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(en) US, Chicago, Media: After 138 years, Haymarket memorial to be unveiled

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 8 Sep 2004 15:24:13 +0200 (CEST)


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When labor leaders from around the world visit Chicago, Dennis Gannon notes,
it's always just a matter of time before they say, "Show me the Haymarket."
Gannon, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, tries to warn
them: You won't see much. Just an ordinary street and alley. At best,
there might be a plaque, if it hasn't been vandalized lately.
But Gannon's visitors always insist on seeing for themselves. And when
they do, climbing out of cabs and looking around, they invariably say
something like: "This is it?" Which is just being polite.
What they're thinking goes more like this:
"What kind of town fails to commemorate one of the most seminal
events in the history of organized labor, an event celebrated around the
world every year as May Day?"

Good question.

Maybe a town afraid of its past.

On Sept. 14, in a reversal of 118 years of civic amnesia, a memorial to
the Haymarket Incident of 1886 is to be unveiled at the site of the
carnage, Crane's Alley on the east side of Desplaines Street, north of
Randolph.

Labor leaders such as Gannon will be there. They believe that the
Haymarket Riot, a classic clash of the era between oppressed workers
and brutal authority, marked the birth of a national movement for an
eight-hour workday.

Representatives of the Chicago Police Department will be there. For
almost a century, they argued that the only real story of the Haymarket
was that seven cops were "martyred" by bomb-throwing radicals.

And historians and other scholars will be there, too. Many of them
believe the Haymarket Incident was a police riot, pure and simple.

Even today, the powers that be in Chicago can't fully agree on just what
went down that night or who was to blame, but they agree on this: It's
crazy to ignore it.

"I think people really did want to put to rest the animosity that has
grown up around the issue of the Haymarket Square," said Chicago
labor lawyer Elena Marcheschi, a member of the committee that chose
the memorial's design. "Everybody agreed there needed to be a
memorial at that site -- and how embarrassing it's been that there
wasn't."

A time of terrorists

The story of the Haymarket Incident is rich in themes that resonate to
this day.

It was a time when Americans felt threatened by terrorists. When
suspicion fell heavily on certain groups of immigrants. When basic civil
rights, such as free speech, were under attack in the name of national
security.

On May 3, 1886, two men were killed by police outside a McCormick
reaper factory on the Southwest Side, where striking workers were
demanding an eight-hour day.

The following night, several thousand protesters, outraged by the
killings, turned out for a rally at the Haymarket, west of today's Loop.
One flier promoting the rally -- and this really alarmed the police --
called for "revenge" and encouraged workers to fight back with
weapons: "To arms, we call you, to arms!"

The rhetoric at the rally was just as fiery, with anarchists calling for not
just an eight-hour day, but the complete overthrow of the capitalist
system. The rally was otherwise peaceful, however, so much so that
Mayor Carter Harrison, who had stopped by to observe, walked home
early.

But as the rally was winding down, when only a few hundred protesters
were still present, about 180 police officers marched to the makeshift
speaker's stand -- the bed of a Crane's Co. wagon. An officer ordered
the crowd to disperse and, at that moment, somebody threw a bomb
into the cops' ranks.

One officer was killed almost instantly. Gunfire and general panic broke
out. At least four workers were killed. Six more officers would die of
their injuries in the coming weeks.

Precisely what else happened that night remains a matter of intense
disagreement, but what followed is indisputable -- a shameful travesty
of justice.

"The Chicago police had scarcely gathered their dead and wounded
before they embarked on a fierce roundup of every real or imagined
radical in the city," according to an online account produced jointly by
the Chicago Historical Society and Northwestern University
(chicagohistory.org/dramas/overview/over.htm). "A terrible crime had
been committed, and the perceived perpetrator was not so much a
particular person as anarchism itself. The result was both a latter-day
witch- hunt and the first 'red scare' in America."

Eight men, all so-called anarchists, were put on trial for murder and
found guilty by a jury.

Four of the men were executed on Nov. 11, 1887. A fifth committed
suicide (or, some historians argue, possibly was assassinated) the day
before he was to hang.

Gov. Richard Oglesby commuted the death sentences of two other
defendants to life in prison. The eighth defendant was sentenced to 15
years of hard labor.

But five years later, in 1892, a new Illinois governor, John Peter
Altgeld, reviewed the entire trial and, in a decision that would doom
him to defeat in the next election, granted full pardons to the three
living defendants.

