Woody Guthrie’s New Years Rulin’s

Copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions but I do have one longstanding New Year’s tradition: every January 1, I re-read Woody Guthrie’s “New Years Rulin’s”.  Written on January 1, 1943 when the American folk singer-songwriter was 31 years old, the Rulin’s also include doodles by Guthrie. The wise list of Rulin’s include everything from basic hygiene (“Wash teeth if any”) to global affairs  (“Help win war – beat fascism”).

Even though they were written 74 years ago, the Rulin’s still have surprising relevance. Every year, there are a couple of Rulin’s that stand out for me.  This year, my favorites are number 19 (“Keep Hoping Machine Running”) and 33 (“Wake Up and Fight”).

Here are Woody Guthrie’s 33 New Years Rulin’s:

1. Work more and better
2. Work by a schedule
3. Wash teeth if any
4. Shave
5. Take bath
6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7. Drink very scant if any
8. Write a song a day
9. Wear clean clothes — look good
10. Shine shoes
11. Change socks
12. Change bed cloths often
13. Read lots good books
14. Listen to radio a lot
15. Learn people better
16. Keep rancho clean
17. Dont get lonesome
18. Stay glad
19. Keep hoping machine running
20. Dream good
21. Bank all extra money
22. Save dough
23. Have company but dont waste time
24. Send Mary and kids money
25. Play and sing good
26. Dance better
27. Help win war — beat fascism
28. Love mama
29. Love papa
30. Love Pete
31. Love everybody
32. Make up your mind
33. Wake up and fight

You can learn more about Woody Guthrie’s life and music at woodyguthrie.org.

Happy New Year! Don’t forget to keep your hoping machine running in 2017!

Beyond The Horizon

Farmland near Nerstrand, Minnesota
October, 2013

Recently, our family took a daytrip down to visit some friends who live near the town of Nerstrand, MN about an hour outside of the Twin Cities.  When I first moved to Minnesota, I was struck by the fact that people here always give you directions in north, south, east or west – as in “Go two blocks north and then turn west”.  I had never before used the cardinal directions as a point of reference, so this was confusing to me at first.  But I soon discovered that it makes sense in a Plains state where you can actually see the horizon.  It becomes only natural to use the horizon and the sun’s relation to it as a frame of reference, a way of understanding the natural order of the world.  When I took this picture, for example, I knew that I was facing north because it was afternoon and the sun was clearly in the west.

We happened to visit the country on a glorious fall day.  The kids rode the horses (and pony) through the fields and down the road to an old graveyard that is populated by German and Norwegian immigrants to the area who settled here beginning in the 1850s.  Some of the gravestones were so old that the carved names and dates had been all but erased by the elements.  Others were propped against a birch tree. Having lost all connection to the graves that they once marked, they now appeared to gaze out beyond trees and fields and farms to whatever lies beyond the horizon.

Gravestones in Wheeling (German) Evangelical Cemetary
Nerstrand, MN

It reminded me of the melancholy, nostalgic-sounding song Beyond The Horizon by Minnesota’s own Bob Dylan.

Beyond The Horizon

by Bob Dylan

Beyond the horizon, behind the sun
At the end of the rainbow life has only begun
In the long hours of twilight ‘neath the stardust above
Beyond the horizon it is easy to love

My wretched heart’s pounding
I felt an angel’s kiss
My memories are drowning
In mortal bliss

Beyond the horizon, in the Springtime or Fall
Love waits forever for one and for all

Beyond the horizon across the divide
‘Round about midnight, we’ll be on the same side
Down in the valley the water runs cold
Beyond the horizon someone prayed for your soul

I’m touched with desire
What don’t I do?
I’ll throw the logs on the fire
I’ll build my world around you

Beyond the horizon, at the end of the game
Every step that you take, I’m walking the same

Beyond the horizon the night winds blow
The theme of a melody from many moons ago
The bells of St. Mary, how sweetly they chime
Beyond the horizon I found you just in time

It’s dark and it’s dreary
I ponder in vain
I’m weakened, I’m weary
My repentance is plain

Beyond the horizon o’er the treacherous sea
I still can’t believe that you’ve set aside your love for me

Beyond the horizon, ‘neath crimson skies
In the soft light of morning I’ll follow you with my eyes
Through countries and kingdoms and temples of stone
Beyond the horizon right down to the bone

It’s late in the season
Never knew, never cared
Whatever the reason
Someone’s life has been spared

Beyond the horizon the sky is so blue
I’ve got more than a lifetime to live lovin’ you

(If you don’t know the tune, you can listen here)

This post is a response to Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon.


