“Song, songs kept them going and going;/ They didn’t realize the millions of seeds they were sowing./ They were singing in marches, even singing in jail./ Songs gave them the courage to believe they would not fail.” From: http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/portraits/pete-seeger
He might not have known it, but Pete Seeger, who died last week at 94, was one of the great health advocates of our time.
Those of you familiar with the folk music legend may also be surprised to hear this. We think of his songs about the unions and workers’ rights, about racial justice, peace, and the environment. A folk music aficionado myself, I cannot think of a single song of his explicitly about human health.
If we want good health, we need workers’ rights, from the most basic respect of health and safety standards in the law to strong unions able to be powerful advocates for the health and well-being of workers. “Strong unions” – can’t you hear Pete Seeger singing?
Even as global action to respond to this massive level of avoidable death grows, it is hard not to see the overlay of race between these deaths — elsewhere — and the enormity of the meagerness of the response compared to the suffering — nor to recognize the role of the race-seeped history of colonialism and beyond woven into today’s continued disparities.
And of course, there is climate change, threatening our health, the health and very existence of countless species, our planet. Considered here from that narrow yet vital lens of human life, its toll is now, and it grows. A humanitarian NGO, DARA, calculates that climate change is already responsible for 400,000 deaths a year, on its way to nearly 700,000 by 2030. Hunger, extreme weather such as droughts and floods, superstorms and super heat, climates newly receptive to disease vector such as mosquitoes, water-borne and food-borne illnesses – all our in our future – and increasingly in our present. (Hear Pete talking about climate change.)
And peace, that speaks for itself. Today, from South Sudan and the Central African Republic to the streets of Chicago and Honduras, guns and other weaponry continue to take upon us their wicked toll. And let us not forget that even as the world — and our country — spends massive sums on guns and missiles, bullets and bombs, “[t]he world needs teachers, books and schools” (Pete again) – and nurses and doctors, medicines and health centers, research and public health campaigns.
If we want good health, we need peace. Today. When will learn, oh when will we ever learn (guns and flowers, war and peace, and Pete and his anthem of peace)?
As others who not only inscribe words on paper but who manage to inscribe them indelibly on our hearts, Pete Seeger will continue to influence generations yet to come in struggles old and new for peace, human harmony with each other and with our planet, justice — and health.
The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.