Happy May Day from our Philly Metro Branch of WSA (Workers Solidarity Alliance, Anarcho-Syndicalist ). It’s been a long and hard pandemic, and our thoughts continue to be with you and yours experiencing the impact of this virus on all of our personal and work lives. While we know that medical workers, as well as retail and other service workers, were hardest hit by this pandemic, we also want to especially recognize all of the Black Lives Matter organizers and activists, initiating another historic chapter of the civil rights movement. The Black community was, and still is, dealing with three pandemics: being hit more than most communities by the virus, ongoing police violence, and the violent structures of racism. It is imperative we recognize the layers of danger heaped on our Black comrades and actively educate ourselves and offer support. As the local economy begins to open up and as new labor struggles take shape, we want to renew our activist relationships and begin new ones, as we anticipate working together again. We especially want to support all the Amazon workers who are trying to unionize. During a pandemic where going out into any public space was a danger, Amazon workers strained to meet the growing reliance on online shopping, exacerbating already infamous poor working conditions. While workers in Alabama lost this round of the fight to unionize, we hope to be involved in future union efforts. These workers were part of the lifeblood of the world when everything halted. We cannot allow their exploitation to continue unchecked. Recently much of our Branch’s energy has gone into WSA national work, but looking ahead to the next year we are hoping to move forward on our local projects, and to support community based organizing, the heart of so much positive, lasting, change. This May Day, we honor workers everywhere: Workers are not disposable!
Touting the Tiny Protest
By Danielle Kulp
There is no rock large enough to live under that would keep you from being aware of what’s going on around the world right now.Black Lives Matter, and this message is being heard globally-all 50 US states have had protests. If you haven’t been to one yourself, you’ve seen the footage of mass marches on the news: the UK, France, Germany-even Finland is in on it, as hundreds came to march at the capitol building in Helsinki. Phildaelphia had a thousands-strong march from the steps of the Art Museum to City Hall. These massive protests are magnetic, and the buzz of a throng of hundreds is electrifying. With every footstep you know you are participating in history.These giant cohesive crowds are many an activist’s dream. How many organizers have labored every second of every waking hour trying to connect and network to draw out crowds for a cause, only to have a handful of people show up and weakly chant? These tiny protests, especially in small towns, might seem anemic from the outside and feel disappointing to some when held up against their robust city march counterparts, but the small protest deserves a lot of credit.Upper Darby, a small township in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, was recently the site of a protest directly outside of its police station. It was put together by local organizers and at its largest there were thirty people at best. The police didn’t bother to poke their heads out the door, the National Guard stationed just around the corner at the shopping district did not move from their post. It was too tiny to garner more than some side eye from passing police patrols.Upper Darby and its surrounding townships have jarring class lines that butt right up against each other. You can be on a block with large sprawling single homes, and two blocks away families are living on the poverty line. If you’re one of the people in these large homes, say in Drexel Park, where even the street signs look expensive, you might try to avoid the so-called “bad neighborhoods.” You might plot your route to drive through mostly white and polished, pretty, sections of the town on your way to the Acme, and only talk to your white neighbors. You might see the news of these large protests and think to yourself, I’m glad I live here where people are good and respect their homes and don’t riot. Your neighbor agrees with you, and *their* neighbor agrees with you. “Black Lives Matter? What about Blue Lives?” your neighbor says as he mows his lawn.No one you know thinks differently from you and no one is questioning your opinion.This is where the small town protest deserves its praise. That small protest in front of the police station was not the flashy protest of the big cities but it challenged residents passing from their exclusive white neighborhood, and it was a message of solidarity to Black folks out and about running their errands. The neighborhood directly surrounding the police station is a racially mixed area that has definitely known some struggle. A South Asian woman peaked nervously around the corner to watch us. A Black family peered out of their window to read the signs before a little girl excitedly hopped out the door and quickly scrawled on a scrap of cardboard, joined by her sisters. Her small face was bright with the sense of community. Cars that drove by with people who held fists in the air and honked; had shocked smiles; and gave emphatic nods, supported the minute group of activists. The street became a cacophony of car horns that rang in the ears of stern white faces that did their best to ignore us.The small town protest is not as glamorous as the titanic marches, but we owe it to our Black neighbors to challenge the angry white guy who thinks that everyone in the community thinks like he does. We owe it to our Black friends to show them that they are worth it, even if we’re standing alone on the corner shouting to the passing cars that Black Lives Matter and police brutality will no longer be tolerated.