A Change Is Gonna Come

Sunset after a storm in the Sandwich Ridge mountains, New Hampshire
Sunset after a storm in the Sandwich Ridge Mountains, New Hampshire

I took this photo last year during a family vacation in Center Sandwich, New Hampshire.  A thunderstorm raged all afternoon, but just as we were finishing dinner the storm suddenly ended.  Three generations of extended family went out into the still-damp field to watch the sunset reflected on the lifting storm clouds.  As often happens in the mountains, it was a dramatic change.  At the time, and ever since, the play of setting sun on passing thunderheads makes me think of Sam Cooke and “A Change is Gonna Come“.  Recorded in January 1964, the song became one of the greatest anthems of the Civil Rights Movement.

A Change is Gonna Come

I was born by the river in a little tent.
Ohh and just like the river,
I’ve been running ev’r since.
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.
I go to the movie and I go downtown.
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around.
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.
Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please.
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees, ohh
There have been times that I thought
I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.

A singer who blurred the lines between gospel, R&B and pop, Cooke was reportedly inspired to write “A Change is Gonna Come” by Bob Dylan and “Blowin’ In The Wind”.  While on tour in October 1963, Cooke and his band were turned away from a “whites only” motel in Shreveport, Louisiana where they had a reservation. When they protested,  they were arrested and thrown in jail for disturbing the peace.   Not long after, Sam Cooke wrote “A Change is Gonna Come”
“Sam as a writer saw himself almost as a reporter,” said biographer Peter Guralnick said in one interview.  “He took all of those experiences[of racism],” Guralnick says, “but he enlarged upon them and he broadened them to the point that the song… becomes a statement of what a generation had had to endure.”
The song was only a modest commercial success and Sam Cooke only performed it live once.   Yet “A Change Is Gonna Come” has become an iconic symbol of triumph over adversity.  It has been called Sam Cooke’s legacy and “heralded as his magnus opum”.  In 2005, it was voted number 12 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  It has also been selected National Public Radio (NPR) as one of the 300 most important songs.  In 2007, it was added by the Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry.  Bettye LaVette performed “A Change Is Gonna Come” with Jon Bon Jovi, at the Lincoln Memorial during the first inaugural concert for President Obama, introducing a new generation to Sam Cooke.   (Watch the video here .)
Sam Cooke died on December 11, 1964 in a shooting at a Los Angeles motel. He was 33 years old.
Today is a gray and cold day where I live – a day on the tipping point between winter and spring.   To fight the doldrums, I took my two youngest children swimming at the our local YMCA pool.  As I looked at all the kids laughing and playing in the pool, the splashing water sparkling on skin that was black and white and every shade in between, I realized that this was a scene that wasn’t even possible in most of the United States when Sam Cooke wrote “A Change Is Gonna Come” in 1964.  And while we still have a ways to go, Sam Cooke was correct.  The storm clouds will pass and the sun will come out.
“But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.”
This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Change.  You can see more responses here.

A Beastie Boy’s Surprising Legacy

I had a bad feeling when Adam Yauch was a no-show for the Beastie Boys‘ induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall o’ Fame in April. So, while I was not surprised, I was saddened to learn of his death from cancer at the age of 47.

The Beastie Boys were not my favorite band growing up. (That would be The Police.) They had an impact on my generation (X), however, that is worth acknowledging. Only a few years older than me, the Beasties burst onto the national scene when I was still in high school. As girl from the suburbs of a small Southern city, whose first album was REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity  and first concert was the J. Geils Band (with Hall & Oates!), I found the Beastie Boys to be something of a breath of fresh air.  For me, they symbolized New York and the urban, East Coast, post-racial America that I had yet to experience.

I did see the Beastie Boys once, when they toured with Madonna in 1985 on the Virgin Tour, but that was purely by accident since I was going for Madonna and didn’t even know who was opening. Quite honestly, I couldn’t really tell Beastie Boys apart. They all had dark hair and, what with the VW gold chains and sunglasses and baseball caps and hats and all, they weren’t that distinguishable. They were named either “Mike” or “Adam”, so take your pick.  Sure, they had nicknames – “MCA” was Adam Yauch and “Ad-Rock” was Adam Horovitz – but unlike Sting and The Police, it didn’t really matter too much to me who was who in the Beastie Boys.

“Enough of this hip hop! Bring on the Material Girl!” That’s what I mostly remember thinking during their set.

License to Ill came out in 1986. I didn’t own it on cassette or LP but plenty of people at my college must have, because (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party) was de rigueur for dorm room parties.  Along with UB40’s Red, Red Wine and Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer, it was the soundtrack for my early college social life. I can still close my eyes and flashback through the entire MTV video, complete with the nerds saying, “We’ll invite all our friends and have soda and pie!” and “I hope no bad people come!” The Beasties’ exuberant “KICK IT!” still echoes in my head 25 years later.

Never what you would call a fan, I pretty much lost interest in the Beastie Boys after License to Ill.  Frankly, pulling stunts like having girls dancing around in cages at their concerts didn’t help much.

I came back to the Beasties in the mid-1990s. But not really because of their music.

Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (MCA a.k.a. Nathanial Hörnblowér) had become a human rights activist.  He started a non-profit called the Milarepa Fund in 1994 to support Tibetan independence from China.  Royalties from the Beastie Boys’ 1994 songs Shambala and Bodhisattva Vow (from the Ill Communication album) were dedicated to the Milarepa Fund and the fight for freedom for Tibet. They sponsored an information tent on Tibetan human rights at Lollapalooza and performed concerts to raise money for the cause.  In 1996, Yauch organized the Tibetan Freedom Concert.  The largest benefit concert in the US since 1985’s Live Aid, it attracted 100,000 people and raise more than $800,000.  Additional Tibetan Freedom Concerts were held on four continents in 1999.

It turns out that the Beastie Boys had principles and they were not afraid to use them.  Shortly after the bombings at US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Adam Yauch used his time at the microphone at the 1998 MTV Music Awards ceremony to talk about stereotyping Muslims as terrorists. “It’s kind of a rare opportunity that we get to speak to this many people at once,” he said. “So, if you guys will forgive me I just want to speak my mind for a while.”   He went on – prophetically, it seems now – to speak about the U.S. government’s military aggression in the Middle East and the growing climate of racism towards Muslims and Arabic people. “The United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East in order to find a solution to the problem that’s been building up over many years.

Another issue that the Beastie Boys took on directly was the rights of women.  They’ve been rapping against domestic violence (“Why you got to treat your girl like that?”) at least since Paul’s Boutique. When it was announced that Adam Yauch had died, my friends on Twitter lit up the night with lyrics like “I’m gonna say a little something that’s long overdue/The disrespect of women has got to be through/ To all our mothers and our sisters and our wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end” (from Sure Shot).    Song For The Man was written after Adam Horovitz observed the overt sexism – and blatant harassment of a woman – by a couple of guys on a train. If more men spoke out like the Beasties, the world would be a better place.

At the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, when the Beastie Boys won the award for Best Hip Hop Video for Intergalactic, Adam Horovitz spoke about the problem of sexual assaults and rapes at Woodstock 99.  He made the pitch for bands and concert venues to provide more security to better protect women.

The Beastie Boys have continued their political activism into the 2000s. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, for example, they organized and headlined the New Yorkers Against Violence Concert in October 2001. The concert proceeds went to the New York Women’s Foundation Disaster Relief Fund and the New York Association for New Americans.

Adam Yauch with his daughter at Amnesty International's 5th Annual Media Spotlight Awards in New York in 2002

Adam Yauch with his daughter at an Amnesty International Event

Image Source

I’ve been thinking about the life of Adam Yauch, which ended far too soon, and have come to realize that the Beastie Boys not only helped define the formative experiences of my generation but they are also representative of many of the traits of Generation X. Wikipedia has this to say about us: “When compared with previous generations, Generation X represents a more heterogeneous generation, exhibiting great variety of diversity in such aspects as race, class, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.” The Beasties, in freely crossing music boundaries between punk and hip hop and alternative, certainly are illustrative of this heterogeneity and diversity.

But I think that another of our generational traits is the ability to change. (I love this quote from Wikipedia:  “Change is more the rule for the people of Generation X than the exception.[citation needed]”)    The Beastie Boys were no different from many of us who were, in our youth, racist, sexist, and/or homophobic dorks. America was just a less tolerant place when we were growing up in the 70s and 80s. Not that that is an excuse for the many of us who stayed silent and went along with the crowd rather than speaking up for what was right.

