Woody Guthrie and the working man’s song

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Woodie Guthrie. Zumapress.com. Woodie Guthrie. Zumapress.com.

“Despite its relative affluence, Charlottesville has an income gap problem,” writes our news editor, Graelyn Brashear, in this week’s story about the Green Dot Cooperative . Hmmm. Despite its relative affluence, America has an income gap problem. That has a nice ring to it. Despite my relative affluence, I have an income gap problem. Too much?

The Pew Research Center was cutting and remixing income disparity data before the Congressional Budget Office inadvertently defined the 1 percent in 2010, but its findings have taken on greater significance since then. After highlighting record gulfs between white and black/Latino earners (20 to 1 as measured by median income) and between the assets of older and younger Americans (widest in history), the Center published the results of a survey earlier this year that said 66 percent of Americans believe the conflict between rich and poor is serious. The survey only included about 2,000 people, which seems small to my unscientific mind, but I don’t need a poll to tell me that income disparity is a major problem.

It’s not a new problem, either. Last week radio stations across the country celebrated the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth. It’s easy to trace our country’s political conversations through Woody’s songs. He was singing about war, work, immigration, race, class discrimination, and patriotism through the Depression, World War II, and the ’50s. His behavior got him called a Communist, and while I don’t think he ever made too many bones about being a lefty, Woody sang songs for poor working people, the least political class in the country since its beginning.  “I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world,” Woody told Ed Cray in his biography. “And that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.” Who’s singing that song today? What’s the tune?—Giles Morris

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