He’s been strumming that guitar for years now on the last grassy patches of a dreary strip mall swampland, black beret on backwards and the familiar clear voice out of Montclair singing his signature tune, “Vote,” while New Jersey puts up its most dismal election turnout numbers in history.
Few apparently are listening, but Spook Handy’s still singing anyway as the state lumbers toward another election, this time a June 7th Primary, and incumbents walk around mostly in silence lest they remind people that there’s a choice on the horizon.
The folk heir to the late great Pete Seeger, Handy has long hoisted the banner of progressive roots music hero, low-key and in key, and he sizes up the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders bloodbath as a chance to finally land one candidate who can go out there and – critically – stare down presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“Anger is not a virtue, racial insensitivity is not a virtue, threatening Muslims is not a virtue and oversimplification is not a virtue,” said Handy in a telephone interview with PolitickerNJ, a day after he returned to his home state from the Folk Alliance Conference down south.
“People think anger is a virtue, but it’s not,” the folk singer added. “It’s more like having pneumonia. Let’s find out why we are angry or why we are sick and let’s work to solve the causes.”
Handy’s a little discomfited right now, a little concerned.
At that folk conference, about 40 people with whom he spoke said they preferred Sanders to Clinton, and an equal number said they championed Clinton over Sanders. The singer’s worry is that if Clinton – who has a significant mathematical edge on her party rival – gets the nomination as expected, Sanders’ supporters won’t back her.
“What I’ve heard on the street is that Hillary supporters will back Bernie if he wins, but that Bernie supporters won’t back Hillary if she wins,” Handy said. “They can’t bring themselves to it, apparently, but if Hillary wins the nomination, it’s up to Bernie supporters to decide whether Hillary or Trump becomes our next president.”
Handy sees Trump as a significant threat. He sees Clinton as an imperfect candidate, but preferable – by far – to the billionaire real estate tycoon. Whoever wins the Democratic Party nomination, he says, the backers of the loser have to come out in force for the Democrat in order to stop Trump.
“I’m a pragmatic idealist,” said the folkster. “We need to get involved. …I know I’m going to vote for somebody who’s not perfect. But if you don’t vote, please get off the protest line. My question is which candidate can attract a constituency and is willing to take those incremental steps closer to [a progressive agenda] and universal healthcare.”