Like the Beasties, however, most of us have grown up and figured out that our actions – and our inactions -have consequences.  As Adam Yauch once pointed out, “Every one of us affects the world constantly through our actions.”  To not take advantage of second chances would be a mistake.  Like Adam Yauch and the Beasties, we should take advantage of every opportunity to take action for good.

Most of the Gen Xers I know will, like the Beastie Boys, freely acknowledge our past immaturity, our arrogance and stupidity, and accept it without embarassment.  Most of us embrace change as the only way forward, even though it sometimes means also accepting criticism.  Adam Horovitz has a great quote that pretty much sums up this point:

“… (Y)ou might say that the Beastie Boy ‘Fight For Your Right to Party’ guy is a hypocrite. Well, maybe; but in this f***ed up world all you can hope for is change, and I’d rather be a hypocrite to you than a zombie forever.”

That’s a pretty good lesson for anyone, regardless of what generation you come from.

The other thing that I think that Adam Yauch and the Beasties symbolize for my generation is the ability to age with nimble good humor and some small modicum of coolness.  To acknowledge we are aging, to joke about it, but to still be self-confident enough to hang with the young ‘uns – this I see as a generational shift.  (Nothing, by the way, in the definition of Generation X on Wikipedia mentions this particular trait.)  Maybe this is just another aspect of our ability to change, but the first minute or so of this video of the Beasties playing POW and Shambala live will give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

I’m sorry that Adam Yauch, a.k.a.MCA, a.k.a. Nathaniel Hornblower, won’t be continuing this Gen X journey with the rest of us. I hope he knows that he left a legacy here on Earth that is bigger than his music. Wherever his soul resides now, I hope that Adam Yauch is still kickin’ it.

Children of the Rainbow v. Anders Breivik and Charles Taylor

Folksinger Lillebjørn Nilsen and a crowd of 40,000 sing Barn av regnbuen (Children of the Rainbow) at the trial of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo (Source: NRK)

I thought I would write about the Charles Taylor verdict today.  The verdict by the Special Court for Sierra Leone marks an historic moment in international justice – the first conviction of a serving head of state for war crimes and crimes against humanity.     I thought today would be a day to write about the importance of holding Charles Taylor accountable for the war crimes that he aided and abetted in Sierra Leone, but also about  the remaining impunity for the war crimes he was responsible for in Liberia.  I’ve been spent time in both Sierra Leone and Liberia, so I’ve seen firsthand the horrific  impact that Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Liberation Front have had on the people in those countries.  I’ve followed this trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone – and waited for this verdict – for years.

But I found myself this morning more powerfully impacted by events surrounding another trial, in another country where I have spent time. I speak Norwegian, so have been following the Norwegian media coverage of the trial of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway.   Today, that coverage included an allsang with the well-loved Norwegian folksinger Lillebjørn Nilsen.   In a chilly spring rain in Oslo, a crowd of more than 40,000 people joined Mr. Nilsen in singing Barn av regnbuen.  

This is a song that Mr. Breivik, apparently, detests.  He testified recently that this song, with its concept of living together in a multicultural Norway (“sammen vi skal lever“) was brainwashing children into supporting immigrants. Norwegians throughout the country sang it as a form of protest against his hatred.

This is a song that I learned many years ago.  It is actually a Pete Seeger song called My Rainbow Race, translated into Norwegian by Lillebjørn Nilsen.   My rough translation follows – with apologies for inaccuracies! I use the translated version as there are a lot of aspects that make this song feel particularly Norwegian.  The references to nature, for example, and the disdain for “plastic and synthetic food”.

Written in the 1970s, Lillebjørn Nilsen’s song has an obvious anti-war theme.   The lyrics of the song, however, seem especially fitting today.  “Some steal from the young, who are sent out to fight…” could well apply to Charles Taylor, whose recruitment of child soldiers stole the lives of thousands in West Africa.  “Some steal from the many, who will come after us.” Anders Behring Breivik’s acts of violence stole not only the future of dozens of young people, but the innocence of a peaceful nation.

