Editor's note: David Cook is a local freelance writer whose column will appear on Mondays in the Times Free Press.
Maybe Pete Seeger said it best.
Concert after concert, the folk singer and patriot would often stroll onto the stage carrying like an old friend his long-neck banjo, upon which were inscribed nine profound words.
"This instrument surrounds hate and forces it to surrender."
We need those nine words today. We are tired of hate. And emptiness and fear. And the doom and gloom. We need hate and all its little cousins -- despair, ignorance, violence -- to surrender. We need another boss.
Seeger believed music could win the fight and make hate wave a white flag. This land is your land, he sang. This land is my land. Seeger believed music could form community and turn enemies into friends. He believed music could bring peace.
I believe in the power of the written word.
Once upon a time, I wrote news stories and sports features at a time in this city when two newspapers were tossed onto driveways and into mailboxes each day. One paper arrived with the morning sunrise, the other at dusk.
My first days at the newspaper seem so long ago: no one knew of the Internet, and cell phones were the size of shoeboxes and plugged into cigarette lighters in your car. The Tennessee Aquarium was barely a reality. The idea of Chattanooga becoming a national tourist destination was a dream. Watching the Mocs play football was more like a nightmare.
I had my head in the clouds then, and rarely thought deeply about the world around me. It would be years later, as I faced hate square in its ugly face, as I watched violence tear communities apart, as I saw injustice push good people lower and lower toward the ground, that I realized there indeed was a fight to be had. There is work to be done.
Hate loses the fight when we remember the one truth that hate cannot: In this city of ours, people matter. All people.
Tea party activists matter.
Veterans matter. So do the folks living under Veterans Bridge.
Single mothers raising children while working two jobs. Families that sit down for dinner together each night. Everyone staying at the Ronald McDonald House. They all matter.
The gay high school student -- constantly bullied, deeply suicidal -- matters, too.
The mothers giving birth. The grieving and burying. The beloved who are marrying. The priests, preachers and imams who preside over these ceremonies.
Gang members in Chattanooga. Delta Team members. Millionaire families. Felons. All the farmers who tote pickup trucks full of vegetables to sell at our city markets.
They all matter. Immensely.
The unemployed who smile and shake hands confidently in yet another interview for a job they probably won't get. The undocumented worker washing the dishes at our favorite restaurant.
The boy about to lose his first tooth. The girl speaking up in class for the first time. The grandmother going back to college. The great-grandfather wringing his hands, convinced our culture is going to hell in a handbasket.
They all matter. We all matter.
More than a decade after leaving this newspaper, I've been given the honor of once more putting words into print for this city. My instructions: Write a Monday morning column that will educate, inspire, entertain and, every so often, agitate and outrage. Write a column that will provide a voice for our city. Write a column that is fair, just and thought-provoking.
No pressure there.
I'll start with these words.
This city is your city. This city is my city. It was made for you and me.
David Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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