We all knew it, didn’t we, if we’re old enough. Even if we didn’t sing along, we knew it, and hoped against hope that it was true.
From its roots in African American hymns of the early 20th century to its role as the unofficial anthem of the African American civil rights movement in the 50s, to its popularity at the sit-ins of the 60s prompted by Guy Carawan and ultimately adapted to its best-known version by Pete Seeger, this simple folk song has spread hope and optimism and determination for over a century. And a lot changed, because people got together and demanded it did.
And look at us now. Right back where we started, not legally and constitutionally perhaps, but in terms of bigotry, intolerance and sheer stupidity, we’re rushing downhill like a runaway freight train.
So what are we going to do about it? There is so much good in the world going to waste because we allow the media to accentuate the negative, and because we’re too concerned in our own affairs, and because we have allowed ourselves to become resigned to awfulness.
But when something catastrophic happens – hurricanes and wildfires and an earthquake – we see goodness in all its glory. And I do mean glory. The glory of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, rushing to the help of strangers, and giving wholeheartedly, not only goods and money, but time and energy and enormous effort.
I don’t believe for a minute that God sends natural disasters to punish us or teach us a lesson – no god that I might consider believing in would be so cruel – but I do believe there are lessons to be learned from these events nonetheless: that we do still have the capacity and the will to get together and say ‘we shall overcome’ and mean it.
So when are we going to do it for long enough to stop the stupidity?