BILL MOYERS: I’m Bill Moyers. And welcome to Join us over the next few weeks, because on the air and on this website, we’ll be talking a lot about “winner-take-all” politics and how economic inequality – that vast gap between the top and everyone else – is not the result of market forces. It has been deliberately, politically engineered - made to happen. But first, as they used to say on the radio, a musical interlude.

The traveling medicine show known as the race for the Republican presidential nomination moves on. And I’m keeping my eyes for the moment on some big news from the great state of Oklahoma. I was born there, before my mother and father smuggled me across the border to Texas, and so was the great American folk singer Woody Guthrie, whose l00th birthday we’ll be celebrating later this year.

WOODY GUTHRIE: Out of your dust bowl, and westward we role. And your desert was…

BILL MOYERS: Woody Guthrie saw the ravages of the Dust Bowl and the Depression firsthand; his own family came unraveled in the worst hard times. And he wrote tough yet lyrical songs about the men and women who struggled to survive, enduring the indignity of living life at the bone, with nothing to eat and no place to sleep. He traveled from town to town, hitchhiking and stealing rides in railroad boxcars, singing his songs for spare change or a ham sandwich. What professional success he had during his own lifetime, singing in concerts and on the radio, was often undone by politics and that restless urge to keep moving on. You can hear it in his most popular songs. “So long, it’s been good to know you,” he sang, and off he would go.

WOODY GUTHRIE: …are blowing me home. I’ve got to be rolling along.

BILL MOYERS: What he wrote and sang about caused the oil potentates and preachers who ran Oklahoma to consider him radical and disreputable. For many years he was the state’s prodigal son, but times change, and that’s the big news. Woody Guthrie has been rediscovered.

The George Kaiser Family Foundation has bought Guthrie’s archives – his manuscripts, letters and journals. And a center is being built in Tulsa that will make them available to scholars and visitors from all over the world. Among its treasures is the original, handwritten copy of this song, Woody Guthrie’s most famous, This Land Is Your Land.

WOODY GUTHRIE: This land is your land. This land is my land. From California…

BILL MOYERS: Time and again, Guthrie sang this American folk song celebrating the beauty of the country he traveled across: its endless skyways and golden valleys, the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts. Yet his eye was clear, unclouded, and unobstructed by sentimentality – for he also wrote in its lyrics:

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, By the relief office I seen my people; As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking Is this land made for you and me?

A mighty good question. The biggest domestic story of our time is the collapse of the middle class, a sharp increase in the poor, and the huge transfer of wealth to the already rich. In an era of gross inequality there’s both irony and relevance in Woody Guthrie’s song. That ribbon of highway he made famous? It’s faded and fraying in disrepair, the nation’s infrastructure of roads and bridges, once one of our glories, is now a shambles because fixing them would require spending money, raising taxes, and pulling together.

This land is mostly owned not by you and me but by the winner-take-all superrich who have bought up open spaces, built mega-mansions, turned vast acres into private vistas, and distanced themselves as far as they can from the common lot of working people – the people Woody wrote and sang about.

But maybe – just maybe – the news that Woody Guthrie, once a pariah in his home state, has become a local hero is the harbinger of things to come, and that all the people who still believe this land is our land will begin to take it back.

I’m Bill Moyers. Join me online and on air at Moyers & Company. Check your local listings.

Lessons on Democracy from Woody Guthrie

January 13, 2012

In this web-only Bill Moyers Essay, Bill looks back at singer-songwriter Woody Gurthrie’s life and work, finding many points of irony and relevance given the current state of our economy and democracy. Is this land truly made for you and me? In this visual and musical journey, Bill asks the question, and puts forth a sobering answer.

Read the original ON DEMOCRACY essay on which this is based.


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  • Andre Nowacki

    I am very happy to see you and listen to your arguments Mr. Moyers

  • csimonet

    thank you thank you thank you

  • Cpt Guy

    Just curious.  What would Mr. Moyer’s net worth be?

  • Drumtaps

    Obviously, you miss the point. Wealth, per se, is not the issue, but justice and fairness is. Moyers is not a public official or lobbyist. He has not been part of the transfer of wealth to the top. He is a journalist who has dedicated his life to strengthening our democracy .

  • JamesN.

