Who Is Stealing Our Education? Steven Serikaku and Byron Sigcho Deconstruct UNO

This is the second in an ongoing series, coming at a time when UNO charter schools financial shenanigans are finally being examined.

This is the second in an ongoing series, coming at a time when UNO charter schools financial shenanigans are finally being examined.

Just in the last few days the Chicago Sun-Times is finally exploring some issues pertaining to UNO charter schools.  Finally.  Not that much of this information hasn’t been available before.  It’s just that only those willing to dig for it have been able to find it.  Meanwhile, UNO has developed an empire of 13 charter schools while scooping nearly 100 million dollars from public coffers to build those same schools.  Their political connections to the Democratic Party machine flowered under the Daley administration and came to fruition when Juan Rangel, UNO CEO, was a campaign manager for Rahm Emanuel in his successful bid to become Chicago’s Mayor.

This teach in, the second in the “Who Is Stealing Our Education” series presented by Occupy Rogers Park, couldn’t come at a more significant moment, as school closings butt up against a plethora of charter openings;  as public money is used to deplete the neighborhood schools of needed resources.


Gil Scott Heron – Passages, Interludes, Subtext n’ Understandin’

Gil Scott Heron – Passages, Interludes, Subtext n’ Understandin’

Gil Scott Heron – Passages, Interludes, Subtext n’ Understandin’
Friday 06/08/2012 7:00 PM — 10:00 PM
Cost: Free
Phone: 877-394-5061
Email: info@guildcomplex.org
Venue: Experimental Station
Address: 6100 S. Blackstone (south on Dorchester, east on 61st – free street and university lot parking), Chicago, IL, United States

Join us for an evening of poetry, music and discussion of the legendary poet/musician/activist. Presented by the Guild’s “Applied Words” series, with support from the Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture – University of Chicago, and the Friends of Blackstone Library.

Featured speakers and performers:

Carol Adams As one of the nation’s most esteemed educators, Dr. Adams helped to bring about the convergence of art and education in Chicago, particularly in its museums and public schools.  Former positions include Chairman of the African American Studies Department at Loyola University; Director, The Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University; and most recently the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services. Carol Adams has spent much of her career engaged in cultural arts research, analysis and production. Her unique perspective on art and its integral role in shaping and defining culture and community is informed by her parallel study of sociology and Africana history and culture. Among her many awards and honors is the Illinois Arts Council Governor’s Award in the Arts.

Maggie Brown is a tremendously talented singer and performer using her gift to not only entertain, but educate as well. Maggie is the daughter of the late Oscar Brown, Jr. a world renowned composer, social activist, and legendary giant on the Jazz music scene. Mr. Brown passed on his artistic integrity to his daughter who now uses her own voice to create images that excite and inspire. For 19 years, the songstress has nationally toured her one-woman show, “LEGACY: Our Wealth of Music” which follows the history and evolution of African American music and covers a wide range of musical forms. Miss Maggie’s vocal musicianship proudly heralds the LEGACY left by those who came before us. “Music is a powerful force. We need to use our music, which is our cultural expression, in a way that uplifts humanity, rather than simply for material gain,” said Brown. The singer, actress, and educator Maggie Brown is no stranger to jazz-vocal legends with unique styles of songwriting: she grew up with one in her father. In 1999 Brown worked with the late singer/composer Abbey Lincoln on her CD, “Wholly Earth”.

Krista Franklin is a poet, visual artist and performer from Dayton, OH who lives and works in Chicago. Her poetry and mixed medium collages have been published in lifestyle and literary journals such as Vinyl 5, The New Sound, Coon Bidness, Copper Nickel, RATTLE, Indiana Review, Ecotone, Clam and Callaloo, and in the anthologies Encyclopedia Vol. II, F-K and Gathering Ground. Her visual art has been featured on the covers of award-winning books, and exhibited nationally in solo and group exhibitions, and her chapbook Study of Love & Black Body was published in 2012 by Willow Books. Franklin is a Cave Canem Fellow, a co-founder of 2nd Sun Salon, a community meeting space for writers, visual and performance artists, musicians and scholars. www.kristafranklin.com

Travis Jackson is an ethnomusicologist whose work centers on jazz, rock and recording technology. His theoretical interests include urban geography, race/culture and identity, ethnographic method, performance and aesthetics. He is the author of the forthcoming Blowin’ the Blues Away: Performance and Meaning on the New York Jazz Scene, as well as articles on topics ranging from the intersection of jazz and poetic performance to the interpretation of meaning in rock. His current work focuses on the affective attachment of musicians and listeners to recording labels.

