History

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington from Someone WHO WAS THERE.

Okay, I think just about everyone knows that the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington is August 28, 2013 (the day after tomorrow) and marks the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. On that day, more than 200,000 Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.

So, Renee and I were just at the gym this evening and had a lovely conversation with Ms. D. Ms. D was 14 years old when she marched fifty years ago. She and her daughter will be down on the Mall together on Wednesday. All I can say is, “Wow.” I know about the events of the March on Washington as history. She lived it. It is a powerful story, all the more so because I heard it from someone who was THERE.

Listen well to your elders, their stories have more Truth than any speech, video, or textbook ever could.

Civil Right March - Aerial View of Lincoln Memorial

Note: If someone could give me any information about this amazing image I would love to cite the source.

Steampunk Thoughts and Old Scribbled Notes

Recently, @EricNewsom asked if I had any information from the RavenCon panel “Steampunk as Alternate History.”  After some digging around, I’m sorry to say I only found a few scribbles and bullet-points from what was a pretty awesome, energizing discussion.  I may at some point really write it up in detail.  The panel concept and questions came from Brandon Blackmoor (he’s also pretty active on Facebook).

Eric, if this isn’t what you need, let me know and I can answer any questions and add citations etc. As I said, I wasn’t sure I had a lot of notes.  I also tend to add a lot of researchy/history related items in my Tumblr account for Steampunk research (in the column at right).  Hope this is helpful.

RavenCon Panel: Is it possible to create a steampunk alt-history that doesn’t hinge on the British Empire? Are colonialism, imperialism, and classism inherent in the subgenre?

Panelists: Charles E. Gannon (moderator), Michelle D. Sonnier, Scott M. Baker, Leo Champion (steampunk mobsters), Andrew Fox (ironclads and the civil war), Day Al-Mohamed (steampunk & weird west)

Notes:
Is it possible to create a steampunk alt-history that doesn’t hinge on the British Empire?

  • Yes. Absolutely. Are we there yet? Not quite. Steampunk in some ways, is still a “young” subgenre. We write what we know and history is written by the winner so following along that thought, what we know the most comes from a very Western perspective. As a result many of the current bloom of work is going to reflect that aesthetic. It may also reflect some of the attitudes and skewed perceptions of the history and/or of the time period. There is also that tendency to exoticise other cultures which was prevalent at the time period.
  • There are so many things that happened during that time that offers amazing opportunities that we just aren’t seeing yet. I would love to read about:
  1. 1857 – First War of Indian Independence (From Chuck Gannon – you mean the Sepoy Rebellion) – Depends on the side you were on. However, it effectively ended the power and control of British East Indian Company in India, the British government taking control from that point on.
  2. 1850 – The Taiping Rebellion began in China. This was a bloody civil war with a death toll of over 20 million!
  3. The Great Tea Race of 1866
  • As we move forward, we will see a greater variety of stories beyond the British Empire and also expanding the time period beyond the traditional Victorian Era steampunk.
  • Right now, I love the – the sense of adventure and fantastical exemplified by Verne and Wells; the ideas of a promising new era of science and discovery. In truth, I find that it is similar to science fiction in the interest and emphasis and inherent connection to technology, but it differs in that science fiction has tended to show us a future and time that is dystopic, where steampunk is inherently optimistic. (That may also be a function of the fact that it looks backwards with a sense of nostalgia rather than looking forwards)

Are colonialism, imperialism, and classism inherent in the subgenre?

  • I will say I’ve seen some but I quibble with the word “inherent.” I would say that it is unfortunate, that I haven’t seen this explored strongly in some steampunk novels. But, I would again ascribe this to the relative nascence of the subgenre. I strongly believe they have a place. Steampunk, just like science fiction and fantasy aren’t mere escapism as they are often accused of being. These genres and subgenres have a long history of social commentary and are in the best position of any literature to examine the assumptions and “-isms” of our society as it currently stands while cloaking it in a “candy shell” of alternate history, alternate world, or alternate future entertainment.
  • Steampunk lets us indulge in social criticism and also deconstruct these issues in a world and recreate it in the image of what things “should have been.” We have dashing pirates, women adventurers, wise magicians, courtesy, honor, world-saving technology, and new nations and people to discover.
  • How many people from the last few years thrilled to the idea of Space as the final frontier? Steampunk turns back the clock to remind us when there were many more frontiers. Exploration, Science, Discovery.
  • I am hopeful to seeing MORE classism, and racism, and imperialism in steampunk novels and authors examining the inherent complexities in addressing these problems.
  • And on a more personal note, with the incorporation of technology and prosthetics, I am very curious to see disability addressed as well as race and gender.

For some additional information I thought I’d suggest Beyond Victoriana and a great article from Diana M. Pho which might touch on some of what you’re looking for.

May Day, the 8-Hour Work Day and Immigrant Rights

8 HoursLet’s talk about May Day.  And I don’t mean May Day and its Beltane-related history, while interesting isn’t what I’m thinking of today.  Or May Day and its relationship to a request for help or assistance.  The May Day I’m more interested in is the more recent history relating to working conditions and the 8-hour workday is where my thoughts are today. In the United States, we celebrate the contributions of worker on the first Monday in September – Labor Day.  However for the rest of the world, International Workers’ Day or May Day is May 1.  So…where did it come from?

