The Good Revolution


Did you ever read in your school textbooks that there were times during our Revolution when there were more Americans enrolled in the British forces than under George Washington?

In 1962, for KPFA radio, Hal Draper revealed the facts behind the story of our nation’s founding.

Read the speech: Hal Draper: A Fourth Of July Oration (1962)

P.S.: “There has been only one revolution in the history of the world which took place after a registration of revolutionary sentiment by vote.” It wasn’t in 1776. It was in November of 1917.

Happy Independence Day!

Chicago May Day 2015


May Day Celebration – Noon to 1: 30 PM Haymarket Memorial, Corner of DesPlaines & Randolph

May Day 2015 March, Rally, and Noise Demonstration – 2:30 PM Union Park

Illinois Labor History Society Annual Membership Meeting – 5 to 7 PM Chicago Federation of Musicians, 656 Randolph Street, Haymarket Square

The Joe Hill Roadshow – 9 PM Hideout, 1354 West Wabansia Avenue, Chicago

The Spirit of Resistance

Each year as Columbus Day is observed in the United States, I struggle with how to approach the commemoration. Though I consider myself a dissident and a person who cares about justice, even I am sometimes put off by comments about the holiday which offer little but iconoclasm, hostility and snark.

It seems to me that Columbus Day is an opportunity to do more than that. First, we can take at least a moment to affirm the truth about Christopher Columbus. More exploiter than explorer, more gore monger than governor, his main achievement was to institute an orgy of theft and butchery which would continue through four centuries of genocide. This needs to be acknowledged and proclaimed as fact, simply and directly.

Beyond that, we can honor the spirit of resistance which is still alive today in groups such as Idle No More, and we can support them and join them in their efforts.

We can also spend some time learning about the peoples who were indigenous to North America, and take time to remember and honor those who fought for their own freedom and dignity.

Today, I am reading The Autobiography of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, or Black Hawk written by the great warrior who perhaps best exemplifies the spirit of Native resistance in the region where I live.

I won’t wait for the government to change the name of the holiday to “Indigenous Peoples Day.” I certainly won’t refer to the holiday as “Black Hawk Day” since, sadly, most of my friends and neighbors would only think it has something to do with the ice hockey team.

But today I will celebrate Black Hawk – and Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull – and others who had the courage to fight back. I will mourn those who died on the Trail of Tears, at Wounded Knee, and elsewhere at the hands of my European forebears. I will pray for the will and the way to join the resistance against imperialism, occupation and genocide wherever it exists in our world today.

Such is a fine and fitting commemoration.

Marx and America

Here are some words of wisdom from James Patrick Cannon’s essay, written for July 4th, 1951. He says that if you go to Marx, you find America.

It is wrong to confuse internationalism with anti-Americanism; to relinquish the revolutionary traditions of our country to the reactionaries; to let the modern workers’ revolutionary movement, the legitimate heir of the men of 1776, appear as something foreign to our country.

Read it at the Northern Worker: James Cannon on the 4th of July.

Happy Independence Day!

The First Decoration Day

Here’s an account of one of the earliest known commemorations of Memorial Day, from professor David Blight’s book The Civil War in American Memory. I may try to learn “Rally ‘Round The Flag” on banjo this weekend in tribute.

African Americans founded Decoration Day at the graveyard of 257 Union soldiers labeled “Martyrs of the Race Course,” May 1, 1865, Charleston, South Carolina.

The “First Decoration Day,” as this event came to be recognized in some circles in the North, involved an estimated ten thousand people, most of them black former slaves. During April, twenty-eight black men from one of the local churches built a suitable enclosure for the burial ground at the Race Course. In some ten days, they constructed a fence ten feet high, enclosing the burial ground, and landscaped the graves into neat rows. The wooden fence was whitewashed and an archway was built over the gate to the enclosure. On the arch, painted in black letters, the workmen inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

At nine o’clock in the morning on May 1, the procession to this special cemetery began as three thousand black schoolchildren (newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools) marched around the Race Course, each with an armload of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by three hundred black women representing the Patriotic Association, a group organized to distribute clothing and other goods among the freedpeople. The women carried baskets of flowers, wreaths, and crosses to the burial ground. The Mutual Aid Society, a benevolent association of black men, next marched in cadence around the track and into the cemetery, followed by large crowds of white and black citizens.

All dropped their spring blossoms on the graves in a scene recorded by a newspaper correspondent: “when all had left, the holy mounds — the tops, the sides, and the spaces between them — were one mass of flowers, not a speck of earth could be seen; and as the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them, outside and beyond … there were few eyes among those who knew the meaning of the ceremony that were not dim with tears of joy.” While the adults marched around the graves, the children were gathered in a nearby grove, where they sang “America,” “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The official dedication ceremony was conducted by the ministers of all the black churches in Charleston. With prayer, the reading of biblical passages, and the singing of spirituals, black Charlestonians gave birth to an American tradition. In so doing, they declared the meaning of the war in the most public way possible — by their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of roses, lilacs, and marching feet on the old planters’ Race Course.

After the dedication, the crowds gathered at the Race Course grandstand to hear some thirty speeches by Union officers, local black ministers, and abolitionist missionaries. Picnics ensued around the grounds, and in the afternoon, a full brigade of Union infantry, including Colored Troops, marched in double column around the martyrs’ graves and held a drill on the infield of the Race Course. The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration.

Happy Holidays!

This was originally posted in December of 2010. I suppose I’m being pushy in reposting it every year, but here it is.

