Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Declaration of Defense

In our reading for today (5/17) by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn "The Free Speech Fight at Spokane" (1909), there is a comedic passage which in part explifies the frequent usage of the Declaration of Independence as grounds for denouncing the capitalist practices toward the worker: "Fellow worker Little was asked by the Judge what he was doing when arrested. He answered "reading the Declaration of Independence." "Thirty Days," said the Judge. The next fellow worker had been reading extracts from the Industrial Worker and it was thirty days for him. We are a "classy" paper ranked with the Declaration of Indepence as too incendiary for Spokane" (Flynn 79). In this passage Flynn describes a worker, Little, who was arrested for reading the Declaration of Independence. Whether Little was being literal or not is up to interpretation, but what is more apparent is that the Declaration of Indepence is used frequently as grounds for denouncing capitalist greed and unjust acts. It makes sense to denounce the capitalist on the grounds which he stands. That is, if strikes and protests are insufficient to change the practices of capitalist, then why not bring the Declaration of Independence into the picture to denounce the capitalist system on larger, and more powerful foundational principles on which the country is built--over and above the economic system of exploitation.
This reading inspired me to re-read the Declaration of Independence--the last time I read the declaration of independence was in the 4th grade. A passage that I found central to this document was the following: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed". This country was created for you and I--governments get their power from us. We have unalienable rights as human beings; one possible interpretation of 'unalienable' is that of which we cannot rid ourselves. We cannot give our gift life away, nor our liberty, nor our pursuit of aspirations that are of our own design--the implication of this being that no one else can take these things from us either because we ourselves cannot take these things from ourselves.
It is easy to see why the IWW and other labor organizations (miners, etc.) used the declaration of independence to justify their motives and incriminate capitalists--it is that ground on which the country is built. One of my wishes is that the readers of this post will revisit the Declaration of Independence (re-read it--it's only a few pages), and then think about their own ideas and also appreciate the Document that protects the rights that they enjoy; acknowledge shortcomings and achievements. What can we do to make our rights more respected? Vote for worthy politicians? Do research into contemporary disputes concerning our rights? What sort of human rights movements has the Declaration sparked? What is the vision of the human being as envisaged by the Declaration of Independence? Think about it.
In my opinion, the Declaration is dependent on the existence of human beings as a center of all judgement and legislation. Humans are rational beings. Beings that are capable of organizing. Beings capable of social living. Human beings in the Declaration are to respect unalienable rights in others and owe these same rights to themselves. The philosophical mission of the Declaration of Independence is to secure the primacy of the human being in all matters. The human being made the Declaration possible and also is the primary ground of justification of all the declaration's dictations.

1 comment:

  1. I think Little read the Declaration for two reasons: those you discuss here, certainly, but also to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the laws against street speaking. Little is proving that the laws are really about shutting up the IWW - the "crime" is being a labor radical, not the content of the speech. Frank Little is a fascinating character and became one of the IWW's legendary martyrs. His father was Quaker and his mother Cherokee; he would joke he was a "real American" and a "real red." He was a miner who lost an eye and then spent 12 years in the IWW organizing, especially among fellow miners. He was arrested in many more free speech fights, and in Fresno, served 28 days in solitary on bread and water. He was kidnapped several times; in Michigan in 1916, during a strike on the Mesabi Range, company thugs beat him and threatened to lynch him if he didn't reveal names of strike leaders. When WWI broke out he tried to convince his fellow IWW board members to formally oppose the war, but they refused. He volunteered to go to Butte to organize copper miners, reportedly suffering from rheumatism, a broken ankle, and an untreated double rupture from a beating. The war meant a huge demand for Butte copper; the mines sped up production but didn't raise wages commensurate with increased profits. In june 1917 a fire in the Speculator mine killed 164; when rescuers cleared sealed escape hatches they found dead bodies with fingers ground down to the second knuckle, trying to escape. The surviving miners went on strike; Little arrived in Butte on July 18 and gave many speeches to encourage the strikers. The newspapers - every one in Montana owned by the Anaconda Copper Company - denounced Little and the stikers as "pro-German" and "un-American" and for hurting the war effort. On 1 August six masked men dragged Little out of his hotel room; when his body was found hanging from a railroad trestle, the coroner determined he had been bean and dragged behind the car. His body had a note pinned: "3-7-77," a traditional vigilante warning dating back decades; one theory is that's the dimension of a grave.