When I heard that President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, I was stunned—as were many around the world. It’s not my style to comment on politics. However, after attending Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival, a music and environmental festival, I stick by my initial thought when the award was announced: Pete Seeger deserves global recognition if not with the Nobel Peace Prize then with the appropriate award.
According to “Time for Hope” on Nobelprize.org, The Official Web Site of the Nobel Peace Prize, “In selecting him (President Obama), the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which consists of five people appointed by the Norwegian Parliament, or Storting, appear to be endorsing Obama’s appeal for greater multilateral cooperation aimed at tackling the thorniest global problems; conflict, nuclear weapons, climate change.”
The nominations for the award closed 11 days after President Obama took office. Becoming the first African-American President of the United States was a major milestone in our country and was built around a strong message of hope and change. Obama’s list of accomplishments was significant at that time and during his presidency he has committed himself to working to be the best leader he can be. However, his list was short compared to those who had worked for their entire lives to educate others and help to change if not the world, those who understood and acted on the messages of peace, hope, and action.
Pete Seeger has been on a mission his entire life. Pete, an ‘iconic’ folk singer who is known for his role in reviving folk music, performed with Bruce Springsteen at President Obama’s Inaugural Concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Pete’s voice has weakened and his grandson Tao performs on stage with him. But the message Pete delivers is always very clear.
When I went to Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday party at Madison Square Garden on May 3, 2009, I was able learned first hand the esteem that top-tier performers had for the man responsible for reviving the folk music culture, cleaning up the Hudson River, and educating young people on environmental issues. It was a sold-out audience of people who, like me, remember the times in the sixties when folk music was at the core of the peace movement.
“Clearwater Generations” was the theme of this year’s Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival. A chance for all ages to enjoy performers like the Indigo Girls, the Tao Seeger Band, and Jeffrey Broussard and The Creole Cowboys, it was a chance to learn the opportunities to help Pete’s mission and to reflect on what each individual could to save the world, or at least a river or an invidual. “It’s Not About You” by David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist in The New York Times on May 30, writes that “Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life.”
What is summoning you? What is it that you want to do? What is your mission?
Over forty years ago, Pete decided to clean up the polluted Hudson River. The Great Hudson River Revival that started formally in 1978 was able to use the funds to build the sloop Clearwater, “a world-renowned floating classroom and a symbol of effective grassroots action.” Pete’s leadership and those who are committed to the mission are at “the forefront of the nation’s environmental challenges. The revenue raised by the Revival goes to support Clearwater’s numerous educational programs and its work toward environmental and social justice—as well as keeping the Clearwater afloat.”
Here’s more information on Pete that was included in the Mission of the Festival on the Clearwater website, “In 2002, Pete was named a ‘Clean Water Hero’ for his prominent efforts in the passage of the Clean Water Act. His tireless devotion to working through Clearwater and promoting its message to effectively use the law in prosecuting polluters of America’s waterways has made the Clean Water Act perhaps the most successful environmental law in the country.”
It’s time to move from hope to action. In Brooks’ article, he believes that, “Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly….life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolved into some task.”
Pete Seeger engaged in tasks and set a mission that he is fulfilling still at age 92, worthy, in my mind anyway, of a Nobel Peace Prize.