This Land

Modified on: July 5, 2018

On February 23, 1940, Woody Guthrie sat in his hotel room in New York City. He had spent a decade witnessing the devastation of the Great Depression on his fellow citizens. He had watched fascism spread across the Western hemisphere, the ploy of demagogues to manipulate the despair of people in economic desperation. And he was sick of hearing the popular tune “God Bless America” play ad nauseam on the radio. In protest against an easy nationalism that justifies human suffering with patriotic piety, Guthrie wrote these words:

This land is your land, and this land is my land
From the California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters.
This land was made for you and me.

He wrote expansively, a vision of the wide and seemingly endless beauty of the North American continent across which he and, by his thinking, every person had a right to wander:

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
And saw above me that endless skyway,
And saw below me the golden valley, I said:
This land was made for you and me.

In truly democratic fashion, he hears the song’s refrain echoing in all those he meets, singing out even from the landscape itself:

I roamed and rambled and followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts,
And all around me, a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

Laws of ownership threaten to separate us from the wonder of the country we inhabit; but even our walls and borders cannot finally control the freedom of a person striding over the earth:

Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing —
This land was made for you and me.

Whatever our nation’s laws, whoever its leaders,

we belong to this land, as do all who walk in its beauty;

and like every one of us, this land, ultimately, is always free—


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