Keith M. Kelley is a poet, spoken word artist, musician and audio artist. He has been performing professionally since 1991 with his spoken word band, Funky Wordsmyths and in his one-man “Electric Poetry” show that blends spoken word, rhythmic utterances, and live instruments with effects processing and live phrase sampling and looping. In addition to performing, Kelley has been conducting Poetry, Spoken Word, and Music workshops with youth and adults for 20 Years. Kelley is the Executive Director of the Spoken Word Academy of Chicago, a not-for-profit organization established to provide a comprehensive resource for learning, practicing, performing, and experiencing the spoken word art form.

Quraysh Ali Lansana is author of five poetry books, including They Shall Run: Harriet Tubman Poems (Third World Press, 2004); a children’s book titled The Big World (Addison-Wesley, 1998); and editor of eight anthologies, including Dream of A Word: The Tia Chucha Press Poetry Anthology (Tia Chucha Press, 2006). He is Associate Professor of English/Creative Writing at Chicago State University, where he served as Director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing from 2002-2011. He is a former faculty member of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School and former Associate Editor-Poetry for Black Issues Book Review. Quraysh earned a Masters of Fine Arts degree at the Creative Writing Program at New York University, where he was a Departmental Fellow. Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy & Social Justice in Classroom & Community (with Georgia A. Popoff) was published in March 2011 by Teachers & Writers Collaborative and was a 2012 NAACP Image Award nominee. mystic turf, his third full-length book of poetry, will be released in November 2012 by Willow Books.

Mario , Chicago poet, educator, activist and radio personality,  hosts “News From the Service Entrance” on WHPK 88.5FM/whpk.org/iTunes. He has written essays for Chicago’s public radio affiliate WBEZ , appeared on Voice of America, provided Election Night 2008 analysis for BBC Devon, and has performed his poetry at DePaul University, University of Chicago, Traffic Series at Steppenwolf Theater (Inaugural Season), MCA, United Nations Dialogue Among Civilizations, Old Town School of Folk Music, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Cultural Center.

Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These Times, where he has worked since 1983. He is the host of “The Salim Muwakkil” show on WVON, Chicago’s historic black radio station, and he wrote the text for the book HAROLD: Photographs from the Harold Washington Years. Muwakkil has also written for the Washington Post, Chicago Reader, The Progressive, Newsday, Cineaste, Chicago Magazine, Emerge Magazine, The Black Scholar, and Utne Reader among others. Muwakkil has won a variety of journalism awards including the “Top Ten Media Heroes of 1994,” from the Institute of Alternative Journalism, the “Black Rose Achievement Award for 1997,” from the League of Black Women, and the 2001 Studs Terkel Award for Journalistic Excellence from the Chicago-based Community Media Workshop. In his spare time, Muwakkil serves as a board member for the Progressive Media Project and the Chicago-based Public Square. He has been a faculty member of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s Urban Studies Program, and an adjunct professor at Columbia College, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Primeridian, a hip-hop based, power group consisting of Simeon Viltz (See-Me-On), and Darshon Gibbs (Race), hail from the eclectic, historical music scene of Chicago. With musical influences from blues and R&B, to house and acid jazz, the Primeridian fuses these influences into a soulful, jazzy, acid-funk sound independent of musical genres and classifications pushing hip hop to new levels of exposure, experimentation and expression using thought-provoking lyrics, a touch of humor, skilled production and musicianship and years of explosive live performances. Simeon AKA “V,” a native of Chicago’s southeast Hyde Park area, represents the ‘the soul’ of Primeridian. Darshon “Race” Gibbs is an electrifying and captivating emcee able to entice those in earshot with lyrical prowess, depth and a distinct, strong voice. Original member, Jaime “Tree” Roundtree is now a teacher, focused on making connections with his students as an educator and his audience as an artist.