“The Irishman” in Review
By Greg Roberts
The forthcoming Netflix movie The Irishman (due November 1) is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, which details the deathbed confessions of Frank Sheeran. Sheeran was a World War II veteran from Darby, PA who later became a truck driver and contract killer. Sheeran was eventually employed by Jimmy Hoffa as a Teamsters official and worked for both Hoffa and Northeastern PA mob boss Russell Bufalino. Sheeran’s story is interesting for Philly WSA as the book details fascinating historical and geographical information about World War II, early 1900s Delaware County PA, and mid-1900s Philadelphia and U.S. labor history.
It is worth pointing out that the book I Heard You Paint Houses is steeped in controversy, for several reasons. In the book Sheeran claims intimate knowledge of mobster involvement in election rigging that allegedly helped JFK win the presidency. Sheeran also claims to have information on mob involvement in JFK’s assassination. Sheeran makes many controversial allegations regarding JFK, Bobby Kennedy, the Teamsters organization, organized crime, etc. One fairly uncontroversial topic raised by Sheeran is the mob working with the CIA in the “Bay of Pigs” failed attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro and gain back control over the mob’s commercial empire in Cuba, which was allegedly funded by the Teamsters’ pension fund.
The book is also controversial because it paints Jimmy Hoffa in a light that is most unfavorable to folks who are sympathetic to Hoffa as well as to conservative/business labor unionism. Sheeran details Hoffa’s ruthlessness in intimidating rank-and-file Teamsters struggling to bring democracy to and gain control over their own organization. Sheeran also details how Teamsters members and officials raided AFL-CIO locals. While the specific details of all these things are controversial, the general labor history around Teamsters/AFL-CIO locals (and other unions) raiding each other is not particularly so. Sheeran also details how mobsters and corrupt labor officials and politicians all worked together to enrich themselves and other powerful figures, against the interests of rank-and-file members and the general public.
As left libertarian labor activists we’re all too familiar with the damage raiding does to building working class solidarity, as well as the need for rank-and-filers to have direct control over their own labor organizations. We’re also familiar with how corrupt business unionism often mirrors the interests of employers, when both invest capital and muscle in the political machine to advance their own interests, against that of rank-and-file members and the general public. That’s why we fight for a new independent labor movement that’s self-managed democratically by the rank and file and builds militant working class solidarity.
Philadelphia-area activists and historians will likely find the information in I Heard You Paint Houses to be fascinating from the perspectives of critical geography, social science and labor history/activism. Sheeran’s accounts of growing up in 1920s Delaware County, and later living in Philadelphia are filled with many interesting anecdotes and geographical notes. Those of us with experience in anti-war activism may find it illuminating how Sheeran recounts his participation in war to helping him later kill for hire without remorse. For labor activists, the harsh realities of mob infiltration in labor organizations and top-down conservative/business unionism are not glossed-over in this book. Many of us are excited for the forthcoming star-studded film The Irishman, hoping that it portrays these topics in a factual and historically valuable manner.
Anarchist Geography at the AAG New Orleans
By Rebecca Croog and Sachio Ko-yin
This past spring we traveled from Philly to one of the largest Geographic gatherings in the world, the annual conference of the American Association of Geographers, which this year took place in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Over the course of five days, April 10th to 14th, speakers included both geographers as well as other scholars whose work touches on geographic themes. Some notable ones were Italian autonomist Marxist Silvia Federici, post-colonial feminist Ananya Roy, and Civil Rights sociologist Robert Bullard. Bullard’s story of collaborating with his wife in the 70s to use ‘kick ass sociology’ to challenge environmental racism was inspiring to hear, and stood out as a model for how social scientists and activist movements can collaborate for social change; something crucial for Critical Geography.
We attended a session hosted by anarchist geographer Simon Springer called “Ellisee Reclus and the Discovery of the Earth,” which consisted of a reading of a text by historical geographer John Clark, and responses. Two of the participants were co-founders of Radical Geography in the 1960s, Clark Akatiff and Kent Mathewson. The opportunity to talk to them about the early days of Radical Geography and to see how Reclus’ anarchism continues to inspire geographers today were high points of the conference.
