This Land is Your Land


Once again it is time to celebrate our country’s Independence; and in a time where there is much debate about what, exactly, our country stands for, I thought I would share a couple American icons that have deep meaning for me.

The New Colossus was written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish American woman, as an auction donation to help raise money for the construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Her poem was later added to the pedestal in 1903. While many of us learned of Emma Lazarus, the Statue of Liberty, and the significance of Ellis Island in elementary school, the power of these words have largely been lost on a society that seems to be fixated on the idea that the America is a country of immigrants whose borders need to be closed, a nation of wealth whose resources ought not be shared, and a place where independence means we should never depend on one another. Where did we go wrong?

The New Colossus 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus


Before I was introduced to The New Colossus, I was, as I suspect many of you were, introduced to what is Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land is Your Land.” I remember stumbling through the verses as we all waited for the chorus of this song: “This Land was made for you and me!” We always sang that part loud and proud.

What I didn’t know was that the version of the song that I was taught is highly censored. Woody Guthrie was an original rebel; a song writer who understood the power of his gift. He believed that music was not just music, but a way to bring peace to our world and a powerful way “…of saying what’s on your mind.” As the famed sticker that lived on his guitar said, “This machine kills Fascists.”

Guthrie’s lost verses are a powerful statement about this country and who, exactly, owns this land. “This land,” as the song goes, “was made for you AND me.” It is my hope that as we celebrate our country we remember to look up, look around, and remember that we share this land, this country, and this planet. Let’s raise our torch and sing it for all the world to hear.

This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me,
Sign was painted, it said private property
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple ,
By the relief office I saw my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering
If God blessed America for me

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

For more on Emma Lazarus:

On Woody Guthrie: Tony Lorenzen:

A great report from NPR: