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

Black Lives Don’t Matter:  They Never Did

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During the time of the slave trade, it is estimated that some 13 million African natives were captured and sent by ship to the Americas to work plantations in both North and South America.  They were sent because they represented cheap labor.  Not free labor because slaves had to be fed, clothed, and bought.  Of these 13 million individuals, somewhere between 2-3 million men, women and children perished on the voyage over.  They died from malnutrition, disease and outright murder by hangings, drownings, and beatings.  Consider if you will the shrinkage rate.  In merchandising shrinkage of a product is the loss of a product through “unavoidable” circumstances.

A good merchandiser does everything they can to avoid shrinkage.  The loss of a product represents loss of profit for a company.  Such was not the case with the slave trade.  Every slave was regarded as property but with a difference.  They were regarded as “expendable.”

Black lives did not matter.”

A slaver or slave owner could “write” off the loss of a slave as simply a cost of doing business.  The market for slaves was never predicated on a 100 percent transfer of live merchandise.  If only 75 percent of the African natives made it over to the Americas, the cost of slaves would be based on that percentage.  The rest might today be called “collateral damage.”  They never could have been called an “unavoidable” expense since murder and starvation are hardly unavoidable.

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Much has been made of the fact that slaves were regarded as “property” by the plantation owners in the south.  Confederate apologists say that slaves were well cared.  Logically, any property would be regarded as valuable.  Thus, slaves were well fed, well clothed and well housed.  History again is a lie.   The lower the cost of maintaining a slave, the more profit for a slave owner.  Thus, little expense was allocated towards feeding, clothing, or improving the life of a slave.  In any business, the future success of the business, is related to the further development of the workers in that business.  Companies spend billions of dollars a year on Human Resource Development (HRD) activities designed to train, educate, and improve the knowledge, skills, and abilities of their workers.  This was not the case with slavery.  There were no HRD programs for slaves.

Slaves had to clothe, feed, and take care of their own medical problems.  If they died, they were expendable.  Slaves could be replaced by breeding more slaves or by raping slaves and replacing any that died.  Slaves were not educated, and laws prohibited the teaching of reading or writing to slaves.  Knowledge has always meant power and that was one thing that must be denied to slaves.  Some slaveholders would teach select slaves reading or writing skills because they needed someone to run errands for them, but this was the exception in the USA and not the rule.

1819, Missouri: Prohibited assembling or teaching slaves to read or write. 1829, Georgia: Prohibited teaching blacks to read, punished by fine and imprisonment. 1832, Alabama and Virginia: Prohibited whites from teaching blacks to read or write, punished by fines and floggings.  — Anti-literacy laws in the United States

“The United States is unique in that it is the only country known to have prohibited the education of slaves.”  — Wikipedia

“Black lives did not matter.”

Several versions including movies and stories have portrayed the life of a slave as one of happiness and joy.  This version of history shows slaves as well cared for, well treated, and generally satisfied with their station in life.  Happy to be working for their white masters, happy to be caring for the children of their white masters and happy to be singing and dancing for their white masters.   One wonders then why there were over 250 slave rebellions before slavery was abolished in 1865.  This figure does not count the number of slaves who tried to escape by running away.  The famous “underground railroad” is estimated to have helped as many as 70,000 individuals (though estimations vary from 40,000 to 100,000) escape from slavery in the years between 1800 and 1865. — Fugitive slave

See the article “Did African-American Slaves Rebel?” by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The most famous slave rebellion took place in Virginia in 1831.  The rebellion was led by Nat Turner.  After a considerable number of white people were killed the revolt was finally suppressed.  As an aftermath of the revolt, 56 slaves were officially executed but over 120 other slaves and free blacks were murdered in retaliation.  Valuable black property was not so valuable when it came to revenge.  To prove that black lives were not regarded as compensable property is the fact that after the rebellion at least seven slaveowners sent legislative petitions for compensation for the loss of their slaves. They were all rejected.

Black lives did not matter.”

Again, one wonders why the happy singing slaves would go to the risk and peril of staging a slave revolt knowing full well that the consequences would mean a terrible death.  The slaves executed were often tortured and put to death with as much pain and suffering as possible.  There was no effort made to provide a humane method of execution.

Black lives did not matter.”

In 1932, The United States Public Health Service (PHS) conducted the infamous “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the African American Male.”  This so-called study took place between 1932 and 1972.

“Investigators enrolled in the study a total of 600 impoverished, African American sharecroppers from Macon County, Alabama.  Of these men, 399 had latent syphilis, with a control group of 201 men who were not infected.   As an incentive for participation in the study, the men were promised free medical care, but were deceived by the PHS, who disguised placebos, ineffective methods, and diagnostic procedures as treatment.   The men who had syphilis were never informed of their diagnosis, despite the risk of infecting others, and the fact that the disease could lead to blindness, deafness, mental illness, heart disease, bone deterioration, collapse of the central nervous system, and death.”Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

“Black lives did not matter.”

The Vietnam war was in full swing from 1964 to 1973 in terms of major US troop involvement.  During this period, many of the men who served in front line combat units were enlisted from the draft rolls.

