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Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower
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Woody at 100


Where's Woody when we need him?

In these times of tinkle-down economics — with the money powers thinking that they're the top dogs and that the rest of us are just a bunch of fire hydrants — we need for the hard-hitting (yet uplifting) musical stories, social commentaries and inspired lyrical populism of Woody Guthrie.

This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of this legendary grassroots troubadour, who came out of the Oklahoma dust bowl to rally America's "just plain folks" to fight back against the elites who were knocking them down.

As we know, the elites are back, strutting around cockier than ever with their knocking-down ways — but now comes the good news out of Tulsa, Okla., that Woody, too, is being revived, spiritually speaking. In a national collaboration between the Guthrie family and the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a center is being built in Tulsa to archive, present to the world and celebrate the marvelous songs, books, letters and other materials generated from Guthrie's deeply fertile mind.

To give the center a proper kick-start, four great universities, the Grammy Museum, the Smithsonian Institution and the Kaiser Foundation are teaming up to host a combination of symposiums and concerts (think of them as Woody-Paloozas) throughout this centennial year. They begin this Saturday, March 10 at the University of Tulsa, then they move on down the road to Brooklyn College and on to the University of Southern California and Penn State University.

If Woody himself were to reappear among us, rambling from town to town, he wouldn't need to write any new material. He'd see that the Wall Street banksters who crashed our economy are getting fat bonus checks, while the victims of their greed are still getting pink slips and eviction notices, and he could just pull out this verse from his old song, "Pretty Boy Floyd":

Yes, as through this world I've wandered,

I've seen lots of funny men.

Some will rob you with a six-gun,

And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life your travel,

Yes, as through your life your roam,

You won't never see an outlaw

Drive a family from their home.

Also, witnessing the downsizing of America's jobs, decimation of the middle class and stark rise in poverty, Guthrie could reprise his classic, "I Ain't Got No Home":

I mined in your mines, and I gathered in your corn.

I been working, mister, since the day I was born.

Now I worry all the time like I never did before,

'Cause I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

Now as I look around, it's mighty plain to see,

This world is such a great and a funny place to be.

Oh, the gamblin' man is rich, an' the workin' man is poor,

And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

Guthrie unabashedly celebrated America's working class, seeing in it the commitment to the common good that lifts America up.

He drove The Powers That Be crazy (a pretty short ride for many of them back then, just as it is today). So they branded him a unionist, socialist, communist and all sorts of other "ists" — but he withered them with humor that got people laughing at them: "I ain't a communist necessarily, but I have been in the red all my life."

Going down those "ribbons of highway" that he extolled in "This Land Is Your Land," Guthrie found that the only real hope of fairness and justice was in the people themselves: "When you bum around for a year or two and look at all the folks that's down and out, busted, disgusted (but can still be trusted), you wish that somehow or other they could ... pitch in and build this country back up again." He concluded, "There is just one way to save yourself, and that's to get together and work and fight for everybody."

And, indeed, that's exactly what grassroots people are doing all across our country today. From Occupy Wall Street to the ongoing Wisconsin uprising, from battles against the Keystone XL Pipeline to the successful local and state campaigns to repeal the Supreme Court's atrocious Citizens United edict, people are adding their own verses to Woody's musical refrain: "I ain't a-gonna be treated this a-way."

Where's Woody when we need him? He's right there, inside each of us.

For information on Saturday's Guthrie Centennial Celebration, go to

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at



17 Comments | Post Comment
It's appropriate that Bruce Springsteen's new album came out yesterday - he seems to be one of the few who has kept Woody alive in his soul.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Sean Plunkett
Wed Mar 7, 2012 4:20 AM
Saddly the new Woody Guthrie center will be downplaying his political views because Oklahoma has become so conservitive. I'm from Oklahoma and regularly go back for the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival which is the only gathering of liberals in Oklahoma and one of the only places that Woody isn't controversial and his politics are discussed openly.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Guy Zahller
Wed Mar 7, 2012 9:33 AM
Sean, check out David Rovics or Anne Feeney...there are plenty of great musicians carrying on in the vein of Woody they just don't get the airplay.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Guy Zahller
Wed Mar 7, 2012 9:34 AM
Hey, Jim...
If Woody Guthrie were to appear today he would in fact be one of those rich elites you despise and rail against so much. Woody's heirs have become very rich from Woody's songwriting royalties.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Glenn Kilburn
Wed Mar 7, 2012 1:02 PM
Woody's alive and well inside this songwriter...

Ain't Got No Home

Words and Music by Rick Hart, with verses by Woody Guthrie

Two billionaires were drinkin', didn't pay me no mind,
singin, “This land is your land, this land is m i n e.”
When I got home, well, the banker's at my door, singin',
“You ain't got no home in this land anymore.”

You know, my job was in the factory but they moved it overseas
so they could move more profit by not paying you and me.
Then I worked in an office, but it moved to Bangalore.
Now I ain't got no job in this land anymore.

Then I heard the Army takes U.S. refugees.
So now I serve my country and have place to live for free.
Out there killin' in this trillion dollar endless war
til I ain't got no legs on this land anymore.

So I went down to Congress to see what millionaires could do,
But they wouldn't let me in ‘cause I didn't have no shoes.
They said to make things right, I'd have to pay them more.
Guess I ain't got no say in this land anymore.

