Women Speak Out! From Howard Zinn’s “Voices of A People’s History of the United States”

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Emma Goldman, the Lithuanian immigrant, feminist orator, agitator, and anarchist, arrested in 1917 on conspiracy charges of “inducing persons to not register” excerpted from a 1908 speech in San Francisco before the outbreak of WW1, entitled Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty:

What, then, is patriotism? “Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of scoundrels.” (quoting Dr. Samuel Johnson) Indeed, ignorance, conceit, arrogance, and egotism are the essentials of patriotism, which assumes our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others. Yet our hearts swell with pride at the thought that America is becoming the most powerful nation on earth, and that it will eventually plant her iron foot on the necks of all other nations.”

Such is the logic of patriotism…..Thinking men and women the world over are beginning to realize that patriotism is too narrow and limited a conception to meet the necessities of our time. The centralization of power has brought into being an international feeling of solidarity among the oppressed nations of the world; a solidarity which fears not foreign invasion, because it is bringing all the workers to the point when they will say to their masters, “Go and do your own killing. We have done it long enough for you.”

Sojourner Truth, the black abolitionist, freed from slavery in 1827, at a women’s convention in 1851, in which she “joins the indignation of her race to the indignation of her sex”:

“That man over there says that a woman needs to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches…..Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles or gives me any best place. And ain’t I a woman? 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 would 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 bourne thirteen children and seen em 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?

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women 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!”

Rose Chernin on Organizing the Unemployed in the Bronx in the 1930’s:

I would address the crowd gathered in the streets below : “People, fellow workers. We are the wives of unemployed men and the police are evicting us. Today we are being evicted. Tomorrow it will be you. So stand by and watch. What is happening to us will happen to you. We have no jobs. We can’t afford food. Our rents are too high. The marshal has brought the police to carry out our furniture. Are you going to let it happen?” Our fight was successful. The rents came down, the evicted families returned to their apartments, the landlord would stop fighting us. Within two years we had rent control in the Bronx.

–Erica Snowlake


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