Pete Seeger, Lech Walesa and Occupy Wall Street

Matt Philbin Managing Editor, Culture and Media Institute
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Fancy the luck of the Occupy Wall Street kids. According to a fawning New York Times piece, Pete “Red Depends” Seeger, a beloved old folk fossil at 92, joined up with them the other night, leading some 600 fans from a concert hall in a song-filled march to Zuccotti Park.

It must have been like one of those late-run “Scooby-Doo” episodes where the kids unexpectedly meet up with unthreatening entertainment has-beens whose wise-cracking or slapstick bumbling help the kids solve the mystery. Instead of “TV’s Don Knotts!” falling from the haunted hayloft, “Stalinism’s Pete Seeger!” hobbles out of the Manhattan darkness.

Seeger even performed a musical interlude with Arlo Guthrie. (I’m imagining a montage of the Occupy gang hilariously chasing that slippery Guaranteed Living Wage Phantom around the tents while the old Bolshies croaked, “If I had an iPhone.” People of a certain age will know what I mean.)

Seeger must have felt right at home, of course. Maybe not with the kids with the finger twinkles demanding federal funding for dreadlock odor abatement research — they’re more Arlo’s speed. But Pete would get on smashingly with their hard-left organizers and bankrollers. He knows a “friend to the poor,” as he called Fidel Castro, when he sees one.

Besides, you can’t shock the man who penned “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?” with literal calls for bankers’ heads. He saw the glories of Soviet Russia first-hand. He knew the guys who ran the gulags. And as a member of the U.S. Communist Party, he toed the party line, no matter how hypocritical or duplicitous. He was dead set against U.S. intervention in WWII until the Panzers started to roll across the Russian frontier, and his music of the time literally shows it. Seeger was the living embodiment of Stalin’s “useful idiots.”

Not that he hasn’t mellowed with age. It was just a few years ago that Seeger apologized for being a Joe Stalin fan boy. Guess it was just a phase, like Bieber-worship.

Now, if Seeger played the Sonny & Cher or Tim Conway to the Zuccotti Scooby Gang (and I’m nominating Alec Baldwin for the “Scrappy Doo” role), the kids were frustrated in their attempt to land a Lawrence Olivier for some gravitas. Lech Walesa has belatedly declined an invitation to speak to the Occupiers.

Walesa, of course, was the leader of Poland’s Solidarity movement, which eventually broke the back of communist rule in Poland and laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War. Walesa, an electrician in the Gdansk shipyard, stood courageously against tyranny at great personal risk. He became the first post-communist president of his nation. He remains a champion of liberty and the dignity of the individual.

So it was strange to hear that Walesa was invited and initially agreed to speak to Occupy Wall Street. Its demands for wealth redistribution are the opposite of liberty, and in Zuccotti Park, individual dignity is measured in how far you sleep from where you last defecated.

Well, it turns out Walesa didn’t quite understand the nature of the OWSers and the hard leftists backing them. And he’s not interested in lending legitimacy to a group that is, as Big Government put it, “organized by anarchists, Code Pink, the American Communist movement, jihadists, anti-Israel, socialist, and anti- free enterprise interests.” Thank goodness.

On the other hand, perhaps Walesa would give a speech that would shame the protesters — or at least their flacks in the media. Maybe he could have shown from experience which way enslavement lies. Maybe he could tell them what real oppression looks like — oppression in service to an egalitarian utopia like the one they demand. Maybe a few of the fine arts majors and trust-fund anarchists would pack up their euro-scarves and go home. Maybe a few of the “journalists” covering them would feel a pang of conscience before filing another glowing report on drum circles as the spiritual glue binding these young idealists. Alas, we’ll never know.

Not that the OWS gang struck out entirely on the Walesa front. Bizarrely, in 1982, Pete Seeger performed a benefit concert for Walesa’s Solidarity movement. Ever grateful, the Poles named a square in Krakow after Seeger.

Oh, wait, sorry — that’s Ronald Reagan Square.

Matt Philbin is the managing editor at The Culture and Media Institute.