will grow organically.

But something George Will wrote recently about Elizabeth Warren, combined with the right-wing propagandists’ ludicrous efforts to label it as something it’s not, make me want to contribute just a bit and clarify very simply the beliefs behind my support for the movement.

George Will wrote that Elizabeth Warren “refutes propositions no one asserts,” and he did so while refuting a proposition that Elizabeth Warren doesn’t assert. It is the kind of rhetorical slight-of-hand that betrays a deep contempt for America and Americans.

Warren had made the common sense observation that no one in America gets rich on their own. We all depend upon our shared investment in schools, roads, bridges, a legal system,  public safety etc. So, the wealthy should pay their fair share. After all, without our investments in America, they couldn’t make a dime.

Will is outraged by this thought. And before he’s done he’s accused Warren and all liberals of being un-American collectivists out to destroy individual autonomy. Never mind that Warren said nothing like this and means nothing like this. Eli posted a piece about this at FDL on Friday.

So, for all the George Wills out there, I want to say this:

I love America. Because I love America and its promise of freedom and opportunity I want to do my part to build its schools, roads, bridges etc. I want to do it because these are the things that empower the individual, not, as Will says, because I want to disparage or destroy individual autonomy.

I expect my fellow Americans to do their part as well. And yes, that means those who take more from our mutual investments ought to give more back to the country. And yes, we ought to have laws and regulations that protect us from unscrupulous white-collar predators just like we all want laws and police to protect us from muggers and thieves on the street.

I applaud individual achievement. I don’t resent those who earn their fortunes. Quite the contrary, I am proud to have done my part to make it possible for them to grow rich.

There should be nothing particularly controversial about these simple beliefs. They are controversial only because people like George Will feel they are entitled.

“Collectivist?” Really, George? You would turn simple observations about our shared social responsibilities into some kind of scary echo of Stalin or Mao? Really? What silly nightmares you have. And what an ugly world we would have if your vision became reality.

I wish we could just file Will’s work away in the “crank” file and be done with it. We can’t because his thoughts and thoughts like them have infected the political sphere. They are shared by many with the power to spread the toxic lies they tell.

No, we can’t ignore them. But we can provide the anti-toxin.

“Freedom Ride” (including verse omitted for time in Letterman performance)

Goin’ away it might be long
Know they’ll miss me when I’m gone
May be gone for a long long time
Won’t know till I cross that line

Goin’ way down the underground
Train’ll take me freedom bound
Go down Moses shine a light
I see you I’ll be alright

I wanna be your rider, rider, rider
Ride on a train goin’ woo woo woo
I wanna be your rider
Take me on a freedom ride with you

Well I don’t know but I been told
Streets in Harlem paved with gold
Well I know where I’m goin to
Sweet chariot gonna pull me through

I wanna be your rider, rider, rider….

Steel away the preacher cried
We’re goin’ on a freedom ride
Don’t know when it’s gonna be
But down the line we will be free

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Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith