Visions of Progressive Social Change:

Historic Statements


Frederick Douglass

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to freedom and yet deprecate agitation…want crops without plowing. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its mighty waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.


Sojourner Truth

(1797-1883)

Ain't I A Woman?
Delivered 1851
Women's Convention, Akron, Ohio

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.



The "Bread and Roses" Strike of 1912

Bread and Roses – Song Lyrics

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!

As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.

As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.

As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies;
bread and roses, bread and roses.

http://www.breadandroses.net/strike.html


Mark Twain

The rain ...falls upon the just and the unjust alike; a thing which would not happen if I were superintending the rain's affairs. No, I would rain softly and sweetly on the just, but if I caught a sample of the unjust outdoors I would drown him.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

...the citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth's political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is a traitor.
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Man is the only animal that robs his helpless fellow of his country--takes possession of it and drives him out of it or destroys him. Man has done this in all the ages. There is not an acre of ground on the globe that is in possession of its rightful owner, or that has not been taken away from owner after owner, cycle after cycle, by force and bloodshed.
- "The Lowest Animal"

How unfortunate and how narrowing a thing it is for a man to have wealth who makes a god of it instead of a servant.
- Open Letter to Commodore Vanderbilt, 1869

http://www.twainquotes.com/


Mother Jones

 

"Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."

"There are no limits to which powers of privilege will not go to keep the workers in slavery."

"I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator."

http://www.laborheritage.org/MJones.html


Roosevelt: The Four Freedoms

Annual Message to Congress
January 6, 1941
The "Four Freedoms" Speech

‘Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Seventy-seventh Congress:

‘In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

‘The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.

‘The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.

‘The third is freedom from want--which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

‘The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.

‘That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

‘To that new order we oppose the greater conception--the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/4free.html

Further Reading:
Uniting to Defend the Four Freedoms, by Chip Berlet
http://www.publiceye.org/eyes/def4free.html


Justice Douglas

"The U.S. and the Revolutionary Spirit."

"The Declaration of Independence is our Creed….There is political feudalism wherever people have no voice in their affairs. There is political feudalism where a dynasty has the trappings of a parliamentary system but manipulates it for the benefit of a ruling class. .. . Revolution in the twentieth century means rebellion against another kind of feudalism ... economic feudalism ... the United States should promote democratic revolutions against these conditions of economic feudalism."

As cited in THE RESISTANT SPIRIT
by Truman Nelson
[pp. 17-36]


Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

16 April 1963

‘I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

http://www.thekingcenter.org/prog/non/Letter.html

Beloved Community

1956, speech at a victory rally following the announcement of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court Decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery’s busses,

"...the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

http://www.thekingcenter.org/prog/bc/index.html

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).

‘The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.

‘The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

Further Reading:

Sklar, Holly. (1995). Chaos or Community?: Seeking Solutions, Not Scapegoats for Bad Economics . Boston: South End Press.

Sklar, Holly. (1995). “The Dying American Dream and the Snake Oil of Scapegoating.” In Chip Berlet (Ed.), Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash (pp. 113–134). Boston: South End Press. http://www.publiceye.org/eyes/hs_econo.html

Let Justice Roll Down

By the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This article appeared in the March 15, 1965 edition of The Nation.

The issues which must be decided are momentous. The contest is not tranquil and relaxed. The search for a consensus will tend to become a quest for the least common denominator of change. In an atmosphere devoid of urgency the American people can easily be stupefied into accepting slow reform, which in practice would be inadequate reform. "Let Justice roll down like waters in a mighty stream," said the Prophet Amos. He was seeking not consensus but the cleansing action of revolutionary change. America has made progress toward freedom, but measured against the goal the road ahead is still long and hard. This could be the worst possible moment for slowing down.


Fannie Lou Hamer

‘It was the 31st of August in 1962 that eighteen of us traveled twenty-six miles to the county courthouse in Indianola to try to register to become first-class citizens. We was met in Indianola by policemen, Highway Patrolmen, and they only allowed two of us in to take the literacy test at the time. After we had taken this test and started back to Ruleville, we was held up by the City Police and the State Highway Patrolmen and carried back to Indianola where the bus driver was charged that day with driving a bus the wrong color.

