The Old Populism

What with all the new populism going around, I'd just like to lay claim to a little of the old populism myself. To wit:

I don't want your millions, Mister, I don't want your diamond ring. All I want is the right to live, Mister, Give me back my job again.

Now, I don't want your Rolls-Royce, Mister, I don't want your pleasure yacht. All I want's just food for my babies, Give to me my old job back.

We worked to build this country, Mister, While you enjoyed a life of ease. You've stolen all that we built, Mister, Now our children starve and freeze.

So, I don't want your millions, Mister, I don't want your diamond ring. All I want is the right to live, Mister, Give me back my job again.

Think me dumb if you wish, Mister, Call me green, or blue, or red. This one thing I sure know, Mister, My hungry babies must be fed.

So, I don't want your millions, Mister, I don't want your diamond ring. All I want is the right to live, Mister, Give me back my job again. That one strikes a chord, what with the CEO of AIG urging his managers to give back half their bonuses -- but only if they were more than a hundred grand.I just paid my taxes today and I realize, all things considered, I'm fairly well-off. My whole household income rounds out around the minimum bonus this guy Liddy thinks might be just a little excessive, under the circumstances, you understand. I actually got a bonus this year -- for being at my job 20 years -- it was in the mid three figures range, after taxes were withheld. And here's another one from the same file -- pretty sure I learned them both from a Pete Seeger record when I was fifteen, listening secretly while my Republican fundamentalist parents were at work:

I've traveled round this country From shore to shining shore It really made me wonder The things I heard and saw.

I saw the weary farmer Plowing sod and loam l heard the auction hammer A knocking down his home

But the banks are made of marble With a guard at every door And the vaults are stuffed with silver That the farmer sweated for

l saw the seaman standing Idly by the shore l heard the bosses saying Got no work for you no more

But the banks are made of marble With a guard at every door And the vaults are stuffed with silver That the seaman sweated for

I saw the weary miner Scrubbing coal dust from his back I heard his children cryin Got no coal to heat the shack

But the banks are made of marble With a guard at every door And the vaults are stuffed with silver That the miner sweated for

I've seen my brothers working Throughout this mighty land l prayed we'd get together And together make a stand

Then we'd own those banks of marble With a guard at every door And we'd share those vaults of silver That we have sweated for Hmm . . . I guess we do own those banks now. I guess we'd better start living up to our progressive fantasies. Sentimantal? Maybe, but maybe we ought to try living up to our sentiments, too. That includes you, Mr. Obama.


Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.