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Commentary :: Human Rights
Sacco and Vanzetti Commemorated
26 Aug 2008
Modified: 12:24:14 PM
Account of Saturday's (August 23) march from Copley to the North End
NOTE: This piece is cross posted from http://www.nosuppertonight. The original piece as it appears on said site includes a nine-minute video montage of the assembly and march (as well as a brief intro to Sacco’s home and workplace in Stoughton), along with a link to a series of photos and a slew of live links that don’t show up here.

Saturday was Ann’s birthday, and Ann being my wife of one year and Boston bein’ Fun City there were any number of things we might have done to celebrate. A round of golf, sweetie, some swanky Newbury St shopping, dinner at Locke-Ober, drinks at Felt, then dancing the night away at The Gypsy Bar? Uh-huh.

Not freaking likely.

Actually, me, I’m always ready for an appropriately festive birthday recitation of T. S. Eliot:

Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.
First, the cold friction of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others’ harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools’ approval stings, and honour stains.

But not everyone appreciates the miseries of the sour Eliot the way I do. And Ann's got a rather more positive spin on existence, so no Eliot, and no Newbury St boutiques either.

Now there was of course that business of Obama and Biden publicly fist-bumpin’ or whatever the DNC had planned for them, which sounded about as enticing as the chilling itinerary sketched above. In any case, plopping down in front of the television on a glorious late August afternoon to watch the micro-choreographed kick-off to Change We Can Believe In: The Main Event! in Springfield (IL, not MA)—Obama and Biden in their complementary red-and-blue neckties trotting out their complementary black-and-white wives—wasn’t real high on the list; that particular “event” sounded about as interesting, not to mention authentic, a Spectacle as was …. well, the Olympics, with its fake fireworks, fake performers, fake cityscapes, and fake athletes–but very very real repression. (The Chinese granted their citizens the right to apply for petitions to protest; requesting the same meant in most cases, automatic re-assignment to a “labor re-education” camp. The Democrats, on the other hand, have created a protest pit in Denver sufficiently distanced from the Pepsi Center so as to ensure that delegates, bloated with corporate crudities and dulled by second rate wine, will go about their somnambulism untroubled; “Wisdom crieth aloud in the streets,” to be sure, but she needs a press pass to get into Pepsiland.

That said, if you want to follow the Convention, there are worse places to watch it than here–listen here–read here. [Links on nosuppertonight to Free Speech TV - Democracy Now! - and Denver Indymedia] Note, though, that not all voices on these sites are state and corporate-sanctioned.

In any case, Ann shares an anniversary with another former Stoughton resident; while the 23rd marked her birthday, as well as the sixth occasion of our first meeting–O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!–it was also the 81st anniversary of Nicola Sacco’s death. Actually, that would be Sacco’s state-sanctioned murder. Having been wrongfully convicted of the murder of a payroll officer in nearby Braintree (1920), Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were put to death after seven years in prison—their real and demonstrable crimes being their ardent antiwar, pro-anarchist activism.

In regard to Sacco himself, his employer and landlord Mike Kelly had this to say:

“A man who is in his garden at 4 o’clock in the morning, and at the factory at 7 o’clock, and in his garden again after supper and until nine and ten at night, carrying water and raising vegetables beyond his own needs which he would bring to me to give to the poor, that man is not a `holdup man’.”

And the eloquent Vanzetti, just months prior to their mutual execution:

“Sacco is a worker from his boyhood, a skilled worker lover of work, with a good job and pay, a bank account, a good and lovely wife, two beautiful children and a neat little home at the verge of a wood, near a brook. Sacco is a heart, a faith, a character, a man; a man lover of nature and of mankind. A man who gave all, who sacrifice all to the cause of Liberty and to his love for mankind; money, rest, mundane ambitions, his own wife, his children, himself and his own life. Sacco has never dreamt to steal, never to assassinate. He and I have never brought a morsel of bread to our mouths, from our childhood to today–which has not been gained by the sweat of our brows. Never. His people also are in good position and of good reputation. Oh, yes, I may be more witfull, as some have put it, I am a better babbler than he is, but many, many times in hearing his heartful voice ringing a faith sublime, in considering his supreme sacrifice, remembering his heroism I felt small small at the presence of his greatness and found myself compelled to fight back from my eyes the tears, and quench my heart troubling to my throat to not weep before him–this man called thief and assassin and doomed. But Sacco’s name will live in the hearts of the people and in their gratitude when Katzmann’s and yours bones will be dispersed by time, when your name, his name, your laws, institutions, and your false god are but a deem remembering of a cursed past in which man was wolf to the man.”

The more one reads about Sacco, his wife Rosalina, his committment to his tomato patch and his anarchic ideal, the more heartbreaking the story. So it seemed meet to join with others and march from Copley Square to the Boston’s Italian North End, buoyed by The Emperor Norton Stationary Marching Band, and to commemorate the date, and to denounce, publicly, those same evils decried by Sacco and Vanzetti–-crimes againt humanity that will receive nary a mention in Denver, much less Minneapolis (hell, they’ll be celebrated there).

The same wickedness denounced by John Dos Passos in his remarkable and too-oft ignored U.S.A. trilogy (1937), which includes this segment:

Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die

they have clubbed us off the streets they are stronger they are rich they hire and fire the politicians the newspaper editors the old judges the small men with reputations the college presidents the wardheelers (Listen businessmen college presidents judges America will not forget her betrayers) they hire the men with guns the uniforms the policecars the patrolwagons…

all right you have won you will kill the brave men our friends tonight…

our work is over the scribbled phrases the nights typing releases the smell of the printshop the sharp reek of newprinted leaflets the rush for Western Union stringing words into wires the search for stinging words to make you feel who are your oppressors America

America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have turned our language inside out who have taken the clean words our fathers spoke and made them slimy and foul

their hired men sit on the judge’s bench they sit back with their feet on the tables under the dome of the State House they are ignorant of our beliefs they have the dollars the guns the armed forces the powerplants

they have built the electric chair and hired the executioner to throw the switch all right we are two nations America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have bought the laws and fenced off the meadows and cut down the woods for pulp and turned our pleasant cities into slums and sweated the wealth out of our people and when they want to they hire the executioner to throw the switch
but do they know that the old words of the immigrants are being renewed in blood and agony tonight
do they know that the old American speech of the haters of oppression is new tonight in the mouth of an old woman from Pittsburgh of a husky boilermaker from Frisco who hopped freights clear from the Coast to come here in the mouth of a Back Bay socialworker in the mouth of an Italian printer of a hobo from Arkansas the language of the beaten nation is not forgotten in our ears tonight the men in the deathhouse made the old words new before they died

now their work is over the immigrants haters of oppression lie quiet in black suits in the little undertaking parlor in the North End the city is quiet the men of

the conquering nation are not to be seen on the streets [

they have won why are they scared to be seen the
streets? on the streets you see only the downcast
faces of the beaten the streets belong to the beaten
nation all the way to the cemetery where the bodies of the immigrants are to be buried we line the curbs in the drizzling rain we crowd the wet sidewalks elbow to
elbow silent pale looking with scared eyes at the coffins

we stand defeated America

Best, I think, though, to end with the ever eloquent Vanzetti, speaking to a reporter just before his execution::

“If it had not been for this thing, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life can we hope to do such work for tolerance, justice, for man’s understanding of man, as now we do by accident. Our words - our lives - our pains - nothing! The taking of our lives - lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler - all! That last moment belong to us - that agony is our triumph.”

Thanks to the organizers at The Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society (, to the Emperor Norton band, to BAAM, and to all who participated.
See also:

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