    Some might say like Paul Revere you are rasing awareness of a coming storm. But to those I would reply you are Bill Moyers who has been a champion and fierce defender of what is intelligent, humane and  decent in helping us to find our sense of who we are in all of your work. Reminding us evil never sleeps; to help one another because they Are us in our common humanity; and to lean towards the light in all our struggles; no matter what. Woody Gutherie is the perfect example for our country to find itself played out against the backdrop of the Great Depression. And you like an old friend returning that you have missed for so long; Welcome Back !  

  • John LeMessurier

    Take it back? We never had it in the first placce. This country was founded on genocide (Native Americans), Slavery (Black Americans), and tyranny (Poor White Americans) and the complete exclusion of Women. Native Americans have never been redressed, Black Americans are only partly there, and Poor White Americans are still poor! All of this plus Women are still struggling to gain equality.

    Democracy for all is still in the rudimentary stages of a work-in-process, and the wealthy are still in charge of the three departments of our government, as they have been since 1776.

  • John LeMessurier

    Just curious, what is yours?

  • chaz

    Unlike those with wealth who seek to obfuscate and confuse the pressing problem of the 1% vs the 99%, Moyers, despite his own personal wealth, seeks to draw attention to this problem and make it a public discussion.  I think that we need to differentiate between those with wealth who seek to hold onto their power, and brave journalists like Moyers who rightly seek to redistribute the wealth, even at their own personal loss.

  • Peter Nelson

    A very thoughtful and provocative essay.  Well done. I am SO glad to hear your voice  asking the hard questions  and sounding alarms again every week!

  • Anonymous

    What a kind, fair and honest journalist. Glad to see him again.

  • Anonymous

    If Oakies are embracing Woody maybe there IS hope for the average American. I only hope this comes to light BEFORE the 2012 election. The destruction of the Republican Corporate Ho Party is the first step down “Freedom’s Highway”as posted on spoact.blogspot.comUPDATE:1-13-12 – Thank GOD almighty Bill Moyers is BACK! “Bill Moyers & Co.” premiered with an educational segment featuring Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson authors of “Winner-Take-All Politics”. Every news person needs to watch Moyers to see what a REAL journalist looks like.

  • lee w

    welcome home Bill,  and thank you.
                                                                                 Lee W.                                            

  • Anonymous

    Doesn’t really matter does it? What matters is WHAT HE DOES WITH IT! That’s what you bucktooth, inbred, deadneck, racist right-wing devils never understand

  • Nemo40

    Glad to see an honest comentary on the sad state of affairs in this country. 

  • Theresa Riley

    Please keep the comments civil on this board. We’re interested in good conversation and informed debate, not personal attacks on other commenters. Let’s respect each other.

    Thank you!
    Theresa Riley

  • Josie I

    Thank you for the discussion…just keep pointing out the power of the has to come up again again and again.  A whole program should be devoted to the power of the petroleum industry.

  • Anonymous

    I am really pleased to be able to see and hear Bill Moyers again.  Thank you sir, for your great new website, your excellent quality video and most of all,  the intelligent, educated insight and commentary into the issues facing the United States and the world in these troubling times.

  • Tom Cavender

    Thank you.

  • Nmathe

    Thank goodness! Bill Moyers is back.  We need you more than ever.

  • Keith Harden

    If only we could clone Bill Moyers about a thousand times and give him unlimited minutes……can you hear me now?

  • leftofcenter

    Not to be rude about it. But keep this thought in mind.

    I’m seeing lots of comments on various topics on this site. Good for Bill Moyers and his staff. However, it is NOT his job to save us from the Evil Neocons. The same goes for any other progressive host. Their job is to get ratings and make money.

    To his credit, while being a well-known journalist and businessman who has his own production company (which means more control over your content), Moyers does genuinely try to draw attention to important issues. But that’s it.

    Like Mickey Hart said, if you don’t like the news, go out and create some of your own.

  • Efkunish

    Woody Guthrie is a great American and I’m glad Tulsa is finally honoring him.  Since 9/11 “God Bless America” is sung at major league baseball games in the 7th inning.  It would be even better if they sang, “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.

  • Sylvia

    Finally!  Bill Moyers came back to us.  Moyers has always been the consummate reporter not only revealing the truth, but also finding “experts” whose depth and expertise show the depth of scholarship and research.
    Welcome home, Bill! 

  • Anonymous

    That’s not difficult Keith. Just kneel down and clasp your hands and say sincerely,”Make me another Bill Moyers.” And when you stand, proceed to emulate Bill. Any citizen has  the power. You’re a people and the People have the power. That’s what he’s telling us all.
    Quit praising a nearly retired guy for letting you passively consume his work for free, and get to work.