“By lowering the education standards of the draft, an estimated 40% of the 246,000 draftees of Project 100,000 were Black. Some activists in the US speculated that the uneven application of the draft was a method of Black genocide. Black people were starkly under-represented on draft boards in this era, with none on the draft boards of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, or Arkansas.”Military History of African Americans During the Vietnam War

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“African American troops were more likely to be assigned to combat units.  Twenty-three percent of combat troops in Vietnam were Black.  The combination of our selective service policies, our testing of both drafted and volunteers, the need for skilled enlisted men in many areas of the armed forces, all conspired to assign blacks in greater numbers to the combat units of the Army and Marine Corps.  Early in the war, when blacks made up about 11.0% of our Vietnam force, black casualties soared to over 20% of the total.”Vietnam War Statistics

“Black lives did not matter.”

A recent Harvard Study (2020) found that blacks were up to six times more likely to be killed by police during an encounter than whites.  They analyzed 5,494 police-related fatalities using data from Fatal Encounters a database of people killed in encounters with police.  There was a great deal of variation across the country but on average, blacks were three times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than whites.

The Harvard study did not show how many more times blacks are going to be encountered by police for routine matters.  A Stanford University study of nearly 100 million traffic stops from around the US has concluded that, on average, black drivers are 20% more likely to get pulled over than a white driver.  More likely to get pulled over and then more likely to get killed.  A black man or woman stopped for drunk driving is (on average) up to three times more likely than a white man or woman stopped for drunk driving to be killed during the encounter.

“Black lives still do not matter.”

A few weeks ago, up here in the North woods of Wisconsin in our rural Polk County we had a “Black Lives Matter” protest rally.  Mostly white rural people up here in our county.  About fifty or more people showed up carrying signs supporting the “Black Lives Matter” movement.  Karen and I made two signs and joined the rally.  Looking at the numbers of white people in the country supporting this movement, I can’t help but wonder if white people are finally “woking” up.  If they are “woke” how long will they stay “woke.”

Liberal whites are for many blacks more despicable than conservative racists.  Malcolm X noted in one of his talks that:

“The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political “football game” that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.”Malcom X Speech 1963.

A recent example of white hypocrisy concerns the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  A Center long heralded for their attacking racist groups like the Aryan Brotherhood and the KKK, they recently came under attack for racial discrimination within their own ranks.  The liberal champion at this organization was a lawyer named Morris Dees.  Famed for his standing up to the Klan and for the number of threats on his life, he resigned during the turmoil over the charges against him and the SPLC.  Some employees claim that the civil rights nonprofit group suffers from a “systemic culture of racism and sexism within its workplace.”

I have had many arguments with liberal friends over the issue of racism in the USA.  I generally find that they agree with me – up to a point.  We disagree on methods of dealing with racism often with large gaps in our strategies.  There is no way a liberal will ever agree to or countenance violence against oppression.  This is the reason that Martin Luther King was championed over Malcolm X.  Malcolm X did not believe in “turning the other cheek.”  Liberals believe that you can “Reason” with racists and help them to see the error of their ways.  In 1857 Frederic Douglas gave a speech now called “If There is No Struggle, there is No Progress.” (I will “reconstruct” this speech in my next blog)

After I argue with my liberal friends (often I defend some of the violence associated with protests) they will go home to their suburban white gated communities with their security walls and security guards who make routine patrols through their neighborhoods.  Driving through these communities, you will not be surprised to find few if any minorities living within the gated walls.  When Karen and I bought a home in Arizona we had to argue with the realtor because she insisted we buy a home in a gated community where we “would be safer.”  We refused and we have Latino and Black neighbors on our street.  We have children running up and down the street and we have no walls to block our view of reality.

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Before the “Black Lives Matter” Rally began in Centuria, a small town in Polk County, an “All Lives Matter” group assembled across from us.  Sporting MAGA hats, Trump Signs and signs promoting “All Lives Matter” they watched us from across the street.  Later during the rally, they “buzzed” us with a pickup truck to harass us.  The police stationed themselves to watch for any potential violence and to keep the two groups apart.  I decided to walk down and talk to some of the guys standing near a pickup truck and ask them a few questions.

I approached two men.  One guy had a long beard, several tattoos and was probably in his sixties.  The other man was tall, muscular, a muscle t-shirt, several tattoos and was probably in his forties.  I told them that I was a member of the “Black Lives Matter” rally.  I then asked them if they supported us (I kept a straight face).  I had my Air Force veterans’ hat on.  They seemed somewhat surprised at my question and replied that “They believed all lives mattered.” They then wanted to know why we singled out only the lives of black people.  I noted the large number of blacks recently killed by police with little or no motivation.  They replied with some statistics concerning the large number of white people who are often killed by police during encounters.

I asked if either of them was a veteran.  The older guy said he was.  He said that he had served in the Army and that he was a Vietnam Veteran.  I asked if he had ever served with any black soldiers and if he thought they covered his ass when needed.  He told me that he had a great deal of respect for the black soldiers he served with.  We talked some military stuff for a few minutes and about the violence associated with some of the recent protest rallies.  I finally decided to ask one last question that I had been thinking about.  I asked “Why did you wait to protest ‘All Lives Matter’ until the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests started?”  I did not get an answer.

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I think the “All Lives Matter” slogan is a disingenuous white method of promoting racism.  It is easier to discount the effort to make black lives important by aggregating all lives into one anonymous amorphous coagulation of people who die.  Then we can ignore the black people who are subjected daily to racism and discrimination in American society.  What they are really saying is that:

Black Lives Still Don’t Matter!

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“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” —Nelson Mandela

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