Opinions,discussions and common ground on the Democracy of the United States and Macon County "Democracy is the cause of Humanity."--John L. O'Sullivan

Friday, April 29, 2005

Workers Memorial Day

Once again, the folks who organize the annual Workers Memorial Day ceremony did an outstanding job. The brief gathering was eloquent and moving. Mayor Paul Osborne, in my opinion, took the laurels for an emotional rememberance of his father's sacrifice over principle. "Don't forget where you came from" was the theme of that message. Paul Kendall, who organized the first of the Decatur observances back in the day (as my young teammates on the Ground Squirrels say) when it was held in Central Park, was on hand to provide a living link with the past. Afterwards, I was chatting with Mike Shampine and we recalled the utter disdain with which labor reps were greeted when they approached the City Council about putting the Memorial in Central Park. The project languished for many years until the County Board under Rob Owen made available the present space on the west side of the courthouse. That night before the City Council when a number of council members previously thought to be friendly to labor refused to even entertain the idea of putting a memorial to working people in Central Park was an eye-opening experience for many, including me. But things have a way of working out. We agreed last night that the courthouse location is actually better.

Teaching labor history this semester at Millikin University, I am reminded--usually twice each week--of the difficulty in making the young generation aware of the sacrifices of those who came before. Most, fortunately, have no experiences with unsafe workplaces or poverty or child labor or gun thugs and company goons. I try to break through their obliviousness with pictures and eyewitness accounts. I read at length from a reporter's account of watching people leap to their deaths from the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. factory fire that Saturday in 1910 New York City. "Thud-dead. Thud-dead." That's how he described the sound he heard more than 60 times that day. Did it do any good, I mean with today's students? I suppose if just one of the 21 in the class retains some awareness of that event and how similar situations exist all over the world--including in the United States--today, I will have succeeded.

As many speakers touched on yesterday, echoing Mother Jones, we must mourn the dead but fight like hell for the living. Special thanks, too, to Mike Wakeland for remembering two of our own fallen heroes--Father Martin Mangan and Senator Penny Severns--in his closing prayer.

Thanks for listening.