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PORTSIDE  March 2012, Week 2

PORTSIDE March 2012, Week 2

Subject:

A Look Back in History As We Await The Next Occupy Movement

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A Look Back in History As We Await The Next Occupy Movement

by Joanne Boyer

Wisdom Voices
February 27, 2012

http://wisdomvoices.com/a-look-back-in-history-as-we-await-the-next-occupy-movement/

How different are the times we live in from those of past
generations? Are the challenges we face today of the 99
percent vs. the 1 percent or the overtaking of government
rule by millionaires and billionaires that much different
than other times in our nation's history?

I know for me it seems that we are at a precipice unlike any
I remember. And yet for the past year or so I find myself
being drawn back to a time nearly 100 years ago that has an
eerily similar look and feel to what we are experiencing
today. I know for me, this was one of my least favorite
periods in American history. Who wanted to study Robber
Barons and abuse of the working class when we were living
through the hey day of a vibrant middle class with union
wages and a public education system geared to support and
educate all of us? Surely, this was ancient history and we
would never be doomed to repeat the mistakes of that time.

Perhaps it was the Wisconsin demonstrations that started
after the Koch brothers-funded election of Scott Walker and
his radical anti-everything legislation pushed hundreds of
thousands to the streets. Was it just me, or did you not
hear the spirit of Robert M. (Fighting Bob) LaFollette in
the voices and speeches of those fighting for worker rights
and human rights in Wisconsin? Few spoke more passionately
for moving corporate control out of politics than the
Progressive Movement's Fighting Bob.

Wisconsin struck the first chord in a people's movement that
ultimately led to Occupy Wall Street last fall. We now
await spring of 2012 and what many of us hope will be
revitalized demonstrations that will hearken back to the man
I'd like to call the original occupier - Eugene V. Debs. We
are delighted to feature him as our March Progressive
Profile. http://wisdomvoices.com/the-original-occupier/

Debs and LaFollette were both stalwarts of the American
Progressive Movement and are both featured in my book Wisdom
of Progressive Voices. The courage demonstrated in the fight
against the corporate control of their time is being
resurrected by a new generation struggling to keep our
democracy from turning into an oligarchy.

In his book Democracy's Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, The Great
War, and The Right To Dissent, Ernest Freeberg describes the
time of Debs' incarceration for speaking out against the
U.S. involvement in World War I as that of a conservative
reaction in which people were governed more out of fear than
out of hope. Debs was 62 when he was sentenced to 10 years
in a federal prison for violating the Espionage and Sedition
Acts of 1917-18; laws passed by Congress to promote the war
by banning anti-war speeches. As Debs awaited his appeal to
the Supreme Court, Freeberg notes:

"...Debs did not expect that his appeal would
provide either liberty or justice. The real fight
for free speech he believed would not be won in
lawyers' briefs, but on street corners, public
squares, and factory floors. This was ultimately a
battle, not for individual liberties as defined by
the courts, but for control of the entire democratic
process, at the ballot box and in the workplace."

Our March profile provides a brief look at the man known as
the champion of the working class for his work in
organizing, for fighting for social justice and for serving
jail time because he dared to speak out against a war he
said was being fought for profit and not to save democracy.
I greatly enjoyed my trip to the public library to check out
books and read more on this great American hero. I urge
everyone to rediscover the joys of the public library -
whether via kindle or checking out a book - before the
public library faces the challenge of privatization.

A look back can help us see where we are today. It also
offers hope that the challenges we face will eventually lead
to a brighter future. Can anyone doubt Debs' spirit and
fervor lives in the Occupy Movement of today? As he told the
judge before sentencing for his violation of the Sedition
Act of 1918:

"I can see the dawn of the better day for humanity.
The people are awakening. In due time they will and
must come to their own."

====

[Joanne Boyer is founder and editor of Wisdom Voices Press
and blogs at www.WisdomVoices.com. Her first book is Wisdom
of Progressive Voices. She grew up in a middle class family
who provided her with a mixture of public and private
education. Joanne graduated from the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee (BA Mass Communication) and was a
trailblazer in the daily newspaper industry of the mid 1970s
as she became the first woman sports writer for several
daily newspapers. She advocates for peace and social and
environmental justice. Contact Joanne at
[log in to unmask] ]

About Wisdom Voices

The staff of Wisdom Voices has the benefit of several
decades of living, working and participating in the American
democratic experiment. We have also been a part of the ever
changing spiritual and environmental landscape of the late
20th and early 21st centuries. We participated in the first
Earth Day. And we rejoiced and embraced the "opened
windows" that brought new ideas to religious conversations.

We have lived through the horror of assassinations in the
1960s, needless wars from Vietnam to Iraq. We have been
eye-witnesses to the decimation of the middle class. And we
have seen the bright light of environmental, religious, and
social progressivism dimmed.

At the same time, we have observed incredible instances of
courage, truth and justice. These sentiments give us hope
for the future, against all the odds. And it is these
examples which make up Wisdom Voices that we wish to share
with you.

