Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Lucy Parsons: “I am an Anarchist”

Lucy Parsons had three strikes against her.  Who will remember a woman who fought for the rights of women to vote and to be equal to men in 1900?  Who will remember an African American who fought against White Supremacy and lynchings of Blacks in 1900?  Who will remember an Anarchist who fought for the rights of workers against the giant corporations in 1900?  Now tell me how many people will remember and even admire a Black woman Anarchist who dedicated her life to fighting all three battles? 

Today, you would have to look carefully to find her name in any history book.  She is often little more than a footnote despite being one of the bravest Americans who ever lived.  I know of no statues for Lucy.  I know of no stamps ever issued with Lucy’s picture on them.  I know of no coins that were ever struck with a facsimile of Lucy.  You can find several books written on the life of Lucy Parsons which prove her courage and determination in the face of more adversity than most people will ever know, but you will find no streets or buildings named after her either. 

Context:

Lucy Eldine Gonzalez Parsons (born Lucia Carter, 1851 – March 7, 1942) was born in Virginia.   Her mother was an African American slave.  Her father may have been her mother’s slave owner.  Of the three strikes against Lucy in 1900, by far the most egregious was her advocacy of Anarchism.  Bad enough being a former slave in Texas.  Bad enough being a woman who does not know her place in society.  But when you add to this mix, the fact that she was an avowed, dedicated, and passionate Anarchist, you now have a recipe for a hate that to this day has not subsided in the country.

There is still racism in America, yes.  There is still sexism in America, yes.  However, these are becoming increasingly unacceptable in America.  The #MeToo Movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement have emerged as new armies to lead a rising tide of protests directed against these two evils.  But where is the movement against giant corporations that relegates workers to second class citizens?  Corporations where senior managers make 400 times what the average worker makes.  Corporations where unions are denigrated and ever so much care is made to prevent workers from forming or joining a union.  Corporations that on a whim will close a factory and take their plants to another country.  Corporations that pay less taxes than a worker in those corporations. 

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“Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth.”  ― Lucy Parsons: Freedom, Equality & Solidarity – Writings & Speeches, 1878-1937

Lucy was a feminist and a woman who fought against white supremacy and corporate greed in a time when either position would make her an outcast.  However, nothing in 1900 or in 2020 America could be a worse stigma than to be labeled as an Anarchist.  Americans have been brainwashed to hate Socialists, Communists and Anarchists.  Among the three, Anarchists are easily the most reviled, hated and despised in this country.  When the average person thinks of an Anarchist, they conjure up a picture of a wild unkempt unshaven dirty man in a large overcoat.  The man has hidden a bomb somewhere in the middle of a capitalist icon like the NY Stock Exchange or the World Trade Center and he has timed it to explode in the middle of a busy business day.  His purpose is to kill as many capitalists as he can.    

“Strike not for a few cents more an hour, because the price of living will be raised faster still, but strike for all you earn, be content with nothing less.”  — Lucy Parsons

Do you know what Anarchists want?  Do you know what Anarchists Believe?  Wikipedia gives the following summary for the theory of Anarchism:

“Anarchism is a political philosophy and movement that rejects all involuntary, coercive forms of hierarchy. It calls for the abolition of the state which it holds to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful. It is usually described alongside libertarian Marxism as the libertarian wing (libertarian socialism) of the socialist movement and as having a historical association with anti-capitalism and socialism.”  — Wikipedia

I will not deny that there have been examples of extremism among Anarchists.  There have certainly been bombings and attacks against symbols of capitalism.  Lucy herself at one time said:

“Let every dirty, lousy tramp arm himself with a revolver or a knife and lay in wait on the steps of the palaces of the rich and stab or shoot the owners as they come out. Let us kill them without mercy, and let it be a war of extermination.” — Lucy Parsons

But when you measure the violence perpetrated by the rich against the poor in this country, the scales would surely tip against the “dirty lousy tramps.”  Measure the instances of violence by Anarchists versus the instances of violence by Corporations trying to prevent workers from organizing.  Measure the instances of violence by Corporations against workers speaking out against racism and sexism in those same companies.  Measure the number of times, Corporation leaders have gone to jail for white collar crimes versus the number of people who have gone to jail for trying to rob a bank.  Without listing each of these, I can assure you the scales tip well in the favor of large Corporations against the average citizen.  Is it any wonder, that activists sometimes lose their cool and resort to violence when violence is continually directed against them? 

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In 1886, Lucy’s husband, who had been heavily involved in campaigning for the eight-hour workday, was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death.  He was hung on November 11, 1887, by the state of Illinois.  He was found guilty of conspiracy in the Haymarket Affair, sometimes called the Haymarket Riot. 

“It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour work day, the day after police killed one and injured several workers.  An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at the police as they acted to disperse the meeting, and the bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; dozens of others were wounded.”Wikipedia

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Mark the words above.  It began as a peaceful really EVEN after the day before police had killed one and injured several other workers.  These words should resonate today as not unusual behavior on the part of police everywhere in this country.  Even today, we see peaceful protesters dispersed by police using violent tactics which are uncalled for.  The police are called to “protect and serve” but many Americans today want to know who it is they protect and who it is that they serve.  It certainly does not seem that they serve the poor or even the middle class.  With few exceptions, it would seem that they exist to “protect and serve” the assets of the rich and wealthy. 

I am an Anarchist Speech:

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This particular speech was given by Lucy to help raise funds for her husband’s defense.  Albert R. Parsons was a white Republican who had once served as a Confederate soldier but was now an organizer and labor leader. 

“I am an anarchist. I suppose you came here, the most of you, to see what I a real, live anarchist looked like. I suppose some of you expected to see me with a bomb in one hand and a flaming torch in the other but are disappointed in seeing neither. If such has been your ideas regarding an anarchist, you deserved to be disappointed. Anarchists are peaceable, law abiding people.” 

Lucy went directly to the issue.  Haymarket had created an image of radical bomb throwing fanatics bent on destroying democracy.  She started her speech by attacking this image and challenging assumptions regarding what an Anarchist was.  She noted they were peaceful law-abiding citizens.  Not an easy concept to accept when you understand that every force in a capitalistic society is aimed at protecting the greed and avarice that the government allows to reign in the marketplace.

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“Do you wonder why there are Anarchists in this country, in this great land of liberty, as you love to call it? Go to New York. Go through the byways and alleys of that great city. Count the myriads starving; count the multiplied thousands who are homeless; number those who work harder than slaves and live on less and have fewer comforts than the meanest slaves. You will be dumbfounded by your discoveries, you who have paid no attention to these poor, save as objects of charity and commiseration.”

Lucy succinctly but powerfully lays out the reason that she and so many others are Anarchists.  Look at the poverty that exists in our country today.   

  • In 2018, the highest earning 20% of families made more than half of all U.S. Income
  • S. has the highest level of income inequality among the G7 countries
  • The income gap between Blacks and Whites has not changed since 1970
  • The richest U.S. families are the only group to have gained wealth since the Great Recession

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Data from the Pew Research Center.

If it is still bad today, can you imagine what it was like in the early 1900’s when there was no social security, no unemployment benefits, no pensions or retirement programs, no welfare programs and no workmen’s compensation.  People were little more than wage slaves to an industrial system that had displaced small family farms and was hell bent on creating the greatest profits they could for the owners.  It did not matter who was hurt on the job or who had a family to support.  The early 20th Century production system was well depicted by Charlie Chaplin in his famous movie “Modern Times.” 

 

“Well, the bomb exploded, the arrests were made and then came that great judicial farce, beginning on June 21. The jury was impaneled. Is there a Knight of Labor here? Then know that a Knight of Labor was not considered competent enough to serve on that jury. ‘Are you a Knight of Labor?’ ‘Have you any sympathy with labor organizations?’ were the questions asked each talisman. If an affirmative answer was given, the talisman was bounced.”

The jury to try the men accused of conspiracy in the Haymarket bombing was not impartially selected.   The judge at the time intervened to ensure that a jury prejudicial to the defendants would be selected.  Ms. Parsons destroyed the alleged fairness and impartiality of the jury process in her speech, but it would do little good.  More than one hundred years have passed since this trial and I would bet that it would be almost impossible today to find a jury that would not convict an avowed anarchist even before his/her trial had started. 

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“Liberty has been named anarchy. If this verdict is carried out it will be the death knell of America’s liberty. You and your children will be slaves. You will have liberty if you can pay for it. If this verdict is carried out, place the flag of our country at half-mast and write on every fold ‘shame.’”

anarchists1The thought that “you will have liberty if you can pay for it” rings true 100 years after Lucy spoke these sad and forlorn words.  Today we say “politics and courts are ruled by the Golden Rule.  He who has the money makes the rules.”  We all know that it takes money to get a law passed or else why are there so many lobbyists in the halls of congress.  We also know that rich people get a better break in court because their money buys them better lawyers.  We also know that poor people fare less well with our law enforcement agencies than do rich people.  When was the last time you heard of a police officer stopping someone in Palms Springs or La Jolla for a broken taillight? 

People who enter the criminal justice system are overwhelmingly poor. Two-thirds detained in jails report annual incomes under $12,000 prior to arrest.  Incarceration contributes to poverty by creating employment barriers; reducing earnings and decreasing economic security through criminal debt, fees and fines; making access to public benefits difficult or impossible; and disrupting communities where formerly incarcerated people reside.”The Relationship between Poverty & Mass Incarceration

The last line in Lucy Parson’s speech was “Bread is freedom and freedom is bread.”  This line was taken from a poem called “Freedom” written by her husband Albert Parsons.  The last four lines in his poem speak to the thought underlying this phrase:

When thou speak’st: Enough is done!

Break this two-fold yoke in twain;

Break thy want’s enslaving chain;

Break thy slavery’s want and dread;

Bread is freedom, freedom bread.

Those who work for others have no freedom.  The wage earner depends for his bread on the beneficence of his capitalistic benefactor.  To toil for himself and to earn his own bread is to achieve freedom for the wage earner.  The attitude of an Anarchist is that all goods produced belong to the man or woman who produces them.  In a corporation, all the work and labor are divided equally and thus the profits and outputs should be divided equally.  The manager works forty hours per week.  The secretary works forty hours per week. The production employee works forty hours per week.  The Anarchist believes that since each works the same amount of time, each should get nearly the same amount of pay.  An Anarchist would be horrified at the fact than in the USA, CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978 while typical worker compensation has risen only 12% during that time.  (See Report by Mishel and Wolfe, 2019)

It is not a case of “treat everyone the same.”  No one wants a system where everyone is treated the same.  It is a case of treating everyone to equal measures of equity and equality.  We have a long way to go in this country before we understand how applying these ideas would make for a happier and more just society.  We are still a country that believes in the idea that the more money and wealth a person has, the better that person is and the happier their lives are.  Nothing could be further from the truth.    

“Happiness comes from spiritual wealth, not material wealth… Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it.”  — John Templeton

Autobiographies from the Dead – Ed the Soldier

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Ed will tell you the story of his life and death.

Ed the Soldier

My soldier squadI was brave and loyal.  I gave my all for the corp.  I was taught to respect and obey authority.  Right or wrong, it was my job to follow orders.  I never questioned my assignments.  I never questioned my Sargent or my Captain.  As was said in the famous poem, “mine was to do or die and not to question why.”   I am looking now at my body and those of my nine squad members.  We had one medic, three guys with M-16’s, one guy with an MGL-140, one guy with a Barrett .338 Lapua Magnum, one guy with an MPIM/SRAW rocket, one radio guy or in this case a radio gal, Sarge our Squad Leader and of course me also carrying a good old US issue M-16 along with a bunch of grenades.

Iran_Iraq_War_Dead_SoldiersIt looks like my arms and chest have been shot full of holes.  However, I think it was the two bullets that caught me in my brain which finished me off.  My head looks like it was stuck in a meat grinder.  Most of my squad does not look much better.  There are a few guys minus heads, some missing legs and others missing body parts.  A good jig saw puzzler could not put us all back together again.  I can’t believe the number of bullets that hit us.  One minute we were joking around and the next minute it sounded like a Fourth of July celebration.  The difference being that we were the targets and the bullets and rockets were lighting us up instead of the sky.  What happened to our vaunted Intel?

recruitingI enlisted right out of high school.  I did not want to go to college and I could not think of anything else to do.  I went down to my Army recruiting office and was scheduled immediately with an appointment.  I did not have to wait long.  About thirty minutes later, a well-dressed very sharp looking soldier came out of an office to greet me.  “Son” he said, “You have come to the right place. We will fix you up so that you can serve your country and really make a difference in the world.  Do you want your parents and friends to look up to you?  Do you want to be get laid more than you could ever dream possible?  Do you want to be a real hero and not some phony cardboard actor hero, then just sign right here.”

