Thursday, February 18, 2010

Creating Change Often Means Taking Risks: 6 American Revolutions to Inspire and Provoke

U.S. history contains more than one insurrection

By Mickey Z.
Astoria, NY, USA | Thu Feb 18, 2010
changes road sign
The road to revolution?

Andy Dean/Thinkstock

From grade school, we learn to swoon at the call of "Give me liberty or give me death." What we usually don't learn is how often this sentiment has been put to the test throughout American history. Many of the freedoms and rights we enjoy today were not just given to us, they were won by people like those described below. They are not presented as "heroes" but instead as our folk tales, our cave drawings, the episodes that can inspire us as we take on the essential challenge of rescuing our eco-system.

WATCH VIDEO: You Can Also Choose What Not To Do
George Orwell once said: "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is revolutionary." Brace yourself for some much-needed truth-telling...

6 Lesser Known American Revolutions

1. Lowell Mill Girls Get Organized
Lowell, Massachusetts was named after the wealthy Lowell family. In the mid-1800s, they owned numerous textile mills, which attracted the unmarried daughters of New England farmers. These young girls worked in the mills and lived in supervised dormitories. On average, a Lowell Mill Girl worked for three years before leaving to marry. Living and working together often forged a camaraderie that would later find an unexpected outlet. In response to poor conditions, long hours, strict dress codes, lousy meals, and more, the Lowell mill workers (some as young as 11) did something revolutionary: the tight-knit group of girls and women organized a union. They marched and demonstrated against a 15% cut in their wages and for better conditions, including the institution of a ten-hour workday. They started newspapers. They proclaimed: "Union is power." They went on strike and their efforts spread.
Learn more about the Lowell Mill Girls

2. Jack Johnson Wins the Heavyweight Crown
Thirty-nine years years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball, Jack Johnson became the first black man to hold the world heavyweight boxing champ. Winning the title was the easy part for Johnson, easily the greatest boxer of his era and one of the most powerful counter-punchers ever to put on a pair of gloves. The hard part was getting white champions to fight him. When Tommy Burns was guaranteed $30,000 to fight Johnson on Dec. 26, 1908, the title changed hands. Racist America may not have been ready for an outspoken black man as their heavyweight champ, but Johnson lived as pleased and defeated all comers. That led authorities to find another way to knock him out: trumped up legal charges. Even so, Jack Johnson's athletic exploits, however, cannot fully reflect his impact on sport, culture, and society.
Learn more about Jack Johnson

3. Lizzie Jennings Gets on the Bus
On July 16, 1854, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Jennings, a 24-year-old schoolteacher setting out to fulfill her duties as organist at the First Colored Congregational Church on Sixth Street and Second Avenue, fatefully waited for the bus on the corner of Pearl and Chatham. This particular day, Lizzie opted for a bus without the "Colored Persons Allowed" sign. The New York Tribune described what happened next: "She got upon one of the Company's cars...on the Sabbath, to ride to church. The conductor undertook to get her off, first alleging the car was full; when that was shown to be false, he pretended the other passengers were displeased at her presence; but (when) she insisted on her rights, he took hold of her by force to expel her. She resisted." Like Rosa Parks, Jennings' behavior was no impetuous act of resistance. Jennings was making a statement that went as far as hiring a lawyer and winning a court case. Just one day after the verdict, the Third Avenue Railway Company issued an order to admit African-Americans onto their buses. By 1860, all of the city's street and rail cars were desegregated.
Learn more about Lizzie Jennings

4. Hugh Thompson Steps Into the Line of Fire
Hugh Thompson, Jr. arrived in Vietnam in late 1967 and quickly earned a reputation as an exceptional Navy pilot. In their book, Four Hours at My Lai, Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim also describe Hugh Thompson as a "very moral man. He was absolutely strict about opening fire only on clearly defined targets." On the morning of March 16, 1968, Thompson's sense of virtue would be put to the test. Flying in his H-23 observation chopper, the 25-year-old Thompson used green smoke to mark wounded people on the ground in and around My Lai. Upon returning a short while later after refueling, he found that the wounded he saw earlier were now dead. Thompson's gunner, Lawrence Colburn, averted his gaze from the gruesome sight. Unbeknownst to Thompson at that point, more than 560 Vietnamese had already been slaughtered by Lt. William Calley's Charlie Company. All Thompson knew for sure was that the U.S. troops he then saw pursuing civilians had to be stopped. Bravely landing his helicopter between the charging GIs and the fleeing villagers, Thompson ordered Colburn to turn his machine gun on the American soldiers if they tried to shoot the unarmed men, women, and children. Thompson then stepped out of the chopper into the combat zone and coaxed the frightened civilians from the bunker they were hiding in. With tears streaming down his face, he evacuated them to safety on his H-23.
Learn more about Hugh Thompson

5. Eugene Debs Runs for President From a Prison Cell
Debs was one of the most prominent labor organizers and political activists of his time. He was also nominated as the Socialist Party's candidate for president five times. His voting tallies over his first four campaigns effectively illustrate the remarkable growth of the party during that volatile time period:
  • 1900: 94,768

  • 1904: 402,400

  • 1908: 402,820

  • 1912: 897,011
America's entrance into World War I, however, provoked a tightening of civil liberties, culminating with the passage of the Espionage and Sedition Act in June 1917. One year after it was voted into law, Debs was in Canton, Ohio for a Socialist Party convention. He was arrested for making a speech deemed "anti-war" by the Canton district attorney, given a 10-year prison sentence and stripped of his U.S. citizenship. At his sentencing, Debs famously told the judge: "Your honor, years ago, I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." While serving his sentence in the federal penitentiary, Debs was nominated for the fifth time, campaigned from his jail cell, and remarkably garnered 917,799 votes. Learn more about Eugene Debs

6. The Stonewall Riots
Like all oppressed groups, progress, and reform begins with taking a stand against discrimination. For the gay rights movement, that stand was symbolically taken on Friday evening, June 27, 1969 in what has become known as "Stonewall." Police raids on gay bars were not uncommon in the pre-Stonewall era. Patrons were subjected to fines for "indecency" and often found their names published in newspapers as a result. The revolutionary tenor of the 1960s helped change some of that, but New York City Mayor John Lindsay was in the middle of a difficult campaign run and the Stonewall Inn was operating without a liquor license and with alleged ties to organized crime. It seemed like a good place for a high-profile law-and-order photo op. At 1:20 AM, later than the usual raid—which obviously increased the chances of intoxicated patrons—eight officers from New York's First Precinct entered the bar. Only one of the cops was in uniform. Arrests were made but precisely how the riot began is still subject to debate. Whichever story you prefer, what happened next is not in doubt. Stonewall patrons said no. They attacked the eight cops, driving them back into the bar where they sought refuge. The angry throng laid siege to the bar as NYPD reinforcements arrived on the scene. In no time, a crowd, estimated at over 2000, was waging a pitched battle with more than 400 cops. The riot lasted all night and less massive skirmishes occurred for the following two nights. Arrests and injuries were numerous. Mayor Lindsay had his photo op...but it was not what he had bargained for.
Learn more about Stonewall

Radical Links
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Doing the Right Thing Means Doing the Green Thing

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