David Stovall is Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies and African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).  His scholarship investigates four areas 1) Critical Race Theory, 2) concepts of social justice in education, 3) the relationship between housing and education, and 4) the relationship between schools and community stakeholders. In the attempt to being theory to action, he has spent the last ten years working with community organizations and schools to develop curriculum that address issues of social justice.  His current work has led him to become a member of the Greater Lawndale/Little Village School of Social Justice High School design team, which opened in the Fall of 2005. Furthering his work with communities, students, and teachers, Stovall is involved with youth-centered community organizations in Chicago, New York and the Bay Area.  In addition to his duties and responsibilities as an associate professor at UIC, he also serves as a volunteer social studies teacher at the Greater Lawndale/Little Village School for Social Justice.

avery r. young is a writer, performer and teaching artist.  He is a Cave Canem Fellow and his works have been published in AIMPrint, Callaloo, Spaces Between Us and many other anthologies and periodicals.  He is also featured on Urban Audiology:  The Art of Audio Truism and other compilations.

Richard Hunt, Michael Warr Explore Creativity and Change Sept 13

Dear Friends:

This is a reminder that the Guild Literary Complex Benefit is a week from this Tuesday, on Sept 13, 2011. The complex is hoping to receive responses/reservations by Wednesday (9-8) so that they can plan properly, but given that only one week remains, the main thing is that it is not too late to reserve your place. The event will have terrific food and, more importantly, will host a conversation on creativity between acclaimed sculptor Richard Hunt and poet Michel Warr.  Richard’s spectacular and monumental work, much of it created just steps from the site of Guild Books in his studio on Lill Street, is displayed in public places around the USA.  Michael is the founding director of the Guild Complex and a poet of remarkable powers.  Their exchange promises to be one of the cultural highlights of the year!

If you don’t know about it already, the Guild Complex was born in the creative space created at Guild Books.  The Complex was the umbrella under which the Chicago Labor & Arts Festival developed.  The Complex promotes literature and sponsors readings & other literary events throughout Chicago, particularly among historically under-represented groups. I have been  on its board since its inception.

The first level of giving to attend the benefit is $75. If you can’t attend all donations are welcome. I’ve attached an invitation. Please feel free to forward it to anyone who is interested in art and literature in Chicago. The sooner the better, as the event has limited seating. Please respond online and Ilook forward to seeing  you there!


Radium Girls Statue Dedicated in Ottawa, Illinois

Radium Girls Statue Dedication Is the Place to Be This Labor Day Weekend —  Friday, September 2nd, 11:00 AM, Ottawa, Illinois

radium-death-newspaper-article On Friday, September 2, at 11:00 a.m. at the corner of Clinton and Jefferson streets in Ottawa, Illinois, a statue of a young woman holding flowers in one hand and paintbrushes in the other will be unveiled. She is the symbol of the Radium Girls, the young women who worked in the clock and watch factories dotting the Illinois Valley in the first half of the 20th century. This was the era of “glow in the dark” watch and clock dials, painted with deadly radium. Many of these workers died from the effects of putting their brushes in their mouths countless times a day to sharpen the points, as the companies trained them to do.

The statue will stand on the site of the Luminous Processes factory in Ottawa at Clinton and Jefferson. The City of Ottawa, community groups and local unions worked together to raise the funds and assure the successful completion of this project. Laborers Local 393, an affiliate union of the ILHS, has donated many member volunteer hours to prep the site where the statue will be placed.

It all started when student Madeline Piller made the Radium Girls the subject of her junior high history fair project, and then never forgot their story. Her father Bill Piller is a sculptor and she enlisted his help to honor these women, many of whom were laid to rest after their untimely deaths in the Catholic cemetery just outside of Ottawa. A Geiger counter passed over these graves will still register the presence of the deadly radium poison that took their lives.