I won’t write about Charles Taylor today.  Neither will I write about Anders Behring Breivik.   Instead, I will write about the voices raised today throughout our world – in celebration of justice and in a call for peace in the face of hatred.  Because today I remembered that  Lillebjørn Nilsen -and Pete Seeger – were right.  We do need justice for the Charles Taylors and Anders Behring Breiviks of the world, but we also need to share our hope for the rest of us.

Si det til alle barna!
Og si det til hver far og mor.
Ennå har vi en sjanse
til å dele et håp på jord.

Say it to all the children!
And tell every father and mother.
We still have a chance
to share our hope for this world.

Barn av regnbuen

En himmel full av stjerner.
Blått hav så langt du ser.
En jord der blomster gror.
Kan du ønske mer ?
Sammen skal vi leve
hver søster og hver bror.
Små barn av regnbuen
og en frodig jord.

Noen tror det ikke nytter.
Andre kaster tiden bort med prat.
Noen tror at vi kan leve av
plast og syntetisk mat.
Og noen stjeler fra de unge
som blir sendt ut for å sloss
Noen stjeler fra de mange
som kommer etter oss.

Si det til alle barna!
Og si det til hver far og mor.
Ennå har vi en sjanse
til å del e et håp på jord.

Si det til alle barna!
Og si det til hver far og mor.
Ennå har vi en sjanse
til å dele et håp på jord.

Children of the Rainbow

A sky full of stars.
Blue sea as far as you can see.
A land where flowers grow.
Could you want more?
Together we will live
every sister and every brother.
Small children of the rainbow
and a flourishing world.

Some believe there is no point.
Others waste their time with talk.
Some believe that we can live on
plastic and synthetic foods.
And some steal from the young,
who are sent out to fight.
Some steal from the many
who will come after us.

Say it to all the children!
And tell every father and mother.
We still have a chance
to share our hope for this world.

Say it to all the children!
And tell every father and mother.
We still have a chance
to share our hope for this world.

With thanks also to Pete Seeger for his song My Rainbow Race.  Words and music by Pete Seeger (1967) © 1970 by Sanga Music Inc.


One blue sky above us,

One ocean lapping all our shores,

One Earth so green and round,

Who could ask for more?

And because I love you,

I’ll give it one more try.

To show my Rainbow Race

It’s too soon to die.

Some folks want to be like an ostrich,

Bury their heads in the sand.

Some hope that plastic dreams

Can unclench all those greedy hands.

Some hope to take the easy way,

Poisons, bombs, they think we need ‘em.

Don’t you know you can’t kill all the unbelievers?

There’s no shortcut to freedom.


Go tell, go tell all—– the little children.

Tell all their mothers and fathers, too —

Now’s our last chance to learn to share

What’s been given to me and you.


For a related post on what I learned from the way Norwegians have dealt with the tragic events of July 22, see https://humanrightswarrior.com/2012/07/19/the-lessons-of-22-july/

Sunset on Christmas Day

The sunset lasts approximately four minutes this time of year in these northern climes. I was reminded of that – and the transient and precious nature of our lives here – tonight on my run around Lake Harriet. Ask for help if you need it. Help if you see a need. Best wishes for peace, love and joy in 2012!

10 Things To Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day!

This is a post that I wrote for World Moms Blog.  Originally published here.

Make your own human rights tapestry!

Human Rights Day is December 10! The date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly‘s adoption on 10 December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global statement of international human rights principles.  Here are some ideas for simple yet meaningful ways for your family to celebrate the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings.

1.  Learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Check out the UDHR plain language version  or the Amnesty International UK book We Are All Born Free (15 of the illustrated pages of the book can be found on The Guardian’s website if you want to look at them online or print them out). You can also watch  a short video together and talk about it with your kids. My kids loved this animated video version of the UDHR even back when they couldn’t understand what the words meant. For a more historical view, check out The Story of Human Rights.

2.  Exercise your right to freedom of expression! Draw pictures together of the rights and freedoms that are important to you. You can make your own family “Human Rights Tapestry” by drawing on index cards and using a hole punch to make holes in each corner.  Use yarn to tie together the cards to make a tapestry. (See the picture above of the Human Rights Tapestry conceived of by Chanida Phaengdara Potter and created by visitors to The Advocates for Human Rights‘ booth at the Minnesota State Fair.) You can alsomake posters or collages together.  Help your kids write a poem or story about human rights.  Older kids can even make a video!

