Pete Seeger and Majora Carter: “Don’t say it can’t be done”


You can also watch this video on its page at This Brave Nation.

A wonderful conversation between two environmental activists. I love that Pete gets the whole film crew singing along at the end. Good ol’ Pete. The only wince-worthy moment for me was when Pete repeated the tired and ubiquitous quote from Margaret Mead about a small number of thoughtful, committed people making a difference.

Here’s an interesting fact about that quote, though: my dad is actually the one who originally discovered it and put it into circulation. Back in the late 80s, my parents were very active in our local Audubon chapter, heading up an International Issues Committee to bring attention to the destruction of the rainforests in the global South. I am not sure how much credit we can take for bringing that issue into the mainstream consciousness, but National Audubon leaders took a great interest in the committee and sought to replicate it in other chapters. We collected second-hand binoculars to send to environmentalists in Central America, Peru and the Philippines, among various and sundry other good deeds, and we prepared educational materials to share with schools and civic groups around here: slideshows, exhibits, pamphlets and the like.

It was in one of those pamphlets that Dad first deployed the now-famous quote. He had been reading a great deal of classic anthropological works at the time, including the works of Margaret Mead. The trouble is that he quite uncharacteristically (for a reference librarian) failed to include a proper citation for the quote — and no amount of searching since has ever turned it up. Which Mead book is it from? He says he says no idea. And really, we only have his word for it that he didn’t just make the quote up himself. In any event, someone at National Audubon liked it well enough to put it in their own propaganda, and it took off from there, spreading like a contagion through environmentalist and activist circles. Small groups of citizens, thoughtful and committed or otherwise, have been using it to bolster their self-esteem ever since.

8 Comments


  1. As a librarian as well (who never really practiced “on the front line”, though) I love Google books and other digitization projects. The Margaret Mead quote shows up in 1966 in Resurgence, Volume 1, Issue 1?. But I bet your father picked it up from Earth at Omega by Donald Keys, published in 1982.

    I had never heard of Resurgence, a British magazine “at the heart of art, earth, and spirit” but it looks wonderful and is on the web 46 years after that first issue.
    http://www.resurgence.org/magazine/

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    1. Hey, all right! I guess he hasn’t tried searching in the last couple years. Yay for Google Books — and thanks for finding it! I never heard of that magazine either. Interesting.

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  2. The Golden Rule is a “tired and ubiquitous quote” too, but I do not tire of it.

    I love reference librarians!

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  3. Any history-of-language folks reading this? Origin of a meme, here! ;-)

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  4. A wonderful video. Seeger seems to have been around for most of my life, bless the man.

    ‘Resurgence’ is a remarkable magazine. I’ve been picking it up at various outlets for most of its era-spanning existence. It’s been steered steadily and with remarkable philosophical consistency through the various seismic shifts in socio-cultural emphasis since 1973 by its extraordinary editor Satish Kumar. Well worth investigation as above.

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    1. Thanks for that background on the magazine, Dick.

      I grew up with Seeger’s music. It seems like he’s been around forever — a contemporary of Woody Guthrie who somehow discovered the secret of eternal youth. It was a bit of a shock when his voice started to develop a tremor sometime in his 80s.

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