On the last day of the conference was a memorial session in honor of the Black Geographer and New Orleans enthusiast, Clyde Woods, who passed away in 2011. As he was dying, he asked his fellow geographers to find the manuscript of his book, to finish and publish it. What followed was a treasure hunt to locate the original manuscript and collaborative undertaking of completing it in the spirit of his style and personality. This posthumous book, Development Drowned and Reborn, is an historical and regional geographic study of New Orleans, building up through the race and class crimes committed before and during Hurricane Katrina and the resulting programs of privatization and gentrification.
On the train trip back reflecting on the work of feminist and critical race geography, we also re-read Kropotkin’s “What Geography Ought to Be” with renewed inspiration for the work of anarchist geography and for bringing intersectional class analysis far more significantly into our future work
We also recalled sitting in the Sheraton Hotel lobby waiting for a thunderstorm to pass the day before, contemplating both the ivory tower structure and potential political power of social science scholarship. We look forward to more opportunities to break down the silo that has stored up the myriad tools of geography and equipping ourselves with them for the purposes of understanding global capitalism in the 21st century in order to radically transform it.
Why Attend a Protest?
The following is by our friend Delco Feminist. Please find her page on Facebook and support!
Protest, by itself, rarely causes change. Protest has a political role and significance in other cultures and history that it simply does not have in the US. It’s an action that is not available to all, and it isn’t more important or powerful than any number of other forms of political expression. Nonetheless, there are some good reasons to hold or attend a protest.
Meet your neighbors: Attending a protest puts you in touch with the people in your area who not only share your views, but are motivated by them into action. The act of being in the street holding a sign is not itself going to change anything. But those who are able to do so are often the same people who are willing and able to do much more. Connecting with, and building trust with your neighbors is the first step towards building a more significant resistance, and protest attendance is one way to start doing that. I’ve heard it described as the “same 20 people in your town who show up for everything.” In my experience, these are people very worth knowing.
Engage in organized community action: Once you’ve attended a protest, not only have you now met neighbors, but you’ve participated in an organized action with them, even if it’s just holding a sign. This lays the groundwork for further organized action.
Use your voice, express yourself:
Denying the validity of your feelings and perspectives, and your right to have them is one of the fundamental techniques of oppression, and it is very effective in our culture. One powerful method to overcome this is to hear yourself proclaiming and asserting these feelings and views, and doing so in the presence of other supportive people. I have found that when people know you’ve participated in an action, they’re less likely to argue and attack your feelings and perspectives. Action is very difficult for people to argue with. Attending a protest in person brings your body into the action, even if it’s just standing with a sign.
It is healing for you to assert your feelings and perspectives with other supportive people, and it is healing for others to see that they are supported. People who are targeted by repressive policies may be encouraged to know and see other people who are willing to support them, and that there are those who disagree with the actions the government is taking against them. It’s only a first step towards being an ally, but it is a step. Practice solidarity as you protest. Be willing to assist those with mobility issues, and plan events with consideration for them. Make members of marginalized communities feel welcome by refraining from actions like taking selfies with cops, even if the protest is not against police actions. Avoid statements that are ahistorical and non-inclusive such as “we are all descended from immigrants” or “this is not who we (Americans) are.” Practicing these actions will increase your ability to participate in solidarity and will make you stronger as a person and as an ally. Strong allies make a strong community, and strong communities resist oppression more effectively. Solidarity is not just necessary, it is healing.
Learn the limits of your privilege:
Many Americans confuse privilege with power. Privilege is granted to you by the kyriarchy and allows you to dominate or exploit others of lower status. A dependence on privilege instead of power keeps people in their place within the hierarchy. Should you try to take these liberties in a way that challenges the social order, the privilege is immediately revoked. Many people have been awakened to the realities of their social status and its limits by engaging in protest and witnessing protest. For example a white woman who attends a majority black protest against police brutality and sees the difference in her treatment versus that of black protestors. When you become aware of these limits, you become a more effective ally, and strong allies make strong communities. Interacting with people at a protest can sometimes take you into situations outside of your norm. By learning to be accountable for actions that empower oppression, such as misogyny or racism, you become a more effective agent against repression and fascism. By learning to support leadership by people who aren’t usually your leaders in everyday life, you challenge authoritarianism.