The trial, Altgeld concluded, had been a complete sham.

"Scholars have long considered the Haymarket trial one of the most
notorious miscarriages of law in American history," the Chicago
Historical Society/Northwestern historians write. "At this time of
cultural crisis, the defendants were convicted by a prejudiced judge and
jury because of their political views, rather than on the basis of solid
evidence that linked them to the bombing."

Around the world, where nascent labor movements were eager to
exploit powerful symbols of establishment oppression, the Haymarket
defendants were transformed into martyrs. In Mexico City in the Palace
of Justice, a Diego Rivera mural depicts the eight Haymarket
defendants with nooses of capitalist injustice around their necks.

Memories die hard

The problem is, one man's hallowed ground is another man's crime
scene.

"It was always a sore spot," acknowledged Mark Donahue, president of
the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago and a member of the memorial
selection committee. "The truth from the police perspective was that
eight police officers were murdered."

Just three years after the riot, a nine-foot-tall bronze statue of a Chicago
policeman was erected on the Haymarket site, a tribute to the slain
officers. The statue, which now stands safely in a courtyard of the
Police Academy, was vandalized repeatedly. In the Vietnam era, it was
blown up twice.

As late as the 1960s, a small group of police officers and others,
including a descendent of one of the officers killed, gathered for prayers
once a year in May at the site.

But times change, even in Chicago. As the years rolled by, what was at
first called the "Haymarket Riot" (with its suggestion of an unruly mob)
became the "Haymarket Tragedy" (with implied regrets all around) and
is now -- at least on the memorial -- the "Haymarket Incident" (blah,
but safe).

"Sure, people still have different opinions, but the real story is how far
we've come," Donahue said. "Law enforcement is now a part of
organized labor."

By the time of the Haymarket's centennial in 1986, the "undisputed
hero" of the Haymarket Incident had become organized labor,
according to the Chicago Historical Society/Northwestern historians.
To mark the occasion, Mayor Harold Washington signed a
proclamation honoring "the movement toward the eight-hour day,
union rights, civil rights, human rights" and lamenting "the tragic
miscarriage of justice which claimed the lives of four labor activists."

Got that? To generations of Chicagoans, the Haymarket defendants
were "bomb-throwing anarchists." Now they were "labor activists."

Honoring free speech

How do you commemorate an event that, to this day, so many people
can't see eye to eye on?

You find the common ground, said Gannon.

"We brought everybody into the process -- the police, the labor
community, historians -- and we came up with this idea of the wagon
as the symbol of freedom of speech," Gannon said. "That's how we
really put our arms around it."

The selection committee, organized by the city's Department of
Cultural Affairs, chose a highly metaphorical design by Chicago artist
Mary Brogger. It depicts a wagon -- the makeshift speaker's platform at
the Haymarket rally -- that is being built or dismantled by figures above
and below.

"It has a duality to it," Brogger explained. "From the standpoint of the
wagon being constructed, you see workers in the lower part are working
cooperatively to build a platform from which the figures on top can
express themselves. And for the viewpoint of the wagon being
dismantled, you can see the weight of the words being expressed might
be the cause of the undoing of the wagon. It's a cautionary tale that you
are responsible for the words you say."

To further encourage this soapbox spirit of debate, Brogger would like
to see her sculpture slowly covered over the years -- "encrusted" is her
word -- by plaques from groups wishing to say their piece. She
envisions plaques from around the world and across the political
spectrum, from trade unionists to police organizations to communists to
Democrats to Republicans. As a practical matter, she cautioned, there
will have to be some sort of screening process.

Not everybody is happy with the results.

"This is a revisionist history thing," complained Anthony Raison, an
anarchist who lives in south suburban Monee. "They're trying to
whitewash the whole thing, take it from the anarchists and make it a
free-speech issue."

Raison was invited to attend a recent meeting at which the text for the
monument's base was drafted, but chose not to go.

Gannon makes no apologies.

If the Haymarket Incident stands for anything, he said, it's the right of
people to stand up and say what they think, with respect for others but
without fear.

"That's what we're all about," he said. "If we don't have freedom of
speech, what are we going to do?"
=========================
* [Ed. note: They are still reluctant to admit the "bomb"
was the work of a provecatore.]


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