At the intermission of a 1971 Pete Seeger concert, one of the leaders of an activist graduate student group on campus got up and asked for donations to help pay the legal fees of some of the group’s members who had been arrested during a protest outside the university’s administration building. Several people in the audience vociferously disagreed with the speaker and tried to shout him down. Soon there were shouts and angry words flying from every corner of the pavilion. The political disagreements that were so uncompromising and bitter and so evident throughout the country at that time were being played out in microcosm before my eyes.
Today, I can still recall the protest and the passionate disagreements among audience members, but most vivid is the image of what happened when Pete Seeger returned to the stage. With his banjo in-hand, he began deftly picking the melody of the first song of his second set. While the audience continued to roil, Pete announced, “I don’t fully agree with what the group is demanding, but I fully support their right to voice those demands. Because of that, I will be donating my fee for tonight’s performance to help pay their legal fees. I am confident that this will be an investment that will benefit everyone here.”
Before the stunned audience had a chance to react, Pete began singing a song I had never heard before. The song was simple, lively, and catchy. By the second verse, the audience had stopped arguing and shouting and was beginning to join in the singing of the chorus. From that point on there was a sense of community among the crowd that hadn’t been evident before.
For the last 42 years, whenever the world seemed to be spinning out of control and the increasing diversity among us seemed more of a curse than a blessing, I have thought about the events of that night to help bolster my spirits that things will get better. But I could never recall the specific song that transformed the crowd. Recently I was given a CD containing some of Pete Seeger’s lesser known songs. As I listened to the music, I heard a song that I immediately recognized as the song that calmed the crowd and created a sense of community during a very divisive time. Listening to the words, I realized the song is just as relevant today as it was in 1971. Perhaps the message of this simple song can help us get through the struggles of dealing with differing perspectives and conflicting opinions in 2013 as effectively as it did 42 years ago.
ALL MIXED UP by Pete Seeger
You know, this language that we speak
Is part German, part Latin, and part Greek,
With some Celtic and Arabic and Scandinavian all in the heap,
Well amended by the people in the street.
Choctaw gave us the word “okay,”
“Vamoose” is a word from Mexico way,
And all of this is a hint, I suspect,
Of what comes next:
Chorus: I think that this whole world
Soon mama, my whole wide world
Soon mama, my whole world,
Soon gonna be get mixed up.
I like Polish sausage, I like Spanish rice
Pizza pie is also nice.
Corn and beans from the Indians here
Washed down by some German beer,
Marco Polo traveled by camel and pony
Brought to Italy the first macaroni.
And you and I, as well as we’re able
Put it all on the table. Chorus
There were no redheaded Irishmen
Before the Vikings landed in Ireland.
How many Romans had dark curly hair
Before they brought slaves from Africa?
No race on earth is completely pure;
Nor is any one’s mind and that’s for sure.
The winds mix the dust of every land,
And so will woman and man. Chorus
On, this doesn’t mean we will all be the same.
We’ll have different faces and different names.
Long live many different kinds of races
And difference of opinion; that makes horse races.
Just remember The Rule About Rules, brother:
“What’s right with one is wrong with another.”
And take a tip from La Belle France,
“Vive la difference.” Chorus
As we strive to adapt to and benefit from the increasing racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in our state and the markedly different political perspectives of some of our hyper-partisan elected leaders, I hope we can be respectful of differing views even if we disagree with them. That may be the only way to develop the sense of community needed to successfully address the challenges that face all of us and allow us to come together to take the next step toward the creation of a better world. When we eventually realize that we are all in this world together and that “We’re All Mixed Up,” perhaps we may finally reap the benefits of the diversity with which we have been blessed.