So, I got a little testy with some Twitter followers yesterday because I was feeling pressured by them to give them a song to soundtrack what they’re going through in Wisconsin. Why in the hell was I such a jerk about it?
I think it’s because I’m particularly pressed right now – I’m deeply in debt, a lot of the nets that I’ve traditionally cast have started coming up empty, but I give a lot of my time to causes and to people, and the way these tweets were worded… it just struck me sideways. Wait – actually, what the hell am I talking about – the problem was mine, not theirs – any other day, and I’d have been convivially jostling with them about the prodding, which was barely a prodding at all – it was kind of nice, actually. I guess I just had a bit of a failure in a bit of a sensitive moment – I hope the original tweeters will forgive me.
And that’s the thing – I’m not a jerk, but in that moment, I WAS a jerk. And I was wrong. These people on the ground, protesting day in and day out in Wisconsin – this is not a joke. What’s being done there is unconscionable and what they’re doing to register their absolutely justified displeasure is HARD. I’m a musician! I’ve worked hard at many things in my life, including being a musician – make no mistake – but how on earth could I NOT hear the voice of these people working almost inarguably HARDER than a lot of us out here right now? A simple song – that takes some time and planning for me, but if I can find time to do any number of other things I do on any given “normal” day, then I can find time for something like this, and we can all sometimes (not all the time – I would never presume to speak for everyone in that way) find time and energy where we didn’t think we would and give something extra, even if it’s as small as just recording a song.
So I thought, and I wrote, and I started writing something of my own, but I couldn’t complete it tonight, and I fly to a week of 12 hour days tomorrow, so as a stop-gap, until I CAN finish something original, I did an electric audio track, which you can hear, here:
I Guess I Planted by tedleo
…and an acoustic little video of “I Guess I Planted…” (on what is, weirdly, my only acoustic guitar – a $40.00, 50 year old, Harmony children’s acoustic I picked up in Covington, Ky. last summer), one of those Woody Guthrie songs Billy Bragg put to music on the Mermaid Avenue record he did with Wilco all those years ago. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since, and if I haven’t covered if before now, that’s probably only because it almost seems too obvious. But in the current moment, it’s also nothing if not appropriate.
Incidentally, I live in an apartment right now where it’s not easy for me to make noise, so after an awesome afternoon of answering phones at WFMU in Jersey City during The Cherry Blossom Clinic (DJ Terre-T, Saturdays 3-6 PM EST, 91.1 FM NJ/NYC, wfmu.org), I ran over to my parents’ place, where I can use the basement to make music. Why can I usually use that basement uninterrupted? Because they both still work. My mother is a teacher in the Union County School system (though if it comes down to it, we bleed Essex County blood). She doesn’t make a ton of money doing it, and her benefits are generally fair, when she takes advantage of them. If you notice, the video is reversed. This is because, halfway through the recording, I realized I was sitting in front of a blanket someone gave her that I tacked to the wall to tamp down echo (it’s a weird room). The blanket has books and pencils, etc., and says “the future is knowledge.” I guess I must have tacked it up in reverse, but I thought it should be seen and read, given the circumstances that lead me to spend a half hour doing the video in the first place.
Please enjoy, and whether you’re union or not, join me in thinking about the significance of the moment and why this is so important, and send some of those thoughts to the people protesting in Wisconsin.
Below the video, I wrote some thoughts about the Labor Movement and conflict. Read if you want, don’t if you don’t – these are my thoughts, extemporaneously, and there are many generalities. Please believe me when I say that I take every single person at face value when we’re actually face to face (when we’re virtually face to face, too), and I welcome discussion, and I understand that there is always much more to discuss.

I Guess I Planted from Theodore F. Leo on Vimeo.

If you ever doubt that the rich people who run the rich corporations of the earth don’t care about the people who work for them, just look at the language of the history of the Labor Movement and what we call the “Labor Struggle,” in which everything is described as a “fight,” a “battle,” a “STRUGGLE.”
Some of the most basic human rights have been “won” only through adversarial “fights,” “battles,” “struggles.” People have had to wage “wars” and actual wars to NOT BE SLAVES, not be indentured servants, be more than wage slaves, access the freedom to determine one’s own destiny, to be GRANTED the most basic human dignities.
All sides of every twist and turn in the fence seem happy to refer to rights as “rights” after they’ve been won or granted (and even in the case where some have been “won,” the loser of that “battle” saves face by retaining the “right” to say that they were “granted”), but if we can agree at any point that any of these things are RIGHTS, and especially “human rights,” then we were born with them, and should not have ever had to fight to gain them.
It’s not the Labor Movement that frames things in this adversarial manner, or at least, not by choice. Anyone who has fought for anything he or she feels he or she deserves will tell you that he or she deserved it to begin with and would rather have not had to fight for it. If the Captains of Industry and Finance cared one whit for the people on the lower rungs of their ladders, the majority of these “wars,” throughout history, would never have had to be fought.
The fact that every scrap, every little consideration given to working people is still NEVER given, but only ever “won,” should make it evident that the nihilist philosophies (or lack of any thought at all for anything other than increasing personal wealth and expanding markets to do so) that long ago set up the accumulation of (these representations of what was traded and came to be seen as) “wealth” as the only goal in life worth pursuing, and Capital as the supreme guiding hand behind world affairs, that has set up and toppled empires for eons and seen fellow humans as cattle to be worked to death or chattel to be traded, themselves, are still controlling the vast majority of our lives.
And if you ever doubt that the commitment to the right to self determination free from government intrusion of the current “Conservative Movement” in the United States of America – GOP, TEA Party, Ultra-rich Libertarian Tax Revolters, etc. – is an utter farce (and a dangerous one, at that), witness how the dynamic changes when you replace “THE GOVERNMENT” with “The (_-blank-_) Corporation” in the equation “x vs. the American people.” When people are taxed too much, or asked to behave for the betterment of society at large, “the people” are the victims, being batted around and sucked dry. When corporate interests are at stake, these leeched become the leeches.
Meanwhile, to provide people with a certain measure of freedom from want, a certain measure of security, is the EXACT mechanism by which, in our system and our society, “the American people” will be freed from the yoke of endless work, freed – maybe just a little bit – maybe just ENOUGH – from the endless cycles of work and debt, and actually BE FREE to pursue some small measure of this vaunted individualism that we hear so much about but can do so little to achieve. It’s an obvious next point, then, that to tax the rich corporations at the appropriate level and to hold them accountable to standards of BASIC DECENT BEHAVIOR toward their workers and the environment would go a long way toward easing the burden on the American people in EXACTLY the way that these various “Liberty” factions of the Conservative Movement seek to ease it, and with no evidence, but with what seems like common sense to me, I have to imagine, to much greater success than cutting benefits from UNDER-paid PUBLIC sector workers and killing the power of people to join together to protect themselves. Rest assured that if gun ownership worked against the interest of the Koch Brothers, the leaders of the entire spectrum of the Conservative Movement would find a way to frame it as a threat to Liberty.
To be clear – I only single out Conservatives here because the rhetoric of freedom and liberty is so strong coming from their side, and so hyperbolically hypocritical that it long ago crossed the line into the absurd. The Democrats and much of the established Left slop from the same corporate troughs that the Right does, and they’re every bit to blame for not standing up more strongly for working Americans, forever seemingly just out of reach of that sweet bite of carrot. It’s a delicate balance, to keep them always just almost achieving it, which justifies staying in line and continuing to work, work, work – so close – always so close to getting a moment to breathe.

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