3.  Listen to some human rights music with your kids. Here are a few suggestions, but you might also want to check out the folk music songbook Rise Up Singing.  The book contains the chords and lyrics for more than the 1200 songs on a wide variety of social justice issues.

  • The Rainbow Connection – Kermit the Frog  Someday we’ll find it!
  • If I Had a Hammer – Pete Seeger   Really, anything by Pete Seeger.  Pete is my own personal antidote to Barney.
  • Free to Be You and Me   – Marlo Thomas & Friends     In my opinion, one of the best things about being a kid in the 70s.
  • The Preamble – Schoolhouse Rock      Did you know that the U.S. Constitution is one of the first documents to establish universal principles of human rights?
  • Star Wars Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner – John Williams   People say Star Wars was a Western set in space, but I see it as a movie about the fight for human rights against the Empire.

4.  Same and Different.  I started doing this activity in my childrens’ classrooms and really learned a lot from the kids about tolerance and respect.  Show your kids a photo and have them point out what they see in the picture that is the same in their lives and what is different.  Here’s an example but more can be found on my blog post Same and Different:

photo by Dulce Foster

The kids’ responses:  ”I like that bracelet.”  ”I sometimes wear my hair in braids, too.” “They have dark skin and I have white skin.”  ”We have different trees here, like conifers.”  ”We have snow here right now.”  ”Is that corn growing behind them?  Because I LOVE to eat corn, too.”  ”Is that a house? It’s not like my house.”  ”You couldn’t live in that house in Minnesota.  You would get too cold.”

5.  Let your kids use their screen time to learn about human rights!  Play games and quizzes on the UN cyberschoolbus.  Check out these free, downloadable video games:

  • Against All Odds  Experience life as a refugee, for ages 7+.
  • Stop Disasters!  Learn how to respond to different humanitarian disasters.
  • Food Force   Gamers ages 8-16 undertake 6 virtual missions to stop world hunger. Download the game in English, French, Norwegian, Portuguese, Korean, etc. (I’ll be testing newly launched Food Force 2  with my 12 year old gamer son. Something tells me he’s going to kick my butt at saving the world!)

Photo from Food Force 2

6.  Talk to someone you know who is from another country.  Where are they from?  What was their life like there?  What language did they speak?  Did they go to school? What do they miss?  What do they like about their new country?

7.  Make a Helping Hands Wreath to symbolize the responsibility we all have to help each other.  Trace your hands on different color construction paper.  Cut out the hand shapes and glue or staple them on a paper plate to make a wreath.

8.  Act out a skit with puppets.  You can use any puppets or even make your own paper bag or sock puppets.  This skit is from RAISING CHILDREN WITH ROOTS, RIGHTS, & RESPONSIBILITIES , but you can also write your own skit, using a problem that your children have had to deal with themselves.

  • Example skit: Puppet 1: Hi everybody, my name is Jan.Puppet 2: Hi, everybody! I’m Sam, and I’m building a bridge. (Puppet is working with blocks.) Jan: Hey, Sam, I need those blocks for the airport I’m building. (Jan takes some blocks.) Sam: Hey! Don’t do that! You’re taking away my right to play!  (Puppets tussle over a block.)
  • Discussion:  What do you think Jan could have done differently? Has anyone ever interfered with your play?  How did that make you feel?
  • “Can you do a different ending to the story?” Choose children to act out the play again with the puppets, but coach them in some respectful ways to play together to share, take turns, or use other solutions they think of themselves.
  • “I know you can act very respectfully and responsibly toward each other. In fact, I’ve seen ________________________ (give examples of a time when acted responsibly).

9.  Read a book about human rights.   There are so many, but for young children, I like  Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein,  Giving Hand, For Every Child, A Better World by Kermit the Frog. (Yes, I have a thing for Kermit.)

Photo from Wiki Muppets

Older kids may enjoy books more like The Hunger Games and Diary of Anne Frank.  For more ideas for books for teens and tweens, see the Discover Human Rights Institute resources, especially the Peace and Justice booklist and the  Equality and Tolerance booklist.

