Let’s Hear It For The Girls, All Month LongPosted: March 7, 2012
Though GOP madness is in full swing, March is the month to celebrate women—their lives, strengths and accomplishments. True to its nature, the month has roared in but with a twist, acting as a party crasher, snapping at all female guests of honor.
We’ve seen reproductive rights assaulted, the 100-year contraception battle reignited and shock-jock Rush Limbaugh bully and slander a female student from Georgetown University. Rick Santorum has turned the Republican effort into a Comstock-era discussion of acceptable moral/sexual behavior and a county in the Great State of South Carolina is suggesting a purity pledge for Republican membership. Even the workplace is under assault with candidates suggesting the elimination of minimum wage and repealing Child Labor laws.
Who invited the Crazies?
My suggestion? Show them the door, kick their arses to the street. We didn’t invite reactionary fools to the party. This woman would not have tolerated their company for a single nanosecond:
Nor these women
The last photo, the Bread and Roses protest, was a workers’ strike protesting deplorable work conditions, non-living wages and inconceivably long days in New England’s textile mills. One of these strikes occurred in Lawrence, Massachusetts, fueled by earlier actions in NYC’s garment district. Thursday, March 8th is the official recognition date of a 100-year old struggle, under the aegis of the IWW [Industrial Workers of the World] but primarily led by immigrant women, young and old, who successfully striked for humane working conditions, decent wages and openly opposed child labor and workplace exploitation.
It did not come easy. But come it did.
One of the descriptions I read of these early battles was nothing short of shake-your-head inspiring:
According to [Consiglia] Teutonica, this time a 22-year-old Syrian immigrant named Annie Kiami stepped in front of the crowd. Calling the soldiers “Cossacks,” Kiami wrapped an American flag around her body and dared them to shoot holes in Old Glory.
Once thought of as docile and subservient, the Bread and Roses women quickly gained the notorious title among mill owners of radicals of the worst sort.
“One policeman can handle 10 men,” Lawrence’s district attorney lamented, “while it takes 10 policemen to handle one woman.”
In the words of one horrified boss, the women activists were full of “lots of cunning and also lots of bad temper. They’re everywhere, and it’s getting worse all the time.”
Lots of cunning and bad temper! I like that.
Flip forward some 50+ years and the Bread and Roses contingent in Boston fought for reproductive rights and abortion, child care, equal employment laws against discrimination in the workplace and recognition of and legal remedies to fight and reduce violence against women. In 1971, the Bread and Roses group occupied a building owned by Harvard University for 10 days, during which they offered free classes and childcare. After they were removed from their encampment, several sympathetic donors offered $5000 with which the group opened The Women’s Center in Cambridge.
The Women’s Center is in operation today, offering a multitude of services to battered women, victims of rape and child abuse and providing counsel, support and health information to moderate to low-income women. Their mission statement reads as follows:
To provide women with the resources and support they need to emerge from
conditions of domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty, discrimination, social isolation and degradation.
To challenge and change the attitudes, actions, and institutions that subjugate women.
They’re still going strong.
A myriad of Bread and Roses communities have grown and spread across the country, many charitable outreaches to low income families, providing meals and support to the unemployed, the sick and disadvantaged. In each case, the Bread and Roses emblematic power rests in the idea of social justice, community outreach and support. With each and every group, each program, the legacy returns to those women and children of 1912, the day they said–Enough is enough—and then put their bodies, their very lives on the line, demanding to be treated with dignity, to be seen and counted as human beings.
As for the name, Bread and Roses? The phrase reportedly came from a banner—Give Us Bread But Give Us Roses–carried during the early days of the textile strikes. James Oppenheim, a poet, novelist and editor, attended one of those protests and was so moved by the imagery that he wrote the following poem to honor the women.
As we come 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 come 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 come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry 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 come 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!
Oppenheim was inspired by the women and their courage. The women were inspired by the words.
It’s a fine legacy, one among many in which women had a leading role in changing the course of American history. The citizens of Lawrence will be commemorating the women and their efforts with a Centennial festival. The major programs are slated to kickoff tomorrow Thursday, March 8 and run through May 1.
There’s no better time to give these women their due because income inequality, rising poverty and homelessness has returned to the Nation, a vicious cycle tearing at families and communities alike. The Lawrence strike has an uncanny parallel to the Occupy protests. At the turn of the 20th century, the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few was unrivaled. Until today. What Bread and Roses reminds us is the power of solidarity, fighting the good fight. With cunning and bad temper if necessary. Or as James Oppenheim wrote a century ago:
The rising of women means the rising of the race.
Bread and roses! Bread and roses!