This summer’s family wedding season has drawn to a close for me. The last stop found me in Duluth, Minnesota (not Duluth, Georgia; there would be no runaway brides at this ceremony) from where hails my maternal lineage. These are a hearty breed of Norwegian and Ojibwa stock. Lutheran. Hard working. Honest. Humble. And very, very liberal. Now, I’m not about talking your sanctimonious, excruciating Northeast liberals here, but rather genuine progressives with big, if bleeding, hearts.
One of my uncles is a Vietnam Vet and a genuine ex-hippie. My two other uncles share his progressive enthusiasms. For example, one asked me teasingly how I enjoyed Fahrenheit 9/11.
Fortunately, all three play guitars and sing quite well. So with a fire roaring (it was in the mid-60s this June weekend, with a steady breeze rolling in from Lake Superior), we gathered around to listen to some old-time protest songs.
Now, given my right-wing bona fides, the reader might be surprised to learn I have always had a sneaker for protest songs. Maybe it’s the inner anti-government crank in me. Or maybe it was growing up listening to Irish rebel songs (dad’s side) like Come Out Ye Black & Tans and Kevin Barry. Whatever the case, I’m a sucker for a ditty that artfully tells The Man where to stick it.
All the ghosts were there that evening. John Prine. Woody Guthrie. Pete Seeger. Gordon Lightfoot. Of course, you can’t sit around a fire and complain about the establishment without Bob Dylan, himself a loyal son of Minnesota, making an appearance.
My uncle Jesse picked up a six string and belted out The Times They Are A-Changin’. It’s one of Dylan’s angriest, most threatening songs:
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
I can rest assured that by “people” Dylan is talking about rich, white Republicans like me (except for the rich part). And yet I’m hooked after only a few bars. But before long, it seemed as though my uncles were singing to themselves:
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.
I scanned the younger faces that glowed against the fire. Suddenly it dawned on me. Their sons and daughters are beyond their command.
There’s my cousin, nursing a 4.0 GPA at a fancy liberal arts college, fresh from voting to re-elect George W. Bush on his first-ever ballot, much to the disfavor of his mom. There’s the bridesmaid, also a cousin. She’s been a die-hard Republican since her high school days and is still dedicated to the cause. And there’s yet another cousin, fresh from a conservative Bible college located in Tulsa. And, of course, there’s me, a paid professional political hack.
What’s happening to my family is a microcosm of what’s happening to the entire Land of 10,000 Lakes. Yes, yes, George W. Bush lost Minnesota. But it was “in play” up until the very end and the Democrats actually had to spend big money to keep it blue. President Bush ended up with 48%, up from Bob Dole’s 36% in 1996. And the county-by-county electoral map from 2004 bears similarities to the national map. True blue counties, which can be counted on one hand, stand out against a sea (or, perhaps a Great Lake) of red.
Meanwhile, Minnesota has a Republican governor and one Republican senator. Democrat Senator Mark Dayton’s retirement provides the GOP a chance to pick up the other Senate seat in 2006.
If you listen closely to the wind blowing in from “the big lake they call Gitche Gumee” you can still hear Bob Dylan singing, “the times, they are a-changin’.”