Martin Luther King Jr., paraphrasing the Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, liked to say that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
Maybe that's true; we can only hope so.
But there's no doubt that the arc of musician Peter Yarrow's career bends toward social justice. The singer-songwriter and member of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary has long been an activist for social and political causes, performing in front of massive crowds in Washington, D.C.
He's taken the message to smaller crowds as well: "I also sing in a room with 12 people," he said in a phone interview this week with The E.
On Sunday, he'll bring that passion for social justice to Corvallis for a concert scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Corvallis High School. On Tuesday night, he'll perform a private show scheduled for the Corvallis home of the writer Linda Carroll. (See the related story for details.) Both events are benefits for Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, Mexico, a safe house for people hoping for asylum in the United States.
Earlier this year, Carroll was spending a few weeks in Rancho La Puerta in Tecate and accompanied Yarrow and some friends to Casa del Migrante, where the singer performed some of his best-known songs, including "Puff, the Magic Dragon."
"The room lit up with Spanish-speaking people who somehow knew the words," Carroll reported.
Yarrow was moved as well and started thinking: "I've got to figure out a way to raise money for these people. It just weighed on her (Carroll). As it weighed on me."
One way to do that, of course, involved setting up a fundraising concert featuring the 80-year-old Yarrow, who still performs frequently (and occasionally connects for shows with Noah Paul Stookey, the Paul in the famed trio, who, coincidentally, appeared in Corvallis at the Majestic Theater earlier this year).
But Yarrow sees the opportunity to perform not so much as a gift he's bestowing; rather, he said, it's like he's receiving a gift.
"It will be a concert that for me has the joy and dignity of being able to give of myself," he said.
In concert, Yarrow is likely to perform some of his most famous songs, including "Day Is Done," "Light One Candle" and "The Great Mandala," and can also draw on the songs that Peter, Paul and Mary recorded in their heyday. Those songs include folk classics like "If I Had a Hammer" and the song the trio recorded written by a songwriter who was relatively unknown at the time — Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."
But Yarrow is still writing new material and said chances are good that his Corvallis audiences will hear him perform at least two new songs, including one called "The Children are Listening."
That song hearkens back to another cause that Yarrow has championed over the years: In 2000, he helped to start Operation Respect, a nonprofit organization that aims to foster in children tolerance and respect for each other's differences.
This was decades before the notion of school bullying had reached the mainstream, but Yarrow said his work on that effort is connected with all the social justice work he's done before.
"If we can just inculcate respect and caring and kindness and compassion and empathy in children, we'd get to a higher level of spiritual compassion," he said.
"I'm basically a schoolteacher masquerading as a folk singer."