The Ottawa Radium Girls were not alone. Radium-painting factories were also operating in New Jersey and Connecticut. In her book Radium Girls, Woman and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935, Central Michigan University historian Claudia Clark extensively documents the suffering of these young women and the fight they and their families mounted to obtain proper compensation from their employers.

radium-girls1 On July 7, 1937, the Chicago Daily Times covered one such legal battle. Reporter John Main wrote: “Fifteen living dead women will appear before the Illinois Industrial Commission here on July 25. It will be the next-to-last act of what lawyers say is the biggest and most pitiful miscarriage of justice in the history of Illinois. The last act will be these women’s death – sure, tortured, horrible.”

These efforts for justice helped spark needed legislation concerning occupational diseases’ and workers compensation laws throughout the country. This Labor Day weekend, we commemorate the contribution made by the struggle of these young women to the health and safety protection of all working people.

The video Radium City (excerpt) movingly recounts this tragedy.  For the complete video (almost 2 hr documentary), click here.

How Art Works — Presented by Neighborhood Writing Alliance

How Art Works: The Impact of Art on Chicago Movements

Date: Thursday, April 21 2011 @ 6:00pm

Admission: FREE

800 S. Halsted
Chicago, IL 60607

Presenter: Neighborhood Writing Alliance

NWA presents a panel representing a variety of artistic mediums and social movements across the city. Presenters discuss how they have used art to further specific causes, such as environmental justice, youth development, and inter-generational collaboration. Presenters include: Credell Walls, the Illinois State Coordinator of Roots and Shoots, a subsidiary of the Jane Goodall Institute; Mindy Faber, media educator and founder of Open Youth Networks; Tasleem el-Hakim, activist, spoken word artist, and hip-hop vocalist; and Joyce Fernandes, Executive Director of archi-treasures. The panel is moderated by Mariame Kaba, founding director of Project NIA.

Remembering The Triangle Fire — Joshua Freeman In The Nation

[Chicago remembers the Triangle Fire on April 7, 2011.  Click here to find out more]
Remembering the Triangle Fire
Joshua Freeman

Joshua Freeman teaches history at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

On March 25, 1911, a fire that broke out in a bin holding scraps of fabric at the Triangle Waist Company, just down the block from New York City’s Washington Square Park, quickly spread, fed by cotton garments, tissue paper and wooden fixtures. Though the building that housed the clothing manufacturer was modern and advertised as fireproof, the cramped layout of the factory, a locked exit door, a flimsy fire escape that soon crumpled and inadequate fire department equipment brought a staggering loss of life. Within a half-hour, 146 workers had died, mostly young Jewish and Italian women, nearly half still in their teens. Two were only 14. More than a third of the victims jumped or fell from upper-story windows trying to escape the flames.

The 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire is being commemorated by a remarkable array of events. As it does every year, Workers United, the union that represents garment workers, is sponsoring a ceremony at the site of the fire. (The building is now part of New York University.) Each year a fire department truck raises a ladder to the sixth floor, the highest its equipment could reach in 1911, painfully short of the eighth, ninth and tenth floors, where the fire occurred. Forums about the fire are being held in New York, Philadelphia, St. Paul, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the City University of New York is sponsoring a conference on the fire and its legacy. HBO and PBS are airing documentaries. At least six Triangle-related plays and four musical theater pieces are being performed in cities across the country, including one composed by five-time Tony nominee Elizabeth Swados. Concerts, an art exhibit, a poetry contest and a forty-hour fast are being staged to mark the centennial.

The attention being given to Triangle stands out in a society that rarely remembers anything connected to workers’ lives, struggles or tragedies. Names like Homestead, Pullman and Flint, associated with decisive labor battles, mean nothing to most Americans. Yet even before the recent flurry of activity, the Triangle Fire occupied a modest niche in national culture, the subject of novels, historical studies, a film, plays, books of poetry, document collections, websites and even children’s books.