Flex your power, gain courage:
Political domination exploits any complicity of those who are dominated. No society can be dominated without some degree of cooperation from within. Authoritarian leaders will use people’s silence as evidence of complicity, and it enables them to intimidate others. It gives authoritarians the appearance of more power. If you have a degree of free and protected speech, flex that muscle. Authoritarian policies are often much less popular and supported than their leaders like to portray. And the effort and political capital spent to manage your speech or protest draws on a finite reserve. Protest gives courage, and it encourages. If it didn’t work, authoritarians wouldn’t spend so much time combating it both rhetorically and with force. Never cede power to authoritarians. Make them fight as hard as possible for everything they want. The rights we don’t exercise in Trump’s US will quietly go away. Don’t let that happen.
On Anarchism in the Postwar World
By Martin Traphagen
As the American ruling class tries to reconstitute the proverbial Golden Age of capitalism from the wreckage of the postwar order, our country, and indeed the world is convulsing. Damascus, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in human history dies under the blows of mechanized warfare. The small but significant steps taken in the European Union towards parity between worker and capital is being undone by neoliberal technocrats and bankers, hell-bent on destroying any remaining channels of democratic engagement outside the grasp of private power. The corporate media, beholden to their advertisers for revenue and their government contacts for access, ensure that even educated citizens internalize the assumptions of state capitalism and American “exceptionalism”, and our educational system fails to instill the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate this ideological minefield and form a realistic picture of the world. Workers in Southeast Asia, the epicenter of the supply chains sustaining multinational capital, are subjugated to varying forms of authoritarianism for the convenience of the affluent Western consumer and his domestic overlords. Nuclear proliferation and climate change threaten our species’ very survival, and a cartoonish, unabashed plutocrat occupies the most powerful office in the world – before him an arsenal of weaponry (military, diplomatic, ideological) unseen ever before in history. If liberty is indeed the soul’s right to breathe, we are slowly but surely asphyxiating.
We anarchists and revolutionary socialists, all of us who want to challenge the prevailing social structure at its very core, have urgent work to do. It is no wonder the citizenry is in disarray. We are the most heavily propagandized and monitored people in history and the forces of nationalist dogmatism and indoctrination are so strong that the individual, in a highly atomized society with a growing gap between the extreme rich and poor, hardly has a chance. This is partly why we see such a widespread adherence to all kinds of ridiculous conspiracy theories; it is an attempt to explain institutional realities that seem ominous and esoteric, and a reflection of just how hopeless many people really are. It is up to us and those like us to lift the veil and dispel the mystery, and to remind each other that through solidarity and education we have the power to change our lives and the lives of working people everywhere.
The only way to challenge property relations and wage slavery in an internationalist paradigm is to first dissolve the artificial barriers of hostility that keep us afraid and resentful at home, and remember that as Bertrand Russell said, “..the world is a unity, and the man who pretends to live independently is a conscious or unconscious parasite.” In other words, unless U.S. workers act in solidarity with our comrades in the Global South, who toil under conditions infinitely worse than any American worker, we are simply doing exactly what the oligarchs and owners want us to do. When we believe the “free-market” fantasy that Chinese and Mexican workers are to blame for the deindustrialization of the American economy we play into a narrative that serves to further disenfranchise us all, and fuel the forces of xenophobic nativism already engulfing the working class.
The necessary illusions that come along with the American brand of imperial doublethink are getting harder for the people to swallow. American state capitalism has failed to live up to its postwar promise and provide meaningful opportunity and security for the great mass of people, and the conventional devices of pacification and control are no longer as effective. Formerly the bourgeoisie with its modest prosperity could be counted on as a bulwark against the rumblings of discontent latent in the masses ( the ‘great beast’ as Alexander Hamilton referred to us,) however today even doctors and professors are now facing much of the same uncertainty previously confined to the working poor. We are pitted against each other along racial and ethnic lines, while the three richest people in our country (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett) own as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the nation. We are indeed ‘only a pawn in their game’, as the great American poet Bob Dylan said. The symptoms of capitalisms failure as a mode of social organization are everywhere.
