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Utah Phillips (d. 23.05.08) remembered

"We the American People are enormously wealthy, you know that? Who owns all those trees in the National Forest? This is not a rhetorical question-- we do! Who owns all of that offshore oil you read about in the papers? We do! Who owns all of those minerals under the federal lands? We do! It's public property and all. But we elect people to go to Washington --who are those assholes?"

Lucy Parsons and the call for class war

The death of Utah Phillips reminded me of a favorite story he would tell about the Haymarket widow Lucy Parsons. Shoot or Stab Them was advice that got the anarchist agitator arrested whenever she tried to speak in public. Lucy's husband was among those anarchists framed and executed for the infamous 1886 Haymarket bombing. Lucy continued to advocate for labor rights and social change. Here's how Utah told the rest of the story: Lucy lived well up into this century, well into this century, died in 1940. One time, she was speaking at a big May Day rally back in the Haymarket in the middle 1930s, she was incredibly old. She was led carefully up to the rostrum, a multitude of people there. She had her hair tied back in a tight white bun, her face a mass of deeply incised lines, deep-set beady black eyes. She was the image of everybody's great-grandmother. She hunched over that podium, hawk-like, and fixed that multitude with those beady black eyes, and said: "What I want is for every greasy grimy tramp to arm himself with a knife or a gun and stationing himself at the doorways of the rich shoot or stab them as they come out." Lest her zeal need a little explaining, Lucy Parsons made this declaration at the founding convention of the IWW in 1905: "Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth." Very little remains of the pamphlets which Parsons published over the course of her life. The authorities considered her "more dangerous than a thousand rioters." They blocked her entrance to public halls and arrested her whenever she addressed a crowd. When Parsons died, the police confiscated and destroyed her library and papers. A number of websites have emerged to celebrate Lucy Parson's legacy. Would it be racist of me to suggest that a book entitled FIFTY BLACK WOMEN WHO CHANGED AMERICA should have mentioned Lucy Parsons at least in the index? The list complied by author Amy Alexander included Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Florence Griffith Joyner. A short biography of Lucy Parsons is reprinted at Red Robin's Red Channels, Left Links, and Proletarian Places. There's also the Lucy Parsons Project. Her essay on "The Principles of Anarchism" is archived at LucyParsons.org. An oratory class at the University of Washington includes Parsons' infamous call to arms: Lucy E. Parsons, "To Tramps," Alarm, October 4, 1884. (Also printed and distributed as a leaflet by the International Working People's Association.) TO TRAMPS, The Unemployed, the Disinherited, and Miserable. A word to the 35,000 now tramping the streets of this great city, with hands in pockets, gazing listlessly about you at the evidence of wealth and pleasure of which you own no part, not sufficient even to purchase yourself a bit of food with which to appease the pangs of hunger now knawing at your vitals. It is with you and the hundreds of thousands of others similarly situated in this great land of plenty, that I wish to have a word. Have you not worked hard all your life, since

Judi Bari’s gentle lesson in nonviolence

A couple years ago some Colorado Springs activist organizations had a chance to host a public screening of a documentary about Judi Bari and her posthumus court victory against the FBI. It turned out the Feds had planted the bomb with which they tried to discredit her, and kill her too. Judi recovered but died of cancer before she could hear a jury award 4.4 million dollars for the FBI's trying to rob her and the Earth First movement of their First Amendment voice. Well, the locals activists hadn't yet seen the documentary, or hadn't understood the headlines, and so remembered Judi according to the FBI's slander. The locals thought Judi Bari might be a poor example for nonviolence advocates and they all but scuttled the event. Utah Phillips recalls driving with Judi Bari the day before the bomb struck, and recounts this advice she offered him about why she believed in nonviolence. Judi Bari on nonviolence, as told to Utah Phillips Talking about the non-violence, Judy Barry said: The man, and I mean THE MAN, can escalate the violence from a cop on the beat with a handgun all the way up to a hydrogen bomb and everything in between. He's always saying "come up that road, come up that road of armed struggle because I own that road. Come up that road and it'll kill you." We don't use that road. She said You got to take a road he doesn't own, a road he doesn't know anything about, that road of non-violence, of nonviolent direct action. Nonviolence is not a tactic, it's not a strategy, it is a way of life, it is a practical, practical necessity.

David Rovics on death of Utah Phillips

Utah Phillips died Friday. Friends have circulated a May 14th letter he'd sent. The Salt Lake Tribune reprinted a great interview from 2005. And fellow performer David Rovics forwarded this remembrance: I was watching my baby daughter sleep in her carseat outside of the Sacramento airport about ten hours ago when I noticed a missed call from Brendan Phillips. He's in a band called Fast Rattler with several friends of mine, two of whom live in my new hometown of Portland, Oregon, one of whom needed a ride home from the Greyhound station. I called back, and soon thereafter heard the news from Brendan that his father had died the night before in his sleep, when his heart stopped beating. I wouldn't want to elevate anybody to inappropriately high heights, but for me, Utah Phillips was a legend. I first became familiar with the Utah Phillips phenomenon in the late 80's, when I was in my early twenties, working part-time as a prep cook at Morningtown in Seattle. I had recently read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and had been particularly enthralled by the early 20th Century section, the stories of the Industrial Workers of the World. So it was with great interest that I first discovered a greasy cassette there in the kitchen by the stereo, Utah Phillips Sings the Songs and Tells the Stories of the Industrial Workers of the World. As a young radical, I had heard lots about the 1960's. There were (and are) plenty of veterans of the struggles of the 60's alive and well today. But the wildly tumultuous era of the first two decades of the 20th century is now (and pretty well was then) a thing entirely of history, with no one living anymore to tell the stories. And while long after the 60's there will be millions of hours of audio and video recorded for posterity, of the massive turn-of-the-century movement of the industrial working class there will be virtually none of that. To hear Utah tell the stories of the strikes and the free speech fights, recounting hilariously the day-to-day tribulations of life in the hobo jungles and logging camps, singing about the humanity of historical figures such as Big Bill Haywood, Joe Hill or Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, was to bring alive an era that at that point only seemed to exist on paper, not in the reality of the senses. But Utah didn't feel like someone who was just telling stories from a bygone era -- it was more like he was a bridge to that era. Hearing these songs and stories brought to life by him, I became infected by the idea that if people just knew this history in all its beauty and grandeur, they would find the same hope for humanity and for the possibility for radical social change that I had just found through Utah. Thus, I became a Wobbly singer, too. I began to stand on a

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