Frederick Douglass

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them..." Frederick Douglass

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sacco and Vanzetti: Two Good Mens A Long Time Gone

On this day in 1927 two innocent men were executed by the state of Massachusetts because they were anarchists. Nothing new here, the US government had been killing anarchists and other radicals for decades by this point. But this case was different in that it attracted global attention, and almost caused a revolution in Italy.

The case was also notable in that the trial was a scandal. The judge had been overheard to say that he was going to "get those anarchist bastards," and he did.

Not that this wasn't enough to make this case noteworthy, but the grace and dignity with which the condemned men faced the ordeal, and the beautiful things they said and wrote about it, also served to focus public scrutiny upon the infamy.

There's no need to rehash the details. It would be a familiar saga of speaking truth to power and the lethal consequences which often pertain.

Power determined to destroy these two brave men, and did, but the two revolutionaries still inspire modern activists the world around, myself included. I have a lot in common with the two men, including having lived a good deal of my life in Massachusetts. I was present when then Governor Mike Dukakis granted them a posthumous pardon. He delivered quite a moving speech, rare in its candor, particularly for a politician with great ambition.

Are they still relevant? As long as justice is they will be. Their work is unfinished. There's an Italian saying with which I'm sure they would have agreed: "He who lives by hope, dies in despair." In other words, you must do something before it's too late. They devoted their lives to acting in the interests of justice and humanity. I will not want to draw another breath should the day come when such things are no longer relevant.

So to Nando and Bartolo, on the occasion of the 84th anniversary of their executions, I say mille grazie.[1]

[1] Paul Avrich's book on the two men is the only one worth reading.