I only met Pete Seeger once, when I was about 18 years old and covering a scantly attended labor "teach-in" at the University of Washington for a school paper.
Seeger gave the musical convocation—maybe he and his banjo played "We Shall Overcome"? Or "Which Side Are You On?" Or the "Internationale"? Afterwards, I "interviewed" him backstage, which mostly meant me nervously asking questions while he smiled gently and spoke slowly.
I'd heard his happy, bouncing banjo as a kid in the backseat of my parents' car driving back and forth across the country (we moved a lot) but I'd only just recently begun to think of him as an American hero: a shamelessly anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-war, pro-immigrant, pro-labor environmentalist who (among many other accomplishments) had the guts to openly defy the House Un-American Activities Committee. Instead of pleading the Fifth and ducking out, as many had done, he walked in and simply said he refused to answer questions about his political and social affiliations. He was found in contempt of court and sentenced to prison time. (Sound familiar?) But an appeals court said the indictment was flawed and let him go.
And if he did run around with an axe at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, trying to chop up the electrical cords on Bob Dylan, I chalked it up to an admirable orneriness.
The two things I remember about meeting Seeger backstage were his smiling, wrinkled face—he radiated a calming confidence—and an idea he proposed. "You know how food has labels that tell you what ingredients are in it?" he asked. (I'm paraphrasing, obviously, but I remember his idea as a series of questions.)
"What do you think about a mandatory label that would show the ratio between what the boss of a company earns and what the lowest-paid workers earn? If you could see that when you went shopping, you could choose a product based on the fairness of the wages, just like you can choose food now based on the ingredients. What do you think of that?"
I said I liked it. I still do.