“My boy, you have just saved the free world.  Welcome to the US Army.” 

After basic training, they said I had been selected for a tour in Iraq.  They said it would be easy soldiers with chidren 2duty.  It would just be some mopping up operations and nothing really tough.  The really tough stuff had been done months before.  And besides that, the “ragheads” could not shoot straight so we had nothing to worry about.  Each day we went out on patrol to a different village or a different part of the same village.  They all looked alike.  Some of the Soldiers with childrenlocals seemed friendly, but most just ignored us.  Kids would come over and ask us for candy or cigarettes when they would see us walking.  We were taught to trust no one but after a while you got to know certain kids and you would give them candy or sometimes some money.

The women really kept to themselves.  You hardly ever saw any on the street and if you did they were always covered from head to toe.  We were not allowed to have any alcohol as it is illegal in Muslim countries.  There wasn’t much to do all day long soldiers on reconexcept when we were on patrol.  Most of the fun we had was out in the villages.  We loved to play pranks on each other.  On one patrol, one of the guys had hid behind a wall and as we started to walk by, he threw a dummy grenade at us.  We scattered like rabbits and waited for it to go off.  After a few seconds, we could hear laughter coming from behind the wall.  We soon realized that it was one of our guys.  He was laughing so hard, it gave him cramps.  It took us weeks but we figured out how to get even with him.  I guess we were always really wound up when out on patrol, so it was not hard to find something to break up the tension.  Often it would involve shooting at anything that seemed sinister or menacing.

The Soldiers of Company F

The Soldiers of Company F “Blues Platoon,” 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, move forward, almost shoulder to shoulder, with live ammo while practicing team movement drills at an Advanced Close Quarters Marksmanship course at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, May 13. The ACQM course is meant to sharpen the Soldiers skills before moving north to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The day we got it was like any other day, nothing unusual about it.  It was bright, sunny and warm.  We had an assignment to check out a village that had been quiet for some time.  We were on foot patrol.  Ten of us joking and clowning around.  Some kids had just run by and yelled “Go home Americans” at us.  We threw some candy at them and laughed as they scrambled to pick it up.  As we turned the corner of a street, we saw some quick movement in a doorway and some guys running across the roof tops.  We raised our rifles to fire but it was too late.  The grenades and RPG’s burst all around us and then the AK 47 fire started.  We never had a chance.  There must have been about fifty of them.  We never thought that there were that many bad guys left.  One by one we went down.  I never even got off a round.

I can see them now.  They are picking over our bodies.  They are taking cash, weapons, armor and anything else of value.  The little kids are there too.  They are kicking us in the heads or what is left of our heads.  I even saw one kid who I thought was my friend (I gave him many snicker bars) come running up and kick me in my head.   He then took out his wiener and pissed on me.   It seems like a holiday for them.  They are all so happy.  Like one big celebration.  They are laughing and patting each other on the back.  I can hear one guy in English saying:  “I guess these fucking Americans will go home now.”  Another one replied:  “Yeah, home or Jahannam.”

I know I was supposed to be a hero.  I thought I was making the world safe for democracy.  Where did it all go wrong?  Looking down at our bodies now, it does not seem like we really accomplished much.  It looks like they would have been happier if we had never come.  I guess I might be a hero when my body comes back to Ohio.  I never got laid either.

soldiers in casketsI can’t hang around here much longer.   I can’t bear the sadness.  It is time to leave.  I was brought up as a good Christian.   I am sure that there must be a reason for all this.  My pastor said “God’s ways are unknowable.”   I am going to go find God.  I am sure he can tell me what this was all for.

Time for Questions:

Do we fight for the right reasons?  Do we simply fight the wars that our leaders tell us we should?  Do we question whether we should fight or negotiate?  Are we fighting wars for gold or for justice?  Can we be proud that we are the “land of the free and the home of the brave?”  Are we fighting for the rights of humanity or for our own National pride?  Do you question authority or do you simply go along?

Life is just beginning.

The following excerpt is from “War is a Racket” by Major General Smedley Butler.  General Butler was one of the most highly decorated soldiers in WWI.  He won two Medal of Honor and at the time of his death was the most decorated Marine in United States history. 

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

 

 

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