‘After we paid the fine among us, we continued on to Ruleville, and Reverend Jeff Sunny carried me four miles in the rural area where I had worked as a timekeeper and sharecropper for eighteen years. I was met there by my children, who told me the plantation owner was angry because I had gone down -- tried to register.

‘After they told me, my husband came, and said the plantation owner was raising Cain because I had tried to register. And before he quit talking the plantation owner came and said, "Fannie Lou, do you know -- did Pap tell you what I said?"

‘And I said, "Yes, sir."

‘He said, "Well I mean that."

‘Said, "If you don't go down and withdraw your registration, you will have to leave." Said, "Then if you go down and withdraw," said, "you still might have to go because we're not ready for that in Mississippi."

‘And I addressed him and told him and said, "I didn't try to register for you. I tried to register for myself."

‘I had to leave that same night.

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fannielouhamercredentialscommittee.htm


Sacco & Vanzetti

August 21, 1927.
From the Death House of the Massachusetts State Prison

Dear Friends And Comrades Of The Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee:

…we decided to write this letter to you to express our gratitude and admiration for all what you have done in our defense during these seven years, four months, and eleven days of struggle.

That we lost and have to die does not diminish our appreciation and gratitude for your great solidarity with us and our families.

Friends and Comrades, now that the tragedy of this trial is at an end, be all as of one heart.  Only two of us will die.  Our ideal, you our comrades, will live by millions; we have won, but not vanquished.  Just treasure our suffering, our sorrow, our mistakes, our defeats, our passion for future battles and for the great emancipation.

Be all as of one heart in this blackest hour of our tragedy.  And have heart.

Salute for us all the friends and comrades of the earth.

We embrace you all, and bid you all our extreme good-bye with our hearts filled with love and affection.  Now and ever, long life to you all, long life to Liberty.  Yours in life and death,

BARTOLOMEO VANZEITI
NICOLA SACCO

http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/SaccoV/van-deathhouse.html

Selected Letters of Nicola Sacco from the Charlestown State Prison

August 18, 1927.

MY DEAR SON AND COMPANION:

I knew that and what here I am going to tell you will touch your sensibilities, but don't cry Dante, because many tears have been wasted, as your mother's have been wasted for seven years, and never did any good.  So, Son, instead of crying, be strong, so as to be able to comfort your mother, and when you want to distract your mother from the discouraging soulness, I will tell you what I used to do.  To take her for a long walk in the quiet country, gathering wild flowers her and there, resting under the shade of trees, between the harmony of the vivid stream and the gentle tranquility of the mothernature, and I am sure that she will enjoy this very much, as you surely would be happy for it.  But remember always, Dante, in the play of happiness, don't you use all for yourself only, but down yourself just one step, at your side and help the weak ones that cry for help, help the prosecuted and the victim, because that are your better friends; they are the comrades that fight and fall as your father and Bartolo fought and fell yesterday for the conquest of the joy of freedom for all and the poor workers.  In this struggle of life you will find more love and you will be loved. …

Therefore, whatever should happen tomorrow, nobody knows, but if they should kill us, you must not forget to look at your friends and comrades with the smiling gave of gratitude as you look at your beloved ones, because they love you as they love every one of the fallen persecuted comrades.  I tell you, your father that is all the life to you, your father that loved you and saw them, and knows their noble faith (that is mine) their supreme sacrifice that they are still doing for our freedom, for I have fought with them, and they are the ones that still hold the last of our hope that today they can still save us from electrocution, it is the struggle and fight bewteen the rich and the poor for safety and freedom, Son, which you will understand in the future of your years to come, of this unrest and struggle of life's death. …

Yes, Dante, they can crucify our bodies today as they are doing, but they cannot destroy our ideas, that will remain for the youth of the future to come.

http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/SaccoV/sacltrchar.html

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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