Pete Seeger: Which Side Are You On?


Pete Seeger was an American singer, songwriter, and social activist known for his contributions to the folk music movement. One of his most famous songs is “Which Side Are You On?” This article will explore the history, impact, and legacy of Seeger’s song, analyzing its metaphors, rhetorical devices, and message. Additionally, it will examine Seeger’s impact on folk music and how his music influenced social change.

Historical Perspective

The song “Which Side Are You On?” was written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of a union organizer in Kentucky who was being harassed by the police. The song was initially a call to action for the striking coal miners in the region. It became a popular protest song and later became associated with the broader labor movement.

The song’s lyrics speak to the idea of taking a stand and choosing sides. This powerful message resonated with workers who were fighting for better wages, working conditions, and union rights. During the Civil Rights Movement, the song was adapted to address issues of racial inequality and injustice. And today, the song is still used as a rallying cry for social justice movements around the world. It continues to speak to people who are fighting for a better world for future generations.

Pete Seeger’s Impact on Folk Music

Pete Seeger’s music had a significant impact on the folk music genre. His music was characterized by its simplicity and its emphasis on social justice issues. “Which Side Are You On?” represents a defining moment in his career. The song is a testament to his commitment to activism and his belief in the power of music to inspire change.

The song’s impact is reflected in the fact that it has been covered by various artists over the years, including Billy Bragg, Natalie Merchant, and Ani DiFranco. It has become a standard in the folk music canon, and its message still resonates with young people today who are fighting for social justice.

An Artistic Approach

The song “Which Side Are You On?” incorporates various rhetorical devices that make it a powerful piece of music. For example, the use of repetition in the chorus reinforces the song’s powerful message of choosing a side. The song’s opening lines, “Come all of you good workers / Good news to you I’ll tell”, create a sense of community and solidarity that speaks to the heart of the labor movement.

The song’s metaphors also speak to the idea of standing up against oppression. For example, the metaphor of the boss as a snake speaks to the idea that the ruling class is trying to poison the workers. The metaphor of the workers as a rising tide speaks to their power to effect change and overcome oppression.

Media Coverage and Response

The song “Which Side Are You On?” received significant media coverage when it was first released. As the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, the song’s message resonated with people who were struggling to make ends meet. However, the song was also met with criticism from politicians and censorship from radio networks.

Despite the controversy, the song continued to be played at rallies and union meetings, and it became a symbol of the labor movement. Today, the song is still played at protests and social justice events around the world.

Pete Seeger’s Activist Legacy

Pete Seeger’s legacy is not just one of music, but also of activism and political advocacy. He was a committed pacifist who fought for civil rights, environmental protection, and labor rights. Through his music and his activism, Seeger inspired countless individuals to take action for social justice.

His impact can be seen in cultural products and public figures that have been influenced by his music and message. For example, Bruce Springsteen cited Seeger as an influence on his music, and President Barack Obama awarded Seeger the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.


The song “Which Side Are You On?” is more than just a piece of music; it is a call to action for social justice. Pete Seeger’s legacy is a testament to the power of music and activism to inspire change. His music continues to be a source of inspiration for those who are fighting for a better world. By exploring Seeger’s impact on folk music and his legacy as an activist, this article has shown that the message of “Which Side Are You On?” is as relevant today as it was when it was first written.

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