Yet it is unthinkable for most people that society could be organized along fundamentally different lines. They attribute their meager material circumstances and financial struggles to their own shortcomings or lack of initiative. The residual self-hatred oozing from the corpse of the American dream. I imagine this deeply ingrained servility comes about as a result of effective propaganda and the assumptions about property rights and relations innate in the American mythology. Most working class citizens feel blessed to have a day or two of repose and have grown to be content with mere subsistence. The notion that renting oneself to another person is an affront to human dignity, once widely held and understood as truism in this country, has been bludgeoned out of the workingman’s consciousness in the last hundred years of American history. A strong radical labor movement, vital to the education and empowerment of the citizenry, has been supplanted by the ‘business unionism’ of the contemporary AFL-CIO, whose sole aim is to match the business community’s monopoly of capital with their own monopoly of labor, effectively collaborating with class enemies who are intent on maintenance of the new serfdom. When looked at in an international context,
it becomes apparent just how divorced from reality our political discourse really is. The most radical proposals in the admissible spectrum of debate come from those who simply advocate America joining the rest of the industrialized world in providing a decent social safety net and basic healthcare, in accord with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other cornerstones of international humanitarian law.
The ideals of philosophical liberalism and the protection of the individual from the tyranny of the state have been destroyed by the monolith of industrial capitalism. Now completely unaccountable private power, growing unchecked in its ability to shape the experiences and choices of the citizen, is endowed with the same constitutional rights and protections of human beings. Early twentieth century court decisions started this process, culminated now in ‘free trade’ agreements and other perversions that furnish these totalitarian entities with the right to exploit and rob on a global scale. It is understandable how powerless the individual can feel, and it is reflected indirectly in the attitudes of those on the radical left as well. The pervasive disillusionment and disgust we see all throughout our nation is an opportunity to educate our fellow man on the true, comprehensible institutional sources of power, and dispel the mystery and bewilderment that all too often lead to compliance and passivity. Nurturing our bonds of revolutionary fraternity and affirmation is the only antidote to this lethargy and acquiescence, which means having the patience and understanding to listen deeply and dialogue with those who have been led astray and into all forms of hysteria, and build true understanding in the places where this delirium thrives. We must heed the words of Walt Whitman, who I feel compelled to quote at length, reflecting on American indolence after the secession war:
“I say we had best look our times and lands searchingly in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease. Never was there, perhaps, more hollowness at heart than at present, and here in the United States. Genuine belief seems to have left us. The underlying principles of the states are not honestly believ’d in, (for all this hectic glow, and these melo-dramatic screamings,) nor is humanity itself believ’d in. What penetrating eye does not everywhere see through the mask? The spectacle is appalling. We live in an atmosphere of hypocrisy throughout. The men believe not in the women, nor the women the men. A scornful superciliousness rules in literature. The aim of all the litterateurs is to find something to make fun of. A lot of churches, sects, &c., the most dismal phantasms I know, usurp the name of religion. Conversation is a mass of badinage. From deceit in the spirit, the mother of all false deeds, the offspring is already incalculable…….The depravity of the business classes of our country is not less than has been supposed, but infinitely greater. The official services of America, national, state, and municipal in all their branches and departments, except the judiciary are saturated in corruption, bribery, falsehood, mal-administration; and the judiciary is tainted. The great cities reek with respectable as much as non-respectable robbery and scoundrelism. In fashionable life, flippancy, tepid amours, weak infidelism, small aims, or no aims at all, only to kill time. In business (this all-devouring modern word, business,) the one sole object is, by any means, pecuniary gain. The magicians’ serpent in the fable ate up all the other serpents; and money making is our magician’s serpent, remaining to-day the sole master of the field.”
Martin Droll, Theorist and Revolutionary
By Sachio Ko-yin
This article was written in 2015, as part of Praxis Autonomist Research in Philadelphia, re-posted today from the archives in honor of Martin’s Birthday. He will always be remembered.
As I look over our past correspondence, memories of conversations come up. Of Philadelphia radicals, and radicals around the world he theorized with, talks with Marty will be missed.
Martin Droll, (1989 -2014) a young friend and fellow theorist, passed away tragically last year. His whole adult life, he was an anti-capitalist organizer and a working class intellectual.
