In These Times has partnered with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA) to amplify the stories and struggles of ordinary people, including workers in the United States. This piece, part of an ongoing biweekly series, originally appeared in the Journal of Ordinary Thought, published by NWA. Find more stories and voices at NWA’s blog.
I am writing this at the Haymarket Square shrine. I can’t help but find my pen put to use when I stand at this spot. I’m fifty-one years old, haven’t worked in seven years. Thank you God for the lesson of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. I can definitely understand about not caring about anything because all the forces that be are trying to grind you down to nothing. Before it happens, though, you get one last chance to say, “I am not an animal, I am a human being.”
This is what happened at this spot, and then somebody threw a bomb. When the smoke cleared, many people were killed and many more railroaded by a kangaroo court, then executed. So just like the Alamo, the Union movement was underway. Today, Chicago is a heavy union town. It’s easy to see by the number of beautiful buildings the unions use as headquarters to do their work.
Check out the Teamsters’ spot at Jackson and Ashland, the plumbers’ place on Washington and Ogden. It’s 2009 and the struggle continues. The Congress Hotel employees are still trying to get a contract going into their eighth or ninth year. I have to admire the union leaders for holding out for this long. It gives hope to our policemen who also face a Pharaoh-like opponent in Mayor Daley, whose heart has definitely been hardened against the police union’s leaders.
This is why I choose to write at this spot. A lot of old ghosts whisper in my ear and my pen stays busy.