When I turned on the TV it was crazy like a fox.
Putting you and me against each other while the rich pick the locks.
Watching smoke and mirrors while they slip out the back door.
Now I can't see a thing in this land anymore.

On election day I tried to choose one who ain't no goat.
Ballot boxes stuffed with money. There ain't no room for my vote.
They stole Lady Liberty then sold her like a whore.
Ain't there no democracy in this land anymore?

Gonna put my money in local credit unions, out of big bank hands.
And I'll buy my food from family farmers grown with honest hands.
And I'll buy my stuff from local family business, no big store.
‘Cause I ain't givin' up on this land anymore.

In the square of the city, in the shadow of a steeple,
By the welfare office I seen my people;
They stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

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

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking my freedom highway,
Nobody living can make me turn back,
This land was made for you and me.

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.

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.

© (p) 2010, 2012 Rick Hart
Last 5 verses © 1956 (renewed), 1958 (renewed),
1970 and 1972 by Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. &
TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc. (BMI)
Comment: #5
Posted by: Rick Hart
Wed Mar 7, 2012 1:38 PM
Glenn K. Couldn't be more unaware of what Woody was all about. Whatever his descendants may or may not be like, there is no way on God's Green Earth, he would be anything like the stereotype of a "Rock Star". My favorite song by Woody other than the classics like "This Land is Your Land" is a song he did called "I Ain't afraid of Hard Work". WE actually have a great many songwriters in our times that are in the same fight that Woody fought back in the day. But radio doesn't belong to the People anymore and advertising dollars rule the day.
Jim can you post the actual Birthday of Woody Guthrie? And I hope that we all sing "This Land..." several times over the coming year. I Love America, and I will be GO TO HELL, before I let others take away MY Love and Patriotism!
Comment: #6
Posted by: Andrea
Wed Mar 7, 2012 1:47 PM
Beautiful song Rick, made me come all over gulpy...
Bless you, sing it Loud and sing it Proud
Comment: #7
Posted by: Andrea
Wed Mar 7, 2012 1:55 PM
Hello, Jim. That article about Woody is a beautiful piece of writing. My hat's off to you. You make me proud to have met you, even if only through the mail and over the internet. Keep well.

Comment: #8
Posted by: Bruce Murdoch
Wed Mar 7, 2012 2:03 PM
Unless you have satellite radio or a progressive NPR station in your area you may not be aware of the many projects continuing Woody's work. Currently there are 2 albums out that add melodies to songs Woody wrote but never got around to finishing, they are Note Of Hope and New Multitudes. Check 'em out
Comment: #9
Posted by: BlueRootsRadio
Wed Mar 7, 2012 2:10 PM
Some today are still writing in the Woody Guthie mode. His songs ring just as true today as they did eighty years ago. As Woody would say, "Take it easy....but take it.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Arkansas Red
Wed Mar 7, 2012 2:35 PM
You can see a fabulous lineup of musicians paying tribute to Woody and his legacy at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, TX, Thursday March 15, 8pm - midnight, at St. David's Bethell Hall. Ruthie Foster, David Garza, Ray Benson, Shannon McNally, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jimmy LaFave, Carrie Rodriguez, Arlo Guthrie, and more! Presented by The Grammy Museum.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Matt Hiland
Wed Mar 7, 2012 3:24 PM
Re: Andrea
I sure will, Andrea. Thank you. I just want to feed others like Guthrie feeds me.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Rick Hart
Wed Mar 7, 2012 4:38 PM
Re: Rick Hart I saw your post and want to invite you to the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, in Okemah OK ...Google it, and enter your music, one never knows.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Jody Thom
Wed Mar 7, 2012 4:45 PM
Re: Jody Thom
Thank you, Jody. Never been there, but i can't wait to join in that one big kindred spirit. Friends told me about it. I entered a couple songs a week or so ago. I'm ready. All I need now is July 11.
Comment: #14
Posted by: Rick Hart
Wed Mar 7, 2012 5:28 PM
Woody Guthrie's association with communism is completely ignored.
Comment: #15
Posted by: David Henricks
Thu Mar 8, 2012 4:05 PM
I invite you to read Bound for Glory, by Woody Guthrie and Woody Guthrie: A Life, by Joe Klein (authorized biography)
- Fat Cat greed caused the Great Depression of 1929.
- Republican President Hoover downplayed its effects.
- 25 million out of work
- Virtually the only ones who were helping the poor and the migrant workers were the American communists. And they were the only ones who would print Woody's stories about the pain and injustices inflicted on the Depression's victims by bankers and big industries. Today, I bet he would have just used the internet. He said, "Left wing, chicken wing - it's all the same to me." Woody was committed to the common man and common sense, not to any political philosophy. But he was committed to working with whoever was helping the victims of greed.

About the comment by Glenn Kilburn (comment #4) - Yeah, Woody would have been rich today, but he wasn't greedy. Most people don't have a problem with rich. It's the greed that does the damage: When they make Congress drunk with money, and steal trillions of our tax money while they p*ss on the Constitution and working people. No, Woody would have used his money to help the neglected and harassed people who made the rich people rich.
Comment: #16
Posted by: Rick Hart
Fri Mar 9, 2012 5:50 AM
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born on July 14, 1912.
Comment: #17
Posted by: Miles Stern
Sat Mar 31, 2012 8:45 PM
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