Some years before I met him, he had left his hometown of Rural Ohio to find work in Philadelphia. I worked with him through several anti racist projects, but it wasn’t till an Occupy working group that we started to talk radical theory. We discovered a mutual interest in the Situationist International, and spent some nights at Dilworth Plaza thinking about autonomist marxism and anarchism.
After Occupy, he was involved in several intellectual projects in the city, and was in and around the early conversations of Praxis. He identified as a Situationist, and we had a vague plan of starting a Society of the Spectacle reading group. But after talking with Lucid Strike about the Praxis formation, the project felt like continuations of earlier ideas. Strike’s early Urban maps inspired us, and he loved the idea of an anti-capitalist research group, and critical geography. I think he saw Praxis as potentially another Situationist International. Or at least that’s what he would bring to the project. He was full of ideas, planned to do original investigation, write about urban class analysis, and theorize the way to build working class resistance in the global North.
I have to say up front, I had major political differences with him, but there were few theorists I liked as much as Marty. In the last year of his life, our disagreement was a recurring topic, but he was always disarmingly friendly, transparent and intelligent.
His ideology was complex, and syncretic. It could be difficult to grasp at times. Already as a high school student he was a member of the Young Communist League, and wrote articles for the Daily Worker. On arriving in Philadelphia, he seemed to transition from the Communist Party into anarchism and libertarian marxism. But he never quite left Leninism, and in his last years he was reunited with the Communist Party.
In regards to his apparent contradictions, its helpful to remember he took a position of historical relativism. Those of us who joined him in autonomist discussions, were puzzled as his interest grew in North Korean Juche ideology, and he even became National Secretary of the North Korean Friendship Association. I couldn’t grasp how he could be both an autonomist marxist, an anarchist, and also be part of the KFA, but in Marty’s view, historical necessity works differently in different parts of the globe.
While his historical relativism was something I couldn’t resonate with, his ideas for North American social revolution were very interesting, at times outright unique.
It wasn’t long after Occupy that he published an article which got my attention, as something I hadn’t really seen before. It was about his vision of starting a Philadelphia Communist Christian Church. It would be community based, and respectful of the individual civil freedoms, translating communist values into a language understandable by everyday people, such as family stability and local power.
He wrote, “The kind of Communism that would succeed in America would have to favor individual initiative, promote personal responsibility, elaborate spirituality in a liberating way and foster family values and entrepreneurship. It could not narrowly oppose all wage-labor or abstractly critique all aspects of Bourgeois society; radical critiques are necessary components of a practical political program but ultra-leftism is alienating and isolating.”
Its not that I particularly agreed with all of it, but it struck me as unique, to think about building a New Testament church of communism! I’m not sure I’d heard of such a thing before. His idea seemed to be that the process of building true community participation, and a stable infrastructure, is part of building a revolutionary movement.
“We must remember to meet the people where they are, not where we wish they were, so we can unite with and encourage them to come with us to the future. There is no other path to victory.”
As always, his enthusiasm was infectious, “I’m getting a revolutionary church of Jesus’ Communism started with my sisters, Kaylajo O’Lone Hahn and Natasha Danielle, with the blessing and love and support of the many good brothers and sisters around the city. The infrastructure is being erected so we can get ourselves elected, family!”
He added, “In the first analysis, there are quantitative steps that lead to qualitative changes. In the final analysis, promoting order and stability is not inherently reactionary so long as this progress is brooked by demonstrably revolutionary thinking. As we prove the superiority of our social vision in a way that is both palpable and realizable by the senses of the people, the existing state machinery will be powerless to expel us (as it will) and resume control. A centralized authority can be sabotaged, a single leader can be killed, but ideas are impervious to bans, bullets or jail sentences.”
This paragraph represents all I most loved in Marty’s thinking. He was thinking of a long term plan for building infrastructure for the social revolution, envisioning the involvement of all people.
I wish so much he were here with us at Praxis now, that he could have done the radical social research he wanted to do, with all the color of his personality. His research into urban class analysis would have been interesting to say the least, and I have no doubt at all, it would have always been full of his personality.
‘The process is a slow one’ he used to say, ‘but we have to speak the truth one-to-one. After all, ain’t it everybody’s sun to share? Just wait ’til in the morning when we rise!’
