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…
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.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED