Pete Seeger is approaching the far end of a life lived walking hand in hand with American history, often at odds with the government that runs things, but that failed to shut him up. Even time seems to have taken a step back in deference to the musical rabble-rouser’s resolve and determination. This time around in the Occupy Wall Street movement, the 92-year-old Seeger was carried along Friday night by two canes, not the sound of his banjo. But his presence, in a crowd of nearly 1,000 with guitar players and chanting sign-holders and police swirling around, gave the new protest movement something it seemed to lack over the last month: a momentary clarity, longtime friend Guy Davis thinks. A purpose. A direction. Other than the canes and snowy beard, Seeger hasn’t changed much since he began singing out against fascism in the mid-1930s after dropping out of Harvard in frustration. Seeger’s voice first rose in the 1930s against Hitler. He met Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax and Lead Belly, and began to advocate for migrant workers and miners in the 1940s. He stared down Sen. Joseph McCarthy and endured a blacklisting he simply shrugged away. In middle age, he was a key figure in the folk revival that produced Bob Dylan and the protests that helped shape modern America.He introduced Martin Luther King Jr. to “We Shall Overcome.” In his hands, songs like “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)” and “Turn, Turn, Turn!” became galvanizing anthems.
“Be wary of great leaders,” he said Sunday in a phone interview full of songs and stories when asked what he identifies with in the Occupy Wall Street message. “Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”