Both Sides of the River

(Cross-posted at Wild Wild Left and Docudharma)

In the aftermath of a tragedy 50 years ago, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the deaths of migrant workers in a plane crash in Los Gatos Canyon. They were being deported, and when they died, the newspapers didn’t consider it necessary to mention their names. They’d been born on the other side of the Rio Grande River, which rendered them inferior to white, church-attending Americans and negated the need for any respect.

The skyplane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning that shook all our hills.
Who were all these friends all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio said they were just deportees . . .

Woody Guthrie didn’t consider them to be just deportees. They were human beings, their lives mattered, so he honored them with a eulogy, he said goodbye to them.

He knew a river runs through this land of capitalism. The wealthiest one-percent of Americans live on one side of that river. The rest of us live on the other side. To the wealthiest one-percent, we have no names. Our lives don’t matter, we’re just migrant workers in their fields, we’re just miners in their mines, we’re just numbers on a balance sheet, and unless we cross that river and scatter them like dry leaves on the wind, workers in their fields and miners in their mines is all our children will ever be.

They’ve been waging class warfare against us for decades, they’ve been waging class warfare against the whole world for decades.

In Vietnam, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, the war machine of capitalism ramped up, the skyplanes took off, the bombs fell, and a fireball of lightning shook all their hills. And then shook them again, and again, and again. It was called Rolling Thunder, it was called Shock and Awe, it’s called "defending freedom". But it’s not defending freedom, it’s class warfare. In Southeast Asia, in the oil fields of the Middle East, the workers and farmers and villagers died in the hills and they died in the deserts, they died in the valleys, and died in the plains.

Insurgents or not, it didn’t matter, on both sides of the Mekong, they died just the same. They died and are dying in wars of conquest and profit, on both sides of the Tigris, they die just the same, on both sides of the Kabul, they die just the same, under the bombs of the skyplanes, they die just the same.

If we don’t take responsibility for what has been done in our name, and for what is still being done in our name, if we don’t redeem ourselves as a nation, if we don’t cross that river that runs through this land of capitalism, to scatter the wealthiest one-percent like dry leaves on the wind . . .

Karma will.

It’ll deal with them and it’ll deal with the rest of us. There won’t be any distinction made between the guilty and the complicit. Karma won’t give a fuck about that. On both sides of the river, we’ll die just the same.

Like a fireball of lightning, Karma will shake all our hills. And we’ll die in the hills and we’ll die in the deserts, we’ll die in the valleys, and die in the plains. And when Karma has judged us as we have judged others, we’ll deserve being cast from the world as just deportees.

Goodbye Pentagon, goodbye to America,
Adios, Wall Street traders, L.A. and Topeka,
You won’t have a name, when you ride Karma’s airplane.
The world will forget you, the world will move on.

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