Bearing Witness

by Billy Shore

Woody Guthrie and the power of bearing witness

Monday, July 16, 2012


You may have seen some of the references in the press over the weekend to the 100th birthday on July 14 of folk singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie. I thought you might find interesting this brief video essay from Bill Moyers @  that calls out a lesser known stanza from Guthrie’s best known song, This Land is Your Land:

“In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,

By the relief office, I seen my people;

As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking

Is this land made for you and me?”

Guthrie, born in Oklahoma, had lived in the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression and for the rest of his life wrote and sang bearing witness to poverty, inequality, and those who were the most vulnerable and voiceless. His words gave unforgettable voice to these issues. And while those words were sharply political at times, by tying them to music he was able to reach a larger audience than many political statements are able to reach. It’s a testament to their power, and to how much work we have yet to do, that his words still resonate today.