Jammed in yesterday with the thousands of others of people in Foley Square, I turned to look at the crowd all around. I felt an incredible burst of optimism. I turned to one friend and said, "looks like the revolution will happen before I die." We laughed. I hope people hold on to the optimism that was coursing around that plaza yesterday--despite all the challenges we will face in the days, months and years to come.
I write this partly because I don't want to lose the great spirit and enthusiasm of yesterday that was marred by the violence and craziness ignited by the police.
I feel optimistic because of the many unions members who came out.
I feel optimistic when I read this quote from a brother who I have worked with in labor for a long time:
“The labor movement needs to tap into the energy and learn from them,” Mr. Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said. “They are reaching a lot of people and exciting a lot of people that the labor movement has been struggling to reach for years.”
I am optimistic even when I read this:
Despite questions about the protesters’ hostility to the authorities, many union leaders have decided to embrace Occupy Wall Street...
Some more traditionally conservative ones, like those in the construction trades, stayed away. [emphasis added]
I am optimistic that it will be easy to remind a broad section of the labor movement how the modern labor movement was born: out of opposition to authority and mass protest, mass arrests and a lot of spilled blood.
The 1936–1937 Flint Sit-Down Strike changed the United Automobile Workers (UAW) from a collection of isolated locals on the fringes of the industry into a major labor union and led to the unionization of the domestic United States automobile industry.
...The police attempted to enter the plant on January 11, 1937. The strikers inside the plant turned the fire hoses on the police while pelting them with car parts and other miscellany as members of the women's auxiliary broke windows in the plant to give strikers some relief from the tear gas the police were using against them. The police made several charges, but withdrew after six hours. The strikers dubbed this "The Battle of Bulls Run," a mocking reference to the police ("bulls").
When blood was spilled for workers' justice:
Mattie Woodson tore off a piece of her dress and leaned down to wipe blood off the neck of Joe DeBlasio, desperately trying to save the life of the young demonstrator. It was too late. DeBlasio was dying. He lay in Miller Road in Dearborn, Michigan, just a few yards in front of the gigantic River Rouge complex of the Ford Motor Company. He had been shot when Dearborn police officers and thugs from Ford’s brutal “Service Department” opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. It was March 7, 1932. The protest which had originally been called “the Ford Hunger March” had just become a massacre.
DeBlasio was one of five people who died after being shot that day. Dozens of others were wounded. The Ford Hunger March took place in the midst of the Great Depression, just 28 months after the stock market crash of October 1929. The month of March 2008 marks 76 years since that massacre, but its effects can still be felt.
I am not urging or advocating or hoping for violence. I only remind us that the labor movement was forged through very tough struggles--we should not find Occupy Wall Street odd or alien.
I am optimistic because we just need to keep reminding each other of the history that built a movement.
I feel optimistic because when I looked around at all the people in the march, I didn't recognize a lot of people. I saw people who I felt were, maybe a bit uncomfortably, marching for the first time--but they were there.
I feel optimistic because of the growing number of people who understand and are willing to act and say: the system is broken.
I even feel optimistic--and I know this may seem like turning lemons into lemonade--by the police reaction. I ran into a union organizer, long-time friend of mine last night. I told her that my sense was that the movement took off partly because of the first over-reaction by the police to the march near Union Square. She reminded me: the bosses are always our best organizers because they show people why they need a union--or change.
I do not think being full of optimism is being ignorant of the challenges ahead.
But, I like the optimism.