Note: Kathleen Wooten of Lawrence (MA) Monthly Meeting has served as a protest chaplain at the Occupy Boston site. In a guest post she shares here reflections on this movement's connection to an earlier struggle for economic justice, the "Bread and Roses" Textile Strike of 1912.
by Kathleen Wooten
Returning home from Occupy Boston in the late hours of the evening, I pass the imposing smokestacks of the old textile mills of Lawrence, MA. They remind me of the history of this place. My own monthly meeting has worshipped here since 1899.
It was also here, almost exactly one hundred years ago, that people gathered to demand fair treatment in the famous “Bread and Roses” Textile Strike of 1912. Cooperation among immigrant workers, emphasis on the equality and importance of women in the textile industry, and strikers expressing themselves in song marked this strike, which involved over 20,000 workers.
The very name of the strike is what calls to me today. It was inspired by a protester’s sign that stated “We Want Bread, and Roses, Too!” Those workers in 1912 were not merely seeking reinstatement of unfairly diminished wages, the means to provide bread for bodily sustenance. They were also looking for the “roses” of recognition, respect, and fair treatment in many aspects of their lives: fair housing, a safe work environment – and most of all to simply and absolutely be held in the Love that holds us all.
I am led to recall another story – one where Jesus provided bread in abundance to feed all, in a moment of scarcity. A friend of mine recently mused that perhaps the people gathered to hear Jesus that day had actually carried enough bread in their pockets to feed all, but were unwilling to share it until their eyes were opened to the Light and need all around in that community. Then they simply emptied their pockets, and suddenly there was enough bread for all, as they found themselves in a place of Abundance and hope.
This explanation was meant to discount the “miracle” of so much bread being created unexpectedly out of thin air. For me, it does just the opposite. Would it even be possible, for a crowd of five thousand to be moved so absolutely into that place of Abundance, trusting there would be enough for all if they all just took that first leap, in community?
I find myself residing within this story as I try to explain the “point” of the Occupy Movement to those who might say, “But what is the goal? What are they are fighting for?” We cannot answer those questions with a mere list of how much bread we need. We cannot limit ourselves to a simple list of demands.
It is our way of being in the world, in community, that must change for all of us.
And it is that transformation that I long for, as I stand in the shadow of the Lawrence mills. The possibility of that transformation seems so distant much of the time. It must have seemed very far away for the residents of this community back in 1912, too. What gave them the courage to ask not only for bread, but for roses? How were they able to see beyond the specifics of the time to a movement of greater Hope and Abundance than they could possibly imagine?
This, for me, is the heart of the Occupy Movement. I may hand out mere bread and flashlight batteries at the tents in Boston, but I pray that I always am able to do it through the lens of listening, of sharing, of seeing the Light within others. Therein lie the roses. There is where we see that of God in everyone.
As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses.
As we come marching, marching, we battle too, for men,
For they are in the struggle and together we shall win.
Our days shall not be sweated from birth until life closes,
Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses.
As we come marching, marching, un-numbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread,
Small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses, too.
As we go marching, marching, we're standing proud and tall.
The rising of the women means the rising of us all.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories, bread and roses, bread and roses.
by James Oppenheim, December 1911