Pete's Peace

Central to Pete Seeger’s ideology was peace, peace between nations, peace between opposing political factions, peace, and love, between all his brothers and his sisters all over this world. And the path to peace, Pete preached, was for adversaries to get together and start talking.

On April 30, 2008, my wife and I ferried to San Francisco’s embarcadero to witness the unveiling of a memorial to the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the 2,800 Americans volunteers who fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to ’39, siding with the legally-elected Spanish Republic against an overthrow by General Francisco Franco’s junta.

Peter Carroll, head of the Brigade Archives and our Master of Ceremonies, began the event by introducing the 11 Lincoln Brigade veterans who were there. Only 39 Lincoln vets lived on that day, so having 11 on hand felt like a record, but also like the end of an era.

Then the MC introduced the dignitaries who had gathered: San Francisco’s Mayor, Gavin Newsom; the Director of the San Francisco Arts Commission; Spain’s Ambassador to the United States; and San Francisco’s official, unofficial “Chief of Protocol and Director of Special Events,” Charlotte Shultz.

With Charlotte was her husband, George Shultz, who was Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State and George H. Bush’s economic advisor: a bona fide political conservative. This was not a right wing crowd. "What is George Shultz doing here?" a neighbor asked. "He’s not going to talk, is he?"

The M.C. introduced Shultz to a long and loud chorus of heart-felt boos. As the jeering was finally about to die, a man in back of the crowd shouted out, loudly, clearly:

“MURDERER!”

It was an electric moment. We stopped breathing and looked around at the shouter, a dockworker, thick arms folded across a barrel chest, leading with his chin. No one was going to mess with him.
The M.C. cleared his throat, we looked back at him, he introduced Mayor Newsom, and the unveiling ceremony got under way.
 
When I returned home that afternoon, I wrote up the event as a three-page story that included some photos of the memorial, and sent it to a few family members and friends, including Pete Seeger.

Four days later the phone rang.

Hello?

It was God calling. His age-wobbled voice rang out: “Hello, this is Pete Seeger.”

Though he was a life-long family friend and played music in my father’s house on many occasions, this was the first time he had phoned me. I sat down.

Pete was calling to say thank you for sending the story about the unveiling of the memorial, and for the photo of his old friend and Bay Area folk music doyenne, Faith Petric, who had been there that day. I took it he would have loved to have been at the unveiling, the likes of which will not be seen again.

But then he suddenly turned the topic.

Pete said, “If I had been there when that man shouted ‘murderer’ at Shultz, I would have walked right over to him, looked him right in the eyes and said:

‘We’re all murderers. What we’ve got to do is sit down and start talking about our differences.’ ”