Why its prominence? After all, there were worse industrial disasters, including four mining accidents in the United States between 1907 and 1917, each of which killed more people than the New York fire. At the time, by one estimate, industrial accidents took at least 100 lives a day. And if Triangle was New York’s worst occupational disaster before 9/11, there were deadlier calamities, including the 1904 fire on the excursion ship General Slocum, which took well over 1,000 lives.

Triangle commands our notice in part because of the specifics of the disaster. There is something particularly horrifying about being trapped in a fire and plummeting through the air to escape it (so much so that ninety years later, on 9/11, newspapers and television generally refrained from showing images of people jumping from the World Trade Center). That so many of the victims were young and female added a layer of poignancy, as we commonly associate youth, especially young girls, with innocence, making their deaths seem even more undeserved than those of older victims of mining explosions and industrial accidents. And the Triangle Fire took place in the media capital of the country, receiving massive press coverage, including harrowing photographs difficult to forget.

But if the horror of death, of young life snuffed out, figures centrally in the Triangle story, particularly as relayed in poetry, fiction and young people’s literature, the story looms large for another reason: it fulfills a deeply held belief, or at least a yearning to believe, that good can come out of suffering, that death does not have to be in vain. “Out of the smoke and the flame,” not only “downward dashed the girls,” as an Episcopal minister wrote at the time, but also came a host of government reforms, union advances and a political approach that at least for a while eliminated many of the worst horrors associated with industrialization.

The Triangle Fire occurred at a moment of radical challenge to the national structures of power. For more than a decade the union movement had been growing in size and strength, stretching from conservative craft unions in the American Federation of Labor to the radical Industrial Workers of the World, with emerging garment worker unions combining elements of both. During the two years before the fire, a wave of protests had swept through the garment factories of New York and other cities, beginning with the “Uprising of the Twenty Thousand,” a general strike of young female makers of women’s blouses, including those employed by the Triangle Waist Company. The struggle of the “girl strikers” proved epic. For thirteen weeks the clothing companies used thugs and police to try to break the walkout, while the strikers won support from organized labor, socialists and women’s groups, including prominent figures like multimillionaire suffragist and socialite Alva Belmont. The strike ended in a partial victory, union settlements with some 300 companies (though not Triangle) and a general improvement of pay and conditions. The next year, a cloakmakers strike brought the “Protocols of Peace,” an innovative agreement with the employers that solidified the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union and established a Joint Board of Sanitary Control to address the dangerous, unhealthy conditions that permeated the industry.

The garment strikes erupted from a world bubbling with the excitement of new ideas and movements—socialism, anarchism, women’s rights and industrial unionism. Even Theodore Roosevelt recognized that as a result of the rapid industrialization of the country and the enormous disparity of wealth it created, “The old laws, and the old customs…. are no longer sufficient.” What was called “the labor question” dominated political discourse—the issue of how to end the strikes and labor violence that had shaken the country and, more fundamentally, how democracy and economic inequality could coexist. Progressives and unionists sought to develop mechanisms to eliminate the worst abuses of capitalist society and give working people some say about their lives, on and off the job. Propped up by an expanding economy and a widespread belief in the idea of progress, a great optimism about the possibilities for change managed to survive the daily horrors of unrestrained capitalism.

The Triangle Fire catalyzed the forces of change. In its immediate aftermath, some unionists concluded that workers could depend only on themselves. Rose Schneiderman, an organizer for the Women’s Trade Union League, told a meeting at the Metropolitan Opera House, called to address industrial safety, “I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting…. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves.” Triangle spurred intensified union organizing, a crescendo that would peak in 1919, when one out of every five workers in the country went on strike, a figure never again matched.

But Triangle forced others to address the plight of factory workers, too. Democratic leaders in Albany, under pressure from the massive outpouring of public sympathy for the Triangle victims (some 400,000 people came out for a funeral procession), organized labor, the Hearst press, the socialists (one of whose leaders, Meyer London, got elected to Congress from the Lower East Side in 1914) and upper-class reformers like Wall Street lawyer Henry Stimson (who was to serve as secretary of war on two separate occasions), decided to embrace the cause of factory reform as their own. Two years after police with ties to Tammany were beating up strikers in front of the Triangle factory, up-and-coming Democrats Al Smith and Robert Wagner took charge of a state Factory Investigating Commission, staffing it with young female union leaders like Clara Lemlich, whose impassioned speech had set off the “Uprising of the Twenty Thousand,” and social reformers like Frances Perkins, executive secretary of the Consumers’ League. The commission’s detailed report led to dozens of New York State fire and factory laws (many copied in other states) establishing new safety requirements, limiting working hours for women and children, and restricting production in tenement homes.

