The family of the late folk singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie criticized Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley for co-opting the lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land," long considered one of the greatest folk songs ever written.
Guthrie's family spoke out after Hawley introduced the This Land Is Our Land Act to prevent people associated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from owning farmland in the United States.
Guthrie's music was often political and he wrote "This Land is Your Land" in critical response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," which has long been associated with White Christian nationalism and their belief in American exceptionalism.
Guthrie viewed music as a means of protest.
He was associated with communist groups and over the course of his life became increasingly critical of American capitalism, which he blamed for many injustices.
His daughter, Nora Guthrie suggested Hawley's use of the song is inappropriate because it doesn't align with the song's political values, which stress the importance of democratic representation.
In an e-mail to The Kansas City Star, she wrote:
“In this particular case, the co-opting or parodying of the lyric by those not aligned with Woody’s lyrics - i.e. misrepresentation by autocrats, racists, white nationalists, anti-labor, insurrectionists, etc. - is not condoned."
“We do not consider Josh Hawley in any way a representative of Woody’s values therefore we would never endorse or approve of his reference to Woody’s lyrics.”
Nora Guthrie went on to say that the song is "more of a vision of democracy" which "simply reiterates the concept, ‘By the people, for the people.’”
In response, Hawley’s spokeswoman, Abigail Marone, criticized The Star for its coverage of Hawley's bill and said the focus should be on its contents and not its title.
“The Kansas City Star is where journalism goes to die. Josh’s bill protects America’s food chain, farmers, and national security - that’s the real story The Star should cover.”
Many have criticized Hawley and praised Guthrie's family for speaking out.
Hawley's use of "This Land is Your Land" is not the first time the song has been used to promote legislation.
In 2019, New York Democratic Representative Adriano Espaillat introduced H.R. 739, the This Land is Our Land Act, to prohibit the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from building a border wall on federally protected lands, just one example of the pushback against one of former Republican President Donald Trump's cornerstone proposals.
An official press release from the House of Representatives noted at the time that the legislation "would prevent the use of eminent domain for construction of a barrier on the Southern border, and it would make it illegal for agencies to commence construction of such a barrier during a declared national emergency."