On the 100th Anniversary of the Eddystone Explosion…
Today, Philadelphia Metro WSA mourns the 139 workers, mostly women and girls, killed in the Eddystone Explosion in Delaware County, PA in 1917 100 years ago. The explosion, which likely resulted from unsafe conditions in the Eddystone Ammunition Corporation’s artillery shell plant, was initially blamed on German saboteurs and later on Russians. At the time the workers were working on a rush order to make shells to be used by the Russian white army who were fighting the red army. The blaming of the sabotage on the USSR had a dual effect. It aided US Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s desire to attack labor activists, anarchists and socialists, which he did during the infamous “Palmer Raids”.
In addition, blaming the Russians suited the plant owners and management because they didn’t want unsafe conditions in the plant to be exposed to the public. A guard employed in the plant mentioned that one of their machines, which shook explosive into shrapnel shells, had been malfunctioning for weeks, showering sparks on the workers and explosives. (1) In the aftermath of the disaster, the plant owners and politicians used patriotism to convince hundreds more women and girls to work at the factory. In addition the plant owners discriminated against workers of German origin, barring them from employment at the plant.
Philadelphia Metro WSA wants to ensure important Philadelphia-area workers’ and labor history such as this doesn’t get forgotten or swept under the rug. We want to make sure the ill intentions of the politicians and employers involved are brought to light and exposed. And we mourn the hundreds of women and girls whose lives were lost in the midst of a U.S. war effort, fueled by patriotism with no regard for the lives and needs of the ordinary working people involved.
(1) Nash, Jay Robert (1976). Darkest Hours. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 166–167. ISBN 9781590775264.
IN THE AGE OF TRUMP
It’s often the case I see the news on the workplace television. And January 20, as I walked by with boxes, I could stop for a break and watch.
Seeing the inauguration, strangely normalized by reporters into discussions of traditions and small talk, we find ourselves now officially in the Trump presidency. He enters, eyes filled with tears, overcome with the grandeur of the honor. The gaudiness of the ceremonies only adds to the eeriness.What we later learned was a low attendance of the festivities only adds to the surrealist situation: the empty feeling of helplessness and political fear.
The following day, in DC: touching base with various organizations, making connections, but still—there is so much more to say. It was clear the Women’s March was overwhelmingly larger than Trump’s inauguration and that cities across the country were outpourings of refusal against this reign of misogyny and racism.
The Women’s March itself was remarkable, and even from the radical viewpoint there was no less a feeling of triumphant joy at the mass attendance across the country and world. While someone said ‘This IS the Revolution!,’ I would see it as instead a reinvention of liberal feminism in the face of disaster, the most inclusive elements of bourgeois democracy trying to save itself at the edge of a political cliff.
For our part, seeking to build democratic structures of a self-managed society, we need to be in this upsurge. True enough, the tone was nostalgia for Obama and Clinton, but also, with the organizers’ efforts at being intersectional, credit and disappointment are fair all around. The most powerful moment was the Mothers Of The Movement, mothers of Trayvon Marten, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, and Dantre Hamilton, in a call and response of their children’s names, as well as the name of Sandra Bland. But that moment seemed almost squeezed in at the end, as the masses of pink hats were fidgeting to march. The march felt overwhelmingly white and middle class, but there is gratitude that, the day after Trump’s oath of office, the outpouring of protest inspired awe. It gave much needed hope. As well as a promissory note of the work ahead.
On the way home, a fellow anarchist texted me why he didn’t bother going, the Women’s March being mostly a ‘liberal thing.’ I disagree strongly. While middle class liberalism may be surging up to fight, as organizers we need to be here in *every* upsurge of movements, doing our work. The Women’s March was incredibly packed; we could barely walk. It was for long parts more of a shuffle in a sardine can. While the ethos of the march was not radical, within the march itself there were many different organizations, from the New Sanctuary Movement, BLM, LGBT rights groups, Muslim civil rights groups, and myriad community-based organizations.
This is what it means to be an organizer: to be among movement upsurges, to connect our movements, build relationships, and strengthen communications and coordination. I left DC with a feeling of our work head, preparing for what is coming our way, fast.
How to Build a Movement? One Step at Time, Literally