  • Anonymous

    Woody’s a safe bet now, just like MLK. 
    The MSM can revise them as needed. They’re products… symbols.
    They’re dead.
    Maybe that’s what they mean by ,”Pie in the sky once you die.”

  • Anonymous

    Wage slavery and debt peonage still rule: Don’t fergit it! We failed to overthrow the Lord Proprietors.

  • Anonymous

    Think…. would you confront a provocateur at a nonviolent rally? A hothead has to shout to exhaustion before s/he begins thinking. Don’t surrender your good energy. Some of these poor souls have been bought or brainwashed, so please have pity. 

  • Anonymous

    We’d likely be shocked at Bill Moyer’s modest circumstances.
    I know people in media barely making a living, some not. It gets harder all the time just like print  journalism. Think of all the  people posting their hearts out on this site without pay. It would take some resources just to avoid being mobbed by admirers.

  • Anonymous

    I have a net of $744K after 50 some years working. Advisors tell me I need double that to retire. Money is so overblown in America it has lost meaning. There are 700 trillion in derivatives outstanding, but all the tangible assets on Earth total less than 70 trillion. More than half of American households boast a negative net worth, three quarters negligible worth. Wealth distribution here is about the same graph as China, but we are far wealthier and far more wasteful. Our GINI coefficient rise marks us as a failing state, but the 1% thinks they’re immortal. So do some average people. A woman wrote on DRShow today,”Leave the generic rich alone!”  Jackpot macoutes just don’t get it.

  • Anonymous

    Wealth is an issue because it bestows outsized power, and normal people revere and fear power. Mitt Romney’s wealth could be used to discipline thousands of families, and it has been.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure Bill would concur with the late Cajun chef Justin Wilson who routinely opened by telling his audience, “I shore am glad for you to see me.”

    But I think he wants you to do more than watch.

  • Sydneycartel

    AMEN Bill….Guthrie for President. Guthrie for the people and by the people…..OK Americans rise to the  challenge and recapture take claim to our country…..I DARE YOU! It is high time the rich suffers we have suffered enough.

  • Martha Swaim

    Woody Guthrie and Bill Moyers are two American treasures.

  • scottr

    So very great to have you back on PBS Bill…, and this new site is a great compliment to it as well.  This piece on Woody Guthrie puts to mind another great tribute to him done in song by Tom Russell on his “Hot Walker” album.  Tom is, in my opinion, one of our greatest American songwriters who deserves way more recognition that he receives.   The link is to a youtube video version of the song done by paganmaestro.  It’s well over seven minutes in length with a  two minute introduction by Little Jack Horton and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.  Here are just some of the lyrics.  Give this one a listen…, you won’t regret it.

    When people twist your words Woodrow

    Ah they’ll twist at every whim

    It’s thugs that run the unions now

    And use your songs like hymns

    Once your music danced on women’s thighs

    In the arch of a hobo’s brow

    Ah Mrs. Guthrie, look what they done

    To your browned-eyed baby now.

    And all those politicians breath stink bad

    Be they left or be they right

    And the ones who play with rhetoric

    Are not the ones who fight

    Don’t go comin’ round here Woodrow

    They’ll stretch you from a rope

    And your corpse won’t ever find a bar

    Where a man can drink and smoke

    Sing the truth, sing it loud

    Ah Mrs. Guthrie, look what they done

    To your brown-eyed baby now.

    So Woodrow rest in peace old pal

    There ain’t nothin’ for you here

    We’re in the scrubble country now

    The land of dread and fear 

    And Whitey’s in the woodpile

    And the writings on the wall

    But your ring of truth still echoes down

    The Greystone clinic hall

    Sing the truth, scream it loud

    Ah Mrs. Guthrie, look what they done

    To your brown-eyed baby now.

    I hope you gave it a viewing…, and hope you enjoyed it.  If you did and want more information about Tom Russell, I posted a story about seeing him live and posted several links to him on my blog here.

    Just want to say again how glad I am to see you back.

    Right on partner…, write on.

  • Woodyguthriedemocrat

    Thanks Bill.

  • Woodyguthriedemocrat

    We produced Will Rogers too

  • ldarnell

    As with so many things you write, Bill, I could not express my own feelings and thoughts better than you do. Your brief piece on Woody is so good.

