It must have been a good 11 years ago that I met Pete Seeger, poet par excellence, troubadour, folk singer and messenger of the ages. It was at the Carroll County Farm Museum's folk music festival called Common Ground on the Hill and he was the headliner.
There's no reason for him to remember me. I was the one teaching some small children how to roll down a hill, and getting others so enthusiastic that they put aside their "keep-'em-busy" toys and asked their parents if they, too, could roll with us.
But there were hundreds, if not a couple thousand folks listening to Seeger's music and buying crafts and cozying up for the evening as the sun met the horizon and the children cooled down their rambunctiousness.
Pete Seeger is one of the good guys from the past and he was around long before Bob Dylan switched from acoustic to electric guitar. Seeger's music was played on the radio during the 1940s, and he later became an icon of protest movements, supporting civil rights with his music, environmental causes and international disarmament. His songs continue to influence musicians around the globe who find purpose in his words.
So I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised when 40,000 Norwegians gathered in the rain last week to sing a version of a song he wrote 41 years ago imploring the world to recognize that we live on one earth under one sky and that we are indeed what he calls a rainbow race.
There's a man, you see, who, last year killed eight people with a diversionary bomb blast in Norway's capital city of Oslo, and then shot 69 children, who were mostly teenagers, because he disagreed with what he perceived were their politics. The teens were attending a political youth camp on an island off the Norwegian coast and far-right fanatic Anders Behring Breivik said that these young people had been tainted with Marxist beliefs, including that it was OK for Muslims to live in their country.
Breivik, 33, said that he hated the "Islamic colonization of Norway." He also said he hated the song of inclusion, "Children of the Rainbow," which is a direct takeoff from Pete Seeger's "My Rainbow Race."
I understand a little Norwegian, so I looked up Lillebjoern Nilson's version and on YouTube checked out the thousands who gathered with umbrellas, slickers and roses for an expressive singalong outside the courthouse where Breivik is on trial. Nilson and the multitude sang:
"En himmel full av stjerner / Blatt hav sa langt du ser … /hver soester og hver bror. / Små barn av regnbuen ..." ("A sky full of stars / Blue sea as far as you can see / Together we will live … / each sister and brother / Small children of the rainbow ...")
Listening to the song, I hear an American's influence on the world. I hear how the desire for peace and humanity transcends all. I hear how people can come together to fight prejudice. I hear how each of us is a sister and brother to all of us. I hear how all of us are the parents to each of us.
Breivik would surely disagree.
While his guilt has already been established, psychiatrists haven't agreed whether Breivik is psychotic. To the contrary, Breivik insists he is a victim of racism, saying that if he were a "bearded jihadist," no one would question his sanity.
Breivik's maximum jail time could be 21 years in a cell the Huffington Post describes as an Ikea-like dorm room with a flat-screen television. If found insane, he could be held indefinitely in an insane asylum. "I'm going to do what I can to avoid that," Breivik said.
Brevick says he is sane. Still, he killed children to protest immigration. I wonder how a person can be moved to such violence.