Our subject today is “The War On Christmas” and, once again, I feel compelled to note that people on the extreme edges of such discussion have more in common with each other than they do with the vast majority of us who get caught in their crossfire.

I have been wishing people “Merry Christmas” for nearly five decades. I have been wishing people “Happy Holidays” for roughly the same length of time.

When I say “Happy Holidays” I don’t say it to be polite, nor to be inclusive, nor to be accepting of anyone’s agenda, beliefs or point of view. It is a straightforward and heartfelt expression of goodwill, and that is all. I might say it to a fellow Christian, and if it is offensive to him then I shall take comfort in the fact that there is at least someone in the world who has more time for trivia and who is less well-adjusted than I.

When I say “Merry Christmas” I don’t say it to make a political statement. Again, it is a straightforward expression of goodwill, and, again, if people should take offense then I wish them well, and am grateful that I an unencumbered of such thin skin.

The two greetings are not interchangeable, in that I wouldn’t say “Merry Christmas” on Thanksgiving Day or on New Years Day. I also wouldn’t be likely to say “Merry Christmas” to an individual who I know doesn’t celebrate it, any more than I would be likely to say “Happy Hanukkah” to someone who doesn’t celebrate it. This is not a matter of political correctness, or a matter of politics at all. It is a matter of simple courtesy, and also of using language precisely to express a coherent and appropriate thought.

Two of the worst things about what passes for political discussion in our society today, in my humble opinion, are the dogged determination to corrupt our language and the equally dogged determination to focus our attention on insignificant bullshit when there are serious problems that ought to be rationally discussed. I can, perhaps, do precious little to nudge the debate toward things of true importance, but I certainly can (and most stubbornly shall) own my own words. They belong to me. They express my own thoughts and feelings. Speech police on all sides are unwelcome.

So, should you feel the need to correct my speech because it does not support your agenda, however noble you deem that agenda to be, I will reply in the only manner I can think of that seems appropriate.

“Bah! Humbug!”

P.S. If I should happen to say “Gesundheit” (i.e., “good health to you”) it’s not that I don’t also wish you “God Bless.”

Happy Holidays!

What Is America To Me?

From the Opinions and Editorials Page of the Los Angeles Times – Independence Day of 1991

We are created equal! No one of us is better than any of us! That’s the headline proclaimed in 1776 and inscribed across centuries in the truth of the ages. Those inspired words from the Declaration of Independence mock bigotry and anti-Semitism. Then why do I still hear race and color-haters spewing their poisons? Why do I still flinch at innuendoes of venom and inequality? Why do innocent children still grow up to be despised? Why do haters’ jokes still get big laughs when passed in whispers from scum to scum? You know the ones I mean – the “Some of my best friends are Jewish…” crowd.

As for the others, those cross-burning bigots to whom mental slavery is alive and well, I don’t envy their trials in the next world, where their thoughts and words and actions will be judged by a jury of One. Why do so many among us continue in words and deeds to ignore, insult and challenge the unforgettable words of Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence’s promise to every man, woman and child – the self-evident truth that all men are created equal?

That’s what the Fourth of July is all about. Not firecrackers. Not getting smashed on the patio sipping toasts to our forefathers. Not picnics and parades or freeways empty because America has the day off. Equality is what our Independence Day is about. Not the flag-wavers who wave it one day a year, but all who carry its message with them wherever they go, who believe in it, who live it enough to die for it – as so many have.

OK, I’m a saloon singer, by self-definition. Even my mirror would never accuse me of inventing wisdom. But I do claim enough street smarts to know that hatred is a disease – a disease of the body of freedom, eating its way from the inside out, infecting all who come in contact with it, killing dreams and hopes millions of innocents with words, as surely as if they were bullets.

Who in the name of God are these people anyway, the ones who elevate themselves above others? America is an immigrant country. Maybe not you or me, but those whose love made our lives possible, or their parents or grandparents. America was founded by these people, who were fed up with other countries. Those weren’t tourists on the Mayflower – they were your families and mine, following dreams that turned out to be possible dreams. Leaving all they owned, they sailed to America to start over and to forge a new nation of freedom and liberty – a new nation where they would no longer be second-class citizens but first-class Americans.

Even now, with all our problems, America is still a dream of oppressed people the world over. Take a minute. Consider what we are doing to each other as we rob friends and strangers of dignity as well as equality. Give a few minutes of fairness to the house we live in, and to all who share it with us from sea to shining sea. For if we don’t come to grips with this killer disease of hatred, of bigotry and racism and anti-Semitism, pretty soon we will destroy from within this blessed country.

And what better time than today to examine the conscience of America? As we celebrate our own beginnings, let us offer our thanksgiving to the God who arranged for each of us to live here among His purple mountain majesties, His amber waves of grain. Don’t just lip-sync the words to the song. Think them, live them. “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.” And when the music fades, think of the guts of Rosa Parks, who by a single act in a single moment changed America as much as anyone who ever lived.

I’m no angel. I’ve had my moments. I’ve done a few things in my life of which I’m not too proud, but I have never unloved a human being because of race, creed, or color. And if you think this is a case of he who doth protest too much, you’re wrong. I would not live any other way; the Man Upstairs has been much too good to me.

Happy Fourth of July. May today be a day of love for all Americans. May this year’s celebration be the day that changes the world forever. May Independence Day, 1991, truly be a glorious holiday as every American lives the self-evident truth that all people are created equal. God shed His grace on thee – on each of thee – in His self-evident love for all of us.

Frank Sinatra
July 4, 1991

Photo from “The House I Live In