The banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miner sweated for…
This was an encore performance, of sorts: Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul and Mary fame) sang the tune for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators last weekend. People have been tweeting links to the song on YouTube; they were singing the song at Occupy Cincinnati.
This simple little song — which so nicely captures the spirit of the music the Weavers, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie made — is everywhere in this movement. Maybe Occupy Wall Street will bring about a resurgence of simple little songs like this — songs that tell the truth about people’s lives, songs that everybody can sing.
And maybe that’s why the story of the 1913 Massacre resonates more powerfully now than ever before. For Woody, what happened at Italian Hall in 1913 was a story about what was happening in America in the 1930s and 1940s, a story about “greed for money” and the destruction it leaves in its wake.
And greed is what the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are all about: it’s almost as if these protests are the long-awaited answer to Gordon Gekko’s infamous “Greed is good.”
The connections are there, waiting to be made; it’s 1913 or 1937 or 1941 all over again. That’s why for Arlo Guthrie, the Italian Hall disaster as captured in Woody’s song is almost an archetypal event, or at least an event that helps us (still) understand “who we are and where we came from”; it gains and gathers meaning, tying past to present. As he says at one point in the film:
These events are like stones in a pond that have waves that go way into the future. This is where I think my dad was at his best: thinking about these things, wondering about them.
The story of what happened in Calumet is not just a story about what happened in 1913. That’s a very important story, because it left an indelible mark on many people’s lives, on a whole town, on the country. But as many people have said to us after watching the film, the real “massacre” in the town and in people’s lives seems to have taken place — or continued — long after the 1913 event. And now, it appears, the event is still unfolding, 100 years after the fact.