10.  Take action!  Teach your kids that they really can make a difference in the world.  Collect food and bring it to a local foodshelf.  Write a letter or sign a petition on behalf of a prisoner of conscience. Volunteer to help serve a meal at a homeless shelter.  Raise money from friends or neighbors for UNICEF or another organization working on human rights. (Remember to Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF next Halloween.)  Check out additional service learning ideas for kids in grades K-12 at 160 Ways To Help The World

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:  You’re on your way to a great Human Rights Day!  If you are a classroom teacher or homeschooling your kids (or if you just want to dig deeper), you can find tons more ideas through the following resources:




ABC – Teaching Human Rights – practical activities in English, French, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish

The Advocates for Human Rights’ Discover Human Rights Institute – human rights education lesson plans and curriculum

Human Rights Here and Now  – human rights lesson plans and resources

Raising Children With Roots, Rights and Responsibilities – activities for preschool and young elementary children

A Photo Tribute to George Winston’s December

This time of year always reminds me of George Winston’s December.  I used to listen to it in college, when I was studying for finals.  I’d play it on my cassette deck, rewind, then press play again.  But the music often made me visualize things that weren’t on the pages I was supposed to be reading.

George Winston’s December set the perfect tone for studying.  Calm and clear, but with the slight urgency of Night: Part II Midnight.  It also carried a hopeful hint of the excitement of the holidays to come.  The album actually came out several years before I went to college, but I discovered it my freshman year.  Snow was new to me, too.  I grew up in Louisiana, where once or twice I remember them calling off school because the temperature was below freezing.

The first time I really experienced snow was in December of 1985.  It started snowing late one night during Reading Period and Yale’s entire freshman class seemed to erupt onto Old Campus.  Huge, wet snowflakes drifted down and coated the lawn or swirled sideways and up, as if in a snowglobe.  Someone put their speakers in an open common room window, Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons blasting from the stereo. I still think of that night and the laughing, shadowy figures dancing  in the softly falling snow. It was magical – the kind of night where you would kiss a stranger out of sheer joy and beauty.

A massive snowball fight erupted before long.  Having never made a snowball before, I was at a distinct disadvantage.  I took a direct hit eventually and had to go inside to melt the packed snow from my ear canal.  “Probably for the best,” I thought. “Finals are starting soon.”

So, as musical commentary on the seasons, I think George Winston wins hands down over Vivaldi.  When I listen to George Winston’s December, I’ve always pictured scenes from nature and – oddly enough – happy children. This year, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the release of George Winston’s December, I decided to document the waning of autumn and waxing of winter with photographs.  In some ways, George Winston’s December is also a theme for me in doing human rights work.  We are moving forward, calm and clear, with a slight sense of urgency but with hopeful hints of the future.


Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head



Carol of the Bells

Part I. Snow

Part II.  Midnight

Part III. Minstrels

Variations on the Kanon by Pachebel

The Holly & The Ivy

Some Children See Him


A Christmas Song

Sleep Baby Mine

Rise Up Singing!

Pete Seeger died yesterday at the age of 94.  I can’t remember a time before I knew his voice; his songs are part of the soundtrack of my childhood.  I began listening to Pete Seeger’s music again more recently, when my own children were young.  Together, we sang his songs “Goodnight, Irene” and “We Shall Overcome” and  “If I Had a Hammer.  Yet, in spite of the fact that Pete Seeger gave thousands of performances during my lifetime, I only saw him in person once.   He was not on a stage.   Pete Seeger was standing alone in the rain on the side of the highway near his home in New York’s Hudson Valley.  He was holding not a banjo or guitar, but a sign protesting the Iraq War.   As we drove by, I noticed that his mouth was open and moving.  “Hey, I think that’s Pete Seeger!”  I said, turning in my seat to continue watching him.

And I realized that his mouth was moving because – alone in the rain, on the side of a highway- Pete Seeger was singing his heart out for peace.

I’m thankful to Pete Seeger for his music and his activism – and for being someone who who really does make me believe, deep in my heart, that “We Shall Overcome” one day.

Rise Up Singing!

(Originally published on October 14, 2011 and updated on January 28, 2014)

History shows the incredible power of music to inspire and influence, to energize and heal.  The power of song can be seen in its impact on movement-building,  from the anti-slavery and  labor union movements in the 1800s to the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s.  Liberation music has been important throughout the world, including songs of resistance during the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.  Most recently, music has been part of this year’s Arab Spring.  In protests against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, for example, music was a powerful way to convey the voice of the people.  (NPR story did a great story on The Songs of The Egyptian Protest)

I absolutely love Rise Up Singing, the folk music group singing songbook.  The book contains the chords and lyrics to more than the 1200 songs.  When you flip through it, you get a sense of how many songs there are out there that speak to such a wide variety of social justice issues.  Rise Up Singing grew out of Peoples Songs, Inc., Sing Out! The Folk Song Magazine and the post-World War II American folk song movement led by Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, and many others who sought to combine political activism with music.

