Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
BY L. ROY AIKEN
When I heard "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" sung in Japanese at Tokyo Disneyland, I thought I'd heard it all.
But the strangest and most wonderful piece of intercultural noise sounded off just outside the east gate of this joint American-Japanese naval air facility where I live. I didn't know until I read about it in the next day's edition of Pacific Stars and Stripes, and I'm still kicking myself for missing it.
It was a peace group. Nothing too strange or wonderful in itself; despite the leanings of the Japanese government's ruling party and the right-wing fringe groups and big-money corporations which support it, peace groups do exist here. This one in particular was marching from Tokyo to a larger peace rally in Hiroshima, and NAF Atsugi happened to be along the way.
The strange and wonderful thing is what this group of 100 or so people were reported singing. It was a more esoteric piece of musical Americana, as far removed from Disneyland as the South Carolina Midlands are from the Japanese Kanto Plain. But the song connected these peace activists in the Far East with the history of South Carolina -- as well as the prouder heritage of the American South.
They were singing "We Shall Overcome."
Now where the hell do you think they got this from?
In these days of the Republican Congress and the "New Democrat" administration of Reagan II, with their expanded welfare programs for the rich and their reactionary abandonment of social justice for the other 99 percent Americans, there is great comfort and joy in the answer. Especially when one hears the usual carping about how America's songs of freedom, promises of personal liberty and the pursuit of happiness are nothing more than propaganda, words on the air, contracts not worth the paper they're printed on -- and, worse, how there's nothing to be done about it.
Does it ever occur to these whining mopes that perhaps the landed aristocrats and wealthy dilettantes who put those words to paper and spread the rumors of freedom and equality set up the successive generations of the American ruling class as victims of their own propaganda?
It's happened before.
A little over three decades ago there were separate restrooms and water fountains marked for white and "colored" folk. Black people could be refused service at lunch counters and hotels, and were required by law to give up their seats and move to the back of the bus if a white person boarded.
It seems impossible to imagine now.
But there it was. And with great risk to life and limb, blacks and whites got together and made their Freedom Rides to challenge the status quo. They were calling the Founding Fathers' bluff: for if it was written that all men are created equal, then that equality should be put into practice. Those in power who claimed to stand for the American social contract should uphold its provisions.
It was a simple request, and reasonable enough. Yet for this many men and women were beaten. More than a few were killed. Some people simply disappeared and were never seen again. All of this happened in America, to Americans, for the crime of believing in the American notion that all men are created equal.
What impressed me is how these Freedom Riders, upon imprisonment in city and county jails across the South, would lift their spirits and infuriate their captors by singing. The sheriff's deputies and others minding the cells would threaten the marchers with physical harm if they didn't shut up.
It would have been nothing for their jailers to do them in, one at a time -- it had happened before -- but the marchers kept singing.
And once released, they planned for the next march.
Despite danger to themselves, the very real threats to their homes and families, they kept marching and keep singing. Apparently they made an impression.
Make no mistake about it, there are still serious problems with racial tension in this country. You've read the stories; you know the drill. Perhaps you've had some direct experience.
But have you seen any restrooms set aside for "white" and "colored"? A bus driver ordering someone to the back of the bus on account of skin color?
Not in the last 30 years you haven't, Bubba. We're long since over it.
The Big Bad Wolf of conservatives and their "traditional values" -- in this case, the Jim Crow laws -- was overcome.
So who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf today? Not those Japanese peace marchers. Apparently the American civil rights activists of the 1950s and '60s made an impression on them, too.
In a country presumably stuck in its ways (as the American South was described way back when), in a political climate oh-so-"conservative" (as the major corporate media still insists we are now), Japanese activists are campaigning to curb the increasing activity of the Japanese military and bring them back in accordance with their role as described in Japan's postwar constitution. They seek to limit, if not eliminate, the presence of the American military on their soil. They wish to bring the corporations which degrade their environment in the name of the Almighty Yen to heel. They campaign against the increased incidents of violence against the ever-increasing homeless population in Tokyo.
All this and more in the country which originated the proverb, "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."
And some of these people sing "We Shall Overcome" as they march. If they sing it in Japanese, it's so that their fellow Japanese will understand that they don't fear the hammer of the right-wing thugs who will beat them up or the police who will look the other way as this happens, before arresting the marchers for "provoking" the attack.
If there is great comfort in knowing that people struggling for social and economic justice on the other side of the planet honor the courage and sacrifice of American activists in song, it also serves as a stern reminder: Don't be afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. For the whole world is indeed watching.
Columbia native L. Roy Aiken zaps out his column via mojowire from the eighth floor of a high-rise overlooking the west end of Atsugi Naval Air Facility.
He has worked as city hall reporter and columnist for the Imperial Beach (Calif.) Times and contributed to The San Diego Writers' Monthly, The Poetry Conspiracy and (in collaboration with Columbia artist Mike Hoffman) the horror anthology Taboo.