November 13, 2007


Photo credit: Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0003451. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society, by way of the Library of Congress.

Welcome to Eugene Debs Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post. Brief recap: a few years back, I got the chance to portray the character of labor and socialist leader Eugene V. Debs for a history program of WV's Humanities Council.

When asked why I wanted to portray the character of Eugene Debs, I had two ready replies.

First, I didn’t have enough hair to be anyone else.

Second, the part of Booker T. Washington was already taken.

But seriously, we have a problem of historical amnesia in this country, particularly with the history of the labor movement and other marginalized groups. This is even true in West Virginia where so many great labor struggles have taken place.

Most people these days have never heard anyone say the kinds of things Debs said and have little awareness of the titanic struggles of workers for decent wages and conditions. It was that struggle itself that radicalized Debs.

Also, I began doing the character in the midst of the buildup to the Iraq war and the Bush crackdown on civil liberties. That in itself gave some of the issues a contemporary flavor. Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for opposing U.S. involvement in WWI, which led him to comment that it was a dangerous thing to use your constitutional right to free speech at a time when your country was making the world safe for democracy. It seemed like the time.

There were rules to the humanities program presentations. First, the character would speak for a time about his or her life and work and then take questions from the audience in character. After that, time permitting, the performer could step out of character and take questions.

It was another rule that the character spoke from a time frame in which he lived. That means, for example, that you couldn’t ask Lincoln what he thought of Roosevelt. Or Debs what he thought of Bush, although that would have been pretty easy…

More tomorrow.

WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? War, that is.

SWARM. What's the difference, if any, between us and a bunch of insects? Click here.

SICK DAYS. A new campaign is shaping up in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia around the need for paid sick leave for workers.



Donutbuzz said...

Great post!

We really do have a serious problem when it comes to remembering history. It wasn't until after I graduated from high school that I learned about Debs.

If you haven't checked it out, there's also a great book that addresses Debs and other historical figures as it involves our freedom of speech and our government's treatment of it over the years. The book's called "Perilous Times," and, of course, should be available at your local public library.

Yennob said...


Don't get the General started on history or civics in our schools, unless you are ready to sit for a long, long, time.

Sorry to be MIA, life and job(s) are crazy...

::imagines El Cabrero as BTW...laughs::

El Cabrero said...

Hey donutbuzz. I'll check that one out. I think the WWI repression was worse than the McCarthy era.

Hey Yennob,
I may just have to do that in your presence. I was about to write a song "Has anybody here seen my good friend elipsos/can you tell me where she's gone..."

Re BTW. What can I say--it was politics. SOOOO unfair.