The alliance linking New York Democrats with unions and progressive reformers persisted through the 1920s under the governorships of Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt, before blossoming during the New Deal. Perkins, who had witnessed workers jumping out of the Triangle windows, became the first female cabinet officer as labor secretary. Wagner, by then a senator, wrote the National Labor Relations Act, which facilitated the triumph of industrial unionism. Thirty-five years after that, a similar coalition of unionists, reform-minded professionals and liberal Democrats (joined, for reasons of political calculus, by Richard Nixon) engineered the Occupational Safety and Health Act. By the time Rose Freedman, the last survivor of the Triangle Fire, died in 2001 at 107, the number of deaths from workplace accidents had fallen to fewer than half those at the time OSHA was passed and just a fraction of the toll at the time of Triangle.

* * *

The unionization and reform that followed Triangle provides a feel-good element to an otherwise bleak story and accounts for some of its telling and retelling. Yet the triumphs—as remarkable as they were—proved limited in scope and durability. Government protections and benefits excluded many of the most exploited workers, like agricultural and domestic labor. And for garment workers, their moment of economic stability lasted only a generation or so; during the post–World War II decades, clothing manufacturers began leaving unionized production centers like New York City for rural and Southern locations, where organized labor was weaker and costs lower, and then for foreign shores. As the industry reorganized, sub-minimum and sub-subsistence wages, child labor and dangerous working conditions re-emerged, both in low-end shops in New York and Los Angeles that employed (as did the Triangle Waist Company) almost exclusively immigrant labor and in the vast archipelago of factories abroad—in Haiti, Central America, China and Bangladesh—where young women toil to feed apparel to American retailers.

The re-emergence of sweated labor in the garment industry previewed a broader degradation of work that has occurred since the 1970s, in the face of deregulation and economic restructuring. Many industries, like meatpacking, went from providing stable, well-paid, unionized jobs to operating dangerous facilities with low pay, poor benefits and high turnover. Manufacturing increasingly left the country (one reason for the drop in occupational fatalities). No one should have been surprised when in 1991 twenty-five workers died in a fire at a poultry plant in Hamlet, North Carolina, where doors were locked to prevent theft, just as at Triangle, or when two years later a fire at the Kadar toy factory near Bangkok killed more workers than at Triangle, the result of a similar combination of flammable materials strewn about, crowded conditions, inadequate exits and a lack of fire safety preparation.

Today, as a cult of deregulation, a rabid ethos of unrestricted capitalism and the ability of firms to play workers in one country against those in another have seemingly sent us careening back in time toward a pre–New Deal regime of labor relations, there is less domestic opposition to sweated labor than 100 years ago (though low-paid workers overseas have been increasingly militant, evident in the fusillade of strikes in China). Periodic waves of moral outrage sweep across college campuses in antisweatshop campaigns, but as an organized force, labor has weakened to the point that the percentage of privately employed workers who belong to a union is now lower than in 1911.

Given the enormous differences, politically, socially and culturally, between our time and the time of Triangle, it would be glib to draw specific lessons for today from the reformers who pulled some good from the ashes of the fire. But perhaps we can learn from their broad approach. The seemingly technical, incremental reforms that came in the aftermath of Triangle—requirements for sprinklers and fire drills and unlocked exit doors that open outward—were no more the result of modest thinking than the sweeping New Deal reforms like Social Security that came two decades later. Rather, they came out of a shared belief by socialists, unionists and even progressive presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson that the society they lived in was fundamentally disordered, with institutions, rules and customs inappropriate for the needs of the people. The world needed reinventing. But if the spirit of revolution infused the air, so did the practical draw of social engineering and respect, grounded in daily experience, for the importance of even small changes in the conditions of work.