Towards the latter half of the 19th century, there began to be a significant push, in the form of marches and rallies, from worker groups and organizations for an 8-hour work day.  At the time, working conditions were quite severe with significant injuries and deaths.  Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” gives a good picture of how terrible it was in the large factories and mills, and the unsafe conditions.  It was also common at the time to work anywhere from 10 to 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. 

Most of the May Day marches were reatively peaceful but as time passed there grew increased opposition from the police, government and employers.  This was particularly prevalent in the cities. In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, declared “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886” setting up an iminent clash between workers and employers. On May 1, 1886 more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs.

Chicago had one of the largest marches with more than 40,000 people striking (initially, some reports say that the numbers swelled to almost double that over the next few days). That day (May 1) there was trouble at McCormick’s Reaper Plant where workers had been locked out for their demands and then were attacked by the police.  Three days later in a follow-up rally in support of those workers, there was a clash in Haymarket Square with police firing on the crowd, bringing the world’s attention (and support) to the struggle for the 8-hour work day.

This story should have a happy ending, and it does.  But it didn’t come until 1938 and the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA ensured our now familiar 8-hour work day, outlawed child labor and established both minimum pay and overtime pay. 700,000 workers were affected by the FLSA, and it was one of the factors that contributed to the end of the Great Depression. 

In the years between, there were marches and rallys  but following the turn of the century and the decades that followed, May Day fell victim to anti-Communist hysteria and the Cold War.  As stated by Beatrice Lumpkin, “only a few people in the USA renained aware of the May Day tradition. That changed on May 1, 2007. On that day, millions of immigrants brought May Day back to the United States. The immigrants marched for their rights on May 1st in 2007 and 2008. In a way, that is a poetic restoration of our history. In 1886, most of the fighters for the 8-Hour Day were immigrants, too.

Beatrice also quotes an old Labor song called, “Eight Hours”, which was a rallying cry and clearly the inspiration for the image at the top of this post, with lyrics like:

We mean to make things over, we are tired of toil for naught,
With but bare enough to live upon, and never an hour for thought,
We want to feel the sunshine, and we want to smell the flowers,
We are sure that God has will’d it, and we mean to have eight hours.
We’re summoning our forces from shipyard, shop and mill,
Eight hours for work, eight hour for rest, eight hours for what we will!
Eight hours for work, eight hour for rest, eight hours for what we will!

I actually managed to find the song itself and you can listen to it here: http://www.contemplator.com/america/eighthour.html

 

More information can be found at: 

May Day and the 8-Hour Day –  http://www.politicalaffairs.net/chicago-birthplace-of-may-day-and-the-8-hour-day/

The Fair Labor Standards Act – http://www.dol.gov/elaws/esa/flsa/screen5.asp

The Brief Origins of May Day – http://www.iww.org/en/history/library/misc/origins_of_mayday

Labor Notes (Songs of the Labor Movement) – http://labornotes.org/2011/10/eight-hour-song

International Women’s Day – Suffragette Music Video

I’m noticing a trend for writing on holidays.  Today is International Women’s Day and the celebrations “range from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women’s economic, political and social achievements” (via Wikipedia).  But for a more formal recognition and what I usually associate it with is the United Nations Assembly’s proclamation of March 8th as the offical UN day for women’s rights.  So, combining International Women’s Day with the fact that this is a very important election year in America, I thought that the issue of women’s suffrage would be just the thing to write about.  And then I found Soomo Publishing’s Bad Romance: Women’s Suffrage video and realized it said things so much better than I ever could. “Bad Romance: Women’s Suffrage is a parody music video paying homage to Alice Paul and the generations of brave women who joined together in the fight to pass the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote in 1920.”

For those of you wanting a bit more of the actual history: Alice Paul was a suffragist and activist who founded the National Women’s Party (NWP).  In 1916 they campaigned against the President Woodrow Wilson and other Democrats for their refusal to support the Suffrage Amendment. She organized what became the first political protest to ever picket the White House.  The NWP was beginning to be more than a little bothersome to those “in charge” and in July of 1917, the picketers were arrested on charges of “obstructing traffic.” Alice Paul was convicted and incarcerated at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia.  In a protest of the conditions in Occoquan, Alice Paul (having participated in some of the more militant suffrage activity in England), commenced a hunger strike, which led to her being moved to the prison’s psychiatric ward and force-fed raw eggs through a feeding tube.  There’s an account of Occoquan Workhouse’s “Night of Terror,” on November 15, 1917 that’ll give you an idea of the conditions that Alice and her fellow suffragists endured:
Alice Paul, Suffragist - image from Library of Congress
    Under orders from W. H. Whittaker, superintendent of the Occoquan Workhouse, as many as forty guards with clubs went on a rampage, brutalizing thirty-three jailed suffragists. They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head, and left her there for the night. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed, and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate Alice Cosu, who believed Mrs. Lewis to be dead, suffered a heart attack. According to affidavits, other women were grabbed, dragged, beaten, choked, slammed, pinched, twisted, and kicked. (source: Barbara Leaming, Katherine Hepburn (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), p. 182.)
The pressure, combined with the ongoing protests and demonstrations and of course media coverage was too much and in January, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson announced that women’s suffrage was urgently needed (using World War I as a rationale).   And just like the video, securing the vote for women came down to a single vote – Tennessee.