=====

The Original Occupier?

by Joanne Boyer

Wisdom Voices
February 27, 2012

http://wisdomvoices.com/the-original-occupier/

"I can see them (the working class) dwarfed,
diseased, stunted, their little lives broken and
their hopes blasted because in the high noon of our
20th century civilization, money is still so much
more important than human life."

-Eugene V. Debs

The spring of 2012 offers the hope of a new Occupy Movement
ready to sweep the country. Occupy Wall Street captivated
the nation last fall and was the main instrument for turning
our national political conversation to the real crisis at
hand: The 99 percent vs. the 1 percent. Our country stands
on the brink of losing its democratic foundation. Oligarchy
(defined as a form of government in which the ruling power
belongs to a few persons) seems possible. Consider the
Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, the crack down on
the Occupy Movement by the local, state and federal
government, and voter suppression laws and electronic voting
machine fraud that threaten the ability of "We the People"
to cast our votes and have them counted properly.

As we await the start of what promises to be a new people's
movement to reclaim our country, we offer you a brief look
at the life and words of one of our country's original
"occupiers."

Eugene Victor Debs, born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1855,
is a study in citizen heroism, and his life demonstrates the
important role the average person plays in mobilizing a
movement. His life paralleled another tumultuous time in our
history, when the robber barons of the 19th century
industrial revolution created a society of have and have-
nots. Debs' first job at age 14 (no child labor laws yet to
be enacted) was that of railroad worker. He quickly learned
the worker's plight first hand, which led him to become a
railroad union organizer. He led a successful strike against
the Great Northern Railroad in 1894. Two months later, he
was jailed for his role in a strike against the Chicago
Pullman Palace Car Company. In prison he honed his
understanding that labor issues were really the issues of
society and it is where he began to embrace socialism.

"I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for
one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass
a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions
of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure
barely enough for a wretched existence," Debs told a federal
court before sentencing after being convicted for violating
the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-18, laws passed by
Congress to promote World War I by banning anti-war speech.

Less than 100 years ago, it was possible for the federal
government to arrest, put on trial and incarcerate
individuals who spoke out against President Woodrow Wilson
and the country's entry into the Great War. Debs, who had
long vocalized his support of the working class, took his
anti-war message to the people in Canton, Ohio, in June 1918
knowing full well he could be arrested. It was against this
backdrop when the people seemed to be governed more by fear
than hope that Debs told a picnic gathering on a hot
summer's afternoon:

"They have always taught you that it is your
patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves
slaughtered at command...And here let me state a
fact - and it cannot be repeated too often: the
working class who fight the battles, the working
class who make the sacrifices, the working class who
shed the blood, the working class who furnish the
corpses, the working class have never yet had a
voice in declaring war."

Journalists who covered that Canton speech were instrumental
in leading the charge for Debs' arrest and prosecution for
violation of federal law. At his trail, Debs charged the
government was persecuting him not for undermining the
draft, but because he dared to challenge the plutocrats who
ran the country and were reaping large profits from the war.
Debs contended the country was not fighting a noble war to
save democracy but rather, the country had joined European
nations in a greedy struggle over profits.

In his trial, Debs described the Espionage Act as "a
despotic enactment in flagrant conflict with the democratic
principles and with the spirit of free institutions" and
later said he believed the law to be unjust but that it was
only one small expression of a much greater injustice which
lay at the foundation of the entire social system. He told
the judge that 5 percent of Americans owned two thirds of
the nation's wealth, while nearly 65 percent who made up the
working class owned only 5 percent.

"I can see them (the working class) dwarfed,
diseased, stunted, their little lives broken and
their hopes blasted because in the high noon of our
20th century civilization, money is still so much
more important than human life."

Debs ran for president in 1920 while in a federal prison for
violating the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-18, which
prohibited speeches against U.S. involvement in World War I.

Debs was convicted in Ohio; he lost his appeal to the
Supreme Court; and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison,
serving time at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta. He ran
for president of the United States in 1920 on the Socialist
Party ticket while behind bars. He garnered over 900,000
votes, but finished well behind the eventual winner
Republican Warren G. Harding. Harding commuted Debs'
sentence on Christmas Day 1921.

Debs' health suffered greatly while in prison, yet he took
up his speech making where he left off before his arrest. He
continued to criticize Wilson and claimed the war had been
fought for profit, not democracy. "60,000 American boys had
died only to produce 30,000 new millionaires," he declared.

Debs' was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1924 on the
basis of arguing that the Great War was fought mainly in the
interest of capitalism. He died on October 20, 1926, at the
age of 70. The Eugene V. Debs Foundation in Terre Haute is
dedicated to "keeping alive the spirit of progressivism,
humanitarianism and social criticism epitomized by Debs." He
remains one of the greatest historical voices for the
working class and the 99 percent. From a speech nearly 100
years ago, he said:

"Political parties are responsive to the interests
of those who finance them. This is the infallible
test of their character and applied to the
Republican, Democratic and Progressive parties,
these parties stand forth as the several political
expressions of the several divisions of the
capitalist class. The funds of all these parties are
furnished by the capitalist class for the reason,
and only for the reason, that they represent the
interests of that class."

==========

___________________________________________

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