Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Labor Day, Debs, and Why it Matters—Leather Lunging in Woodstock

This past Labor Day I was honored to be invited to speak at the Labor Day Celebration on Woodstock Square sponsored by Woodstock for Bernie Sanders Volunteers.  It was a glorious afternoon and focused on the heritage and connection of Eugene V. Debs, Woodstock, and the origins and traditions of Labor Day.  And, of course, we got in a good word or two for Bernie Sanders, the political heir to Debs who is burning up the early Democratic Presidential race and scaring the hell out of the Hillary Clinton campaign, establishment Democrats, newspaper op-ed pages, cable TV talking heads, and, by the way, the American oligarchy.
I always intended to post my remarks as a blog post.  But in the end, after organizing my thoughts and reviewing material I am well versed in, I decided to wing it.  A written speech, no matter how well crafted, is, well, read.  It compels the speaker to closely stick to the written word.  Without the technology of the teleprompter, it means the speaker looses eye contact and connection with the audience.  Only a gifted actor or speaker can avoid the dreaded drone of reading.  An outdoor speech quickly becomes in danger of becoming a stupefying sermon or droning lecture.
Instead, I reached back to my days as a Wobbly soapboxerloud, dramatic, passionate, and even a tad bombastic.  Neither a casual crowd nor an audience has much chance to tune it out.  I was tutored in this nearly lost art by veteran practitioners like the diminutive Sheridan brothers, Jack and Jimmy, crusty old Herb Edwards with his thick Norwegian accent, Frank Cedervall.  I reached back to days doing street corner rallies in a Pacific Northwest hop-on-the-freight Wobbly speaking tour, to May Days at the Haymarket and at Bug House Square with Studs Terkel and Carlos Cortez.  I drew on the speeches at massive rallies by the great Civil Right preachers, most notably the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., although I would never claim to match the majestic cadences of a good Baptist preacher.  And there was Utah Phillips who preferred to woo an audience with a yarn and a song, but who, when the occasion demanded it, produce a spellbinder so compelling that it raised the hair on your arms.

So today this is a vlog—video blog—for only the second or third time in the history of this little pop stand.  I am indebted to Kerri Barber who got most of the program on tape and posted to YouTube under the title The History of Labor Day—What You Don’t Know May Surprise You.  You can view the whole edifying program with speakers including Tony Casalino, a past President of the McHenry County Federation of Teachers; Tim Jackson, a retired Airline pilot and state AFL-CIO delegate; Mark Burrows of Railway Workers United, and a parade of local musicians organized by Keith Johnson and Off Square Music, at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dn64moCLkA&feature=youtu.be

I owe a special tip-o’-the-hat to my good friend Michael Bissett, Chair of the Democratic Party of McHenry County who volunteered his precious time to help out a techno-idiot like me by editing the clip from Kerri’s program and posting it on YouTube.

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