Today, the labor movement and progressives fight one dispiriting battle after another to defend wages, benefits, social programs and government protections from further dismemberment. Even the thrilling mobilization of labor and its allies in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana has remained, so far, defensive—necessary, but not enough even to win incremental advances. We live in a society that simply does not function for an ever-growing part of the population. It is too late to rally around restoring the status quo ante, an impossible and not particularly attractive ideal. Rather, like the social forces fused together by the flames at Triangle, we need to imagine a new way of being, a new set of customs and laws designed for our world of commoditization, financialization and globalization, which has brought so much wealth and so much misery—some new combination of regulation and self-organization. Only by recapturing the spirit of the reformers of a century ago, that the world belongs to us, to make right as we see fit, can we achieve even modest improvements in our daily reality.

Rosie’s Girls — by Julia Stein

[Reposted from Counterpunch‘s Poetry Basement, edited by Marc Beaudin.  Julia Stein’s poetry along with other work from the poetry anthology she edited, Walking Through A River Of Fire, will be read at a commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire,  Thursday, April 7, 2011.  The program begins at 3 pm, ends at 5 pm at Gage Gallery, 18 So. Michigan Ave; and will be followed by a screening of the recent American Experience documentary film on Triangle.  At 6 pm the Working Women’s History Project continues the commemoration with a special performance of a play written for this occasion, performed at their annual fundraising gala at Roosevelt University, 214 So. Michigan Ave. – Lew Rosenbaum ]

One of Rosie’s Girls

We union girls every Saturday walked to the Asch building,
yelled up to the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors, “So long
until victory is yours” to our sisters at Triangle Factory,
our sisters who lost their strike, the girls defeated
by scabs, their dreams of union smashed,
our sisters entrapped up the elevator eight, nine floors,
the girls who are locked in, one fire escape, no union
the floors covered with scraps of clothing,
the girls who screamed and burned in the fire.

After the terrible fire I walked numbly in the April rain

into the funeral march crowd that overflowed Washington Square.
My sorrow was enough to flood all of Fifth Avenue,
My rage was enough to flood all of Broadway.
They led the empty hearse first up through the huge arch,
then we walked silently eight abreast the rain hitting us hard
up Fifth Avenue the fine ladies in their frilly shirtwaists and the
fine gentlemen in their fancy suits on the sidewalk stared at us,
we were so drenched walking past the mansions of the rich.

We hissed and screamed from the floor, the galleries
packed with my brothers and sisters of the dead at
the Metropolitan Opera House memorial meeting;
we only quieted when Rosie Schneiderman, tiny steel wisp
with her flaming red hair, whispered,
‘This is not the first time girls have burned alive
in this city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death
of one of our sister workers. Every year thousands of us
are maimed.” Rose’s voice was our voice was my voice.

We followed Rose across the Lower East side hoisting her up
to speak. Rosie with her flaming red hair at the street meeting told us
the Governor ignited a commission to investigate.
All those meetings for five years she gave us hope telling us
the commissioners crawled through the tiny hole in the wall
to the steep iron ladder covered with ice, the factory’s only
fire escape, visited canneries where five-year olds snipped beans,
seven year olds shelled peas, saw machinery that
scalped women, cut men’s arms off. We followed her.

I was one of Rosie’s girls who helped leaflet for her meetings
every noon and evening telling our sisters and brothers
the legislator passed, the governor signed laws making it
safe to work. We walked the streets leafleting our people
in the factories and stores to speak up speak up until the sprinklers
were installed, fire escapes built up the sides of factory buildings,
the doors to the factories unlocked. My sorrow lessened,
still March 25 every year I take a bunch of daisies to
Evergreen Cemetery, lay it on the grave of a Triangle girl.

Julia Stein is the editor of the anthology Walking Through a River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Poetry (C.C. Marimbo).  She also has four previous books of poetry: Under the Ladder to Heaven, Desert Soldiers, Shulamith, and Walker Woman.