  • Dan K

    I have been learning and gleaning hope from Bill Moyers since I was in high school when he was hosting NOW. He is the grandfather I never had who sits down in front of me in the pixelated glow of my screen, tells me how it used to be, how it should be, and how I can carry the flame of what’s right, honest, and true. This segment on Woody Guthrie beautifully ties together the artist’s biography, our current economic fiasco, and how what’s right can prevail if we speak (or sing) it into existence. Thank you again for such valuable journalism.

  • Dan K

    The manner in which Bill Moyers and his team creates news is the highest caliber one could hope for. All news has bias, but I prefer Bill Moyer’s bias of equality, accountability, and peace over the bias of network news to protect interests and avoid substantive investigation.

  • Barbara

    Thanks for this video and it’s message.

  • Jon Drucks

    Including this in my Book. Please see my entire facebook page, it’s my Book – Change 2013.

  • Dave Locke

    Clothes go in and out of style, then come back….can democracy do the same? It seems when people weren’t so jaded they could figure out the right thing to do, now a days they tend to listen to those who scream the loudest, but say the least, yet they follow with blind faith….so sad….have you listened to a good Woody Guthrie song today? Might help your faith in the Country and yourself……..

  • MBrecker

    In the early ’90s, I was living/working in Asia. Someone asked me, is the U.S. the greatest country in the world? I said, no, it’s not . (This was way before Aaron Sorkin came up with the Jeff Daniels “Newsroom” speech. Maybe he should pay me royalties?). Does it have potential to be one of many great countries? Yes.
    Now, 2013. Thru my outsider’s perspective, I still see lots of fear and denial from not all but many people. No rational person cares what “race” Obama is. Instead, many of his supporters are so conditioned to the two-party system they literally can’t see anything else. As long as he keeps me safe, what do I care what he does? The neocons are to blame, not him. Dealing with denial is the first step in solving a problem.

  • MBrecker

    If Obama is so concerned about equality for all, how come he won’t invite people like Guthrie to the White House for a meeting/photo op? It’s all about him manipulating spin.

  • Ron Hess

    I cant believe your so uninformed and so given to stereotyping by demographics–Woody Guthrie was BORN in Okema, Oklahoma

  • Jane Carroll

    before I saw the receipt saying $5667, I didn’t believe that…my… best friend was like they say realy bringing in money in there spare time on there computar.. there great aunt has been doing this 4 only 9 months and just cleared the morgage on their place and bourt a brand new Lancia Straton. read more at, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • CRMW


  • Vance Hawkins

    I’m an Oklahoman — I wish the Democratic party would spend money HERE to elect Democrats HERE! I get calls from people wanting me to donate money and I always ask “Will you spend it in Oklahoma?” No one has ever said “YES WE WILL!” They tell me about Kentucky, or Texas, or Alaska . . . I say I’m not concerned about them — I’m concerned about MY home state, Oklahoma. They they say “So you don’t care about Alaska then?” And I reply, “So you are NOT concerned about Oklahoma!” and hang up on them. We once produced people like Woody, and Will and others and we can again — but we need help.

  • Barney Fife

    MBrecker: Did you really want to put this post out as your greatest contribution to humanity?

    Cause for anyone who knows anything at all about white house activities there are dozens of celebrities in and out of the white house every day and almost anyone who gets in the white house can get a pic with the POTUS.

  • Barney Fife

    Woody Guthrie and The Koch brothers and the Waltons have all had a significant impact on our country.

    Personally I prefer Woody’s service more than that of the Koch brothers and the Waltons.

    If Woody were alive today he would be singing about the Koch brothers and the Waltons in much the way he sung about factory owners, ranchers, police intimidation of workers and the plight of the poorest Americans.

    Our country really needs a RESET button…

  • DChappy

    You do know Guthrie is dead? You should check the WH guestlist and then you would have seen that your post is… irrelevant.

  • ShaunMarie

    You do know that Guthrie sang at Obama’s inauguration, yes?

  • ShaunMarie

    I look at my nation now with such great despair. Black people are no better off than when Martin Luther King gave his great speech during the march on Washington. Laborers labor for rates they were paid in the 1930’s, and the police kill at will. Yet the greatest news stories are about how many people rushed the stores on Black Thursday, there are no leaders to take the place of King and Kennedy, there are no artists to take the place of Guthrie, Dylan, and PPM – (as no record companies any longer have the freedom to record them, owned as they are by our Godless plutocracy). Americans are not simply divided, they are fractured into a million individual bits, and each individual kicks down at the man on the ladder a rung below. I despair.

  • Anonymous

    drone the innocents, said a droning voice

  • Mary J. Featherstone

    Yes that is true!! He was beautiful!!