Where Do We Go from Here?: Post-Election Thoughts from a Folk Troubadour
Last Tuesday, America and the world as a whole took a major turn in direction. Everywhere I go, the shock waves are still reverberating. I have spent many hours with friends who have been in tears feeling a devastating fear for their own and the nation's future. Many wonder: Where Do We Go from Here?
The America I have Seen
I spent almost the entire months of September and October traveling through Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana. All but one of these states voted for the winning candidate. I conversed and ate meals with the people there and spent many nights sleeping under their roofs. I found nothing but kind, generous and intelligent people everywhere I went. It seemed that those who were not formally educated had a kind of smarts about them that raises above all the book knowledge that our "higher" institutions offer. Most of all, I found the people I met to be deep thinkers - looking at things from the ground upward instead from a lofty perch downward. America is a land of incredible diversity. A diversity much greater than the ethnic and religious diversity we concentrate so much on. Much deeper than that, it is a diversity of understanding and perception.
People's Concerns and Perceptions
In the final debate , three weeks before the election, as I listened to the Republican nominee, I was convinced that he was landing powerful, unanswered blows against his opponent, scoring huge points with his supporters. Many of my own friends scolded me for suggesting that Trump won that debate. But I thought he did - not because I agree with his policies (I don't) or because he showed greater skills to deliver this country to a better place, but because he did a better job of speaking to the concerns and perceptions of his supporters. When I posted on Facebook one week later that Trump was surging to a probably victory, I was surprised to see how many people thought that any evidence of Trump gaining was a cynical lie conjured up by a conspiratorial media to get people scared, to keep them tuned in and to sell more ads.
The Core Values I have Seen
But, the biggest thing I found while touring this great nation of ours is that most of us share the same core values. That's why people all over the country love the music of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. I first discovered this in 2010 during a two month tour that ended on Election Day, the day the Tea Party made huge inroads into Congress and the GOP took over both houses. On tour in OH, PA and WV at the time, I was invited to perform at numerous Tea Party rallies. I would have gladly accepted if they would have fit into my schedule, but they didn't.
Upon my return, I reported to Pete that the Tea Party loved his music and I don't know if I ever said anything to Pete that gave him more joy. "Toshi, did you hear that? Did you hear that?" Pete had an enormous grin and was elbowing his wife as she was trying to eat her supper. People of all stripes love Pete's music because it sings to the deepest values and commonest qualities we all share. And so does Woody's. If we can all connect with each other on the level of our core values and concerns, we can hear each other out, have civil conversations and find common ground, find the humanity in each other on all sides of these huge issues that are otherwise tearing us apart.
Finding the Right Questions
Pete reminded me over and over that whenever there are multiple sides to an issue, there is almost always a middle ground. That middle ground almost always comes in the form of a question. And sometimes the greatest discovery we can make is the right question. I hope we can rediscover some of these "right questions" and then listen to the wide diversity of viewpoints people have on them. To get there, I hope we can let ourselves become a little less attached to the purity many of us believe we find in our individual perspectives. I believe in my heart of hearts that it is these common core values and concerns that will save this nation, if it is possible to do so.
I would like to conclude by sharing a poem I wrote on Election Night after the results became apparent
Strong and Sturdy
like a tree that's planted by the water
bending with the winds of change
digging its roots deep into the earth
by the impending storm
Calm and Confident
like the darkest hours of a moonless night
whispering to the two earliest birds
one named Hope
one named Faith
the dawn will arrive
providing just enough light
to show the very next step
at this very moment
the path is now
in clear view
Spook Handy is a nationally touring folk troubadour who performed alongside Pete Seeger at festivals and concerts more than 50 times from 2003 – 2013. In that time, he learned firsthand many of Pete’s songs and the stories behind them. Now, Spook is on a three year “Remembering Pete Seeger” World Tour bringing these songs and stories and Pete’s message to all 50 U.S states, all 10 Canadian provinces, and many other countries (as well as all 21 New Jersey counties). He can be heard at theaters, arts centers, libraries, universities, churches and anywhere else people gather to celebrate Pete’s life and legacy.
Spook latest CD “Pete, Woody and Me, Volume I – Keep the Flame Alive” charted at No. 3 on the International Folk Radio Charts in both June and July 2016 with the no. 2 and no. 3 songs. He was named Best Folk Artist by Upstage Magazine, Gannett New Jersey, The Courier News, The Home News and About.com. He has written for theater and film. Learn more about the “Remembering Pete Seeger” World Tour at www.spookhandy.com/wp/pete.