Pete Seeger's death has precipitated a storm of grief among most UU's, especially older UU's who remember his music and participation in the great movements of their lives. A lot of UU churches and congregations will be celebrating him this weekend in their services.
But some GenXer's and Millennials push back saying that we should be careful not to overdo it. A lot of GenXer's and Millennials are not especially fond of Seeger's style of folk music, don't share the complicated memories of the 60's protest movements, and are generally unemotional about the baby boomer experience. They are repelled by Boomer nostalgia. There is a hashtag that occasionally surfaces: #notjustboomersinthepews.
The key to understanding contemporary UUA history and culture (from merger until now) is the marginalization and demobilization of progressive forces between 1968 and 2008. I call it the Nixon-Reagan Reaction.
We have just now emerged from a cultural counter-revolution.
One element was a revulsion by GenXers toward the most rebellious strains of the Boomer culture. Much of that revulsion was real and personal, rooted in the experience of having boomers as parents. The punk movement expressed a rebellion against baby boomer leftish sentimentality in a broad cultural and musical movement. There was a political aspect; GenXers swung toward the GOP and Reagan politically, and were a crucial part of the ascendant conservative political coalition. And it was encouraged by the makers of popular culture. In the mainstream, the boomer rebels were lampooned as silly, stoned, naive, and generally pathetic. "Being stuck in the Sixties" became considered a neurological, psychological disorder; a kind of cultural Alzheimers; sufferers were objects of revulsion and mockery. Some UU churches were seen as appropriate asylums were these unfortunates could be safely confined.
The rebellious impulses of the 60's were not only politically defeated, but discredited and ridiculed.
A defeated movement not only has the endure the pain of defeat, but the shame of being thought foolish by its children.
That Pete Seeger kept on 'keeping on' exposes our own
Some of us are adoring Pete Seeger this weekend; some are impatient, and even revulsed, by the nostalgia for the 60's, folk music and all that foolishness. Both responses are predicated on a voluntarist theory of our own history as agents of change. The voluntarist theory is that everything that happened happened because of our virtues and our faults. The thinking goes: "If we had all been like Pete Seeger, then we would not have had Reagan and Bush and Bush and 40 years of backward motion." Or the thinking goes: "If people like Pete Seeger and his crew had not been so mawkish, sentimental and uncool, we would not have had 40 years of growing income inequality, climate change and imperialist wars." Either way, it is the thinking of process of abused children.
The best way to honor Pete Seeger is not by a sentimental tributes, but by a clear-eyed look to the history of the radical, reform and religiously liberal movements of last 50 years. Once in a while, we make history, but most of the time, history makes us.
|At FarmAid in 2013|