But music that inspires me to stand up for human rights is not just about protest songs or folk music.  Music speaks to the individual. Inspiration is personal.   In 2006, I was in Geneva with representatives from dozens of U.S. human rights groups to participate in the UN’s review of  US compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  We were all working on different issues and we came from all over the country, from Florida to Hawaii.

As an icebreaker at our first meeting, we were asked, “What is your favorite human rights song?”  I remember being amazed as we went around the room at the tremendous variety in terms of songs, genres, languages, meanings that had inspired this group of activists.   I told the group that my song was “If I Had a Hammer”.  (My kids were still quite young at the time and we were listening to a lot of Pete Seeger, who is my own personal antidote to Barney.)

Since then, I’ve been making a mental playlist of the songs that have inspired me over the years.   My list of songs is actually long enough for several playlists, but I decided to pull out just a few songs from each of the eras of my life so far.  This was a real challenge and there are a lot of obvious omissions.  Maybe I’ll just have to do another playlist someday.

In the meantime, I’ve got the HUMAN RIGHTS WARRIOR PLAYLIST for you on YouTube.  You can also link to each song individually below.   Enjoy!

From My Childhood

  1. If I Had a HammerPete Seeger      (See above. Pete >Barney.)
  2. Free to Be You and Me   – Marlo Thomas & Friends     In my opinion, one of the best things about being a kid in the 70s.
  3. The PreambleSchoolhouse Rock      Did you know that the U.S. Constitution is one of the first documents to establish universal principles of human rights?
  4. Star Wars Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner – John Williams   People say Star Wars was a Western set in space, but I saw the Empire for the police state that it was. Extrajudicial execution of Luke’s family,  arbitrary detention of Han Solo et al. Not to mention the genocide on Alderaan.
  5. FreedomRichie Havens         My parents had the Woodstock album.  I think I know this and every other song on it by heart.
From My Youth 
  1.  Sunday Bloody SundayU2       I first heard this on my high school radio station WBRH. I went right to the library and looked up the 1972 Bloody Sunday Massacre in Northern Ireland. (Yes, I’m a nerd. I know.)
  2. Holiday in CambodiaDead Kennedys      I went through a big DK phase in high school.  Also, I knew a family that had fled the Pol Pot regime.  I still think of them when I hear this song.
  3. Talkin’ Bout a Revolution Tracy Chapman    Growing up in Louisiana, I had seen poverty.   But it didn’t prepare me for the mid-80s urban poverty I saw when I went to college in New Haven.  This song still rings true 25 years later.
  4. Tell Me Why  – Bronski Beat      I remember this as the first song I heard that directly addressed prejudice against LGBT persons. Rock on!
  5. Waiting for the Great Leap ForwardBilly Bragg     The lyrics have changed since I first bought Worker’s Playtime (on cassette!) in college, but I think it is possible that I have listened it to 1,000,000 times.
From My Adulthood
  1. All You Facists (Are Going to Lose) – Lyrics by Woody Guthrie, Music by Billy Bragg & Wilco     From the Mermaid Avenue album.  Yes, the Facists are bound to lose some day.
  2. HurricaneBob Dylan       Rubin “Hurricane” Carter did an event for us to help raise money for our Death Penalty project.   If anyone ever wants to make a movie about your life, he highly recommends that you ask that they get Denzel Washington to play you.
  3. Living Like a Refugee –  Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Star Band                     I spent the first 5 years of my career working with asylum seekers.   This song captures many of the things I heard about their experiences.
  4. Face Down  – Red Jumpsuit Apparatus     Violence against women is the most common human rights violation in the world – 1 in 3 women will experience abuse in her lifetime.   In the US, a woman is beaten or assaulted every 9 seconds.  Kudos to these guys for singing about it.
  5. MinorityGreen Day      Sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone thinks the way I do about human rights – yet.
  6. Sons & DaughtersThe Decemberists        This is kind of where I am right now.  With sons and daughter.  Hoping to “Hear all the bombs fade away.”