Friday, July 15, 2011

Off the Shelf : I Am The People

I'm posting this in response to Brian Miller's final prompt for
Thanks for everything you've done at One Stop, Brian. You yourself have done much to speak out and make a difference in this world.

The prompt was to write something about  a movement, an organization or a person who is making a difference. I'm unable to get something of my own up due to commitments today, so I'm using this poem by Carl Sandburg that points out that all change begins with empowering the people. I originally posted it this winter during the Wisconsin protests by those supporting union rights, and the rights of the worker to live decently by the fruits of his labors. The Union movement that began during the days of the robber barons and continues today faced violent opposition. Many were murdered, injured and jailed in the protests and struggles of the early 20th century to Unionize. Nonetheless, they fought on, and eventually brought an end to child labor, established more equal employment opportunity for minorities and women, brought us the minimum wage, the eight hour day and the 40 hour week, worker benefits like medical care, retirement and vacation, and everything we take for granted about the modern workplace. 

The men and women of the early Union movement fought and won for us these things with their blood, sweat and dedication, so that's who I 'm highlighting here for this prompt.




I Am the People, the Mob

I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget.
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool—then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob—the crowd—the mass—will arrive then.

Carl Sandburg

Last night, using a procedural gimmick, the Wisconsin GOP stripped union workers of their collective bargaining rights. The right for workers to bargain with their employers for safe and fair working conditions was won with the blood, protests, patience and suffering of tens of thousands of workers in this country over many years, and in one night, the public workers of Wisconsin have had this right taken away. Meanwhile, wealth in America continues to be funneled upward to the top, profits are privatized and risk and loss are socialized. Forbes magazine today released its annual list of the world's billionaires and states : "The 2011 Billionaires List breaks two records: total number of listees (1,210) and combined wealth ($4.5 trillion). This horde surpasses the gross domestic product of Germany..." As of 2010, more than 44 million Americans now live below the poverty level, and the income gap between rich and poor has reached historic levels.   Does anybody see anything wrong with this picture?

Image :  Wisconsin Protests, AP, courtesy of The Voice of Detroit


  1. Fabulous, moving post... We do live in dire times, in historic times, in sad times and in courageous time. I will always put my faith in the people...

    Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Thanks, hedgewitch. This breaks my heart. The working class continues to suffer. Ugh.

  3. Sandberg's work is genius. But tomorrow I will forget.

  4. HW - saw the predicatable result (40 years of union busting has left this country gutted and smoking, but what's new there?) However, the reaction is equally troubling. The fax sent to WI Repubs was a disgusting affront to the whole idea of union representation. Add in the inherent sameness of both parties and the fact that both are bankrolled by the same people & the results are not hard to predict. Not sure if you read or not, but that is a good site for econ news, as it as well as

    Not sure of your overall thesis, but whether you are in the deflationary or inflationary camp, there is more trouble a brewin'. After succeeding in WI, look out for a repeat across other union states (OTOMH Ohio, Penn, MD, and perhaps Jersey & New England depending on demographics and current unionization rates.)

    Loved the poem, fear the politics. Take care,


  5. FEAR NOTHING. BE THE PEOPLE. BE THE MOB. and if you forget then you are the oppressor through inaction not the oppressed by the actions of the minority.

  6. Wow, Hedgewitch, riveting reading. Well said! Staggering percentage of those living below the poverty line. I am one of them. So well expressed! Thank you.

  7. voices unheard will soon be silently swinging from the tree...great verse...ugh on what we are coming to...

  8. Thanks for resurrecting Sandburg, the Woody Guthrie of labor poetry .. The inequities have never been greater, nor the sense of futility in any idea how to right the balance short of turning every city and village square across the land into a Tahrir. To stop forgetting how much we're being robbed of, as Sandburg says, and get on with the business of the mob. - Brendan

  9. Perfect selection. Frightening what's happening in this country.

  10. ah thought i read this before...what an excellent choice of poem for this as well...sandberg has a strong voice....and scary stuff with what is going on and it only has gotten larger since march...

  11. Thank you for sharing this post and nice to have meet you. thanks for all you comments and inspirations

  12. it's unbelievable the condition this country is in. that the downward spiral is gaining speed is terrifying.

  13. We forget.

    I keep hoping that the gross injustice will be so blatant that we, the mob, will get after it. Well there were those in Wisconsin in the spring. The result is incredibly disappointing.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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