Don’t Mourn, Organize!

September 3, 2012, 10:51 am

These are the legendary last words of Joe Hill — except that they weren’t his last words. According to Peter Carlson’s Roughneck: The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood (New York: W.W. Norton: 1983) this catchy phrase was rewritten from a telegram sent to Haywood in 1915 as Hill awaited execution on trumped up charges in a Utah jail. What Joe really wrote was:

“Goodbye, Bill, I die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time mourning. Organize!”

But Joe Hill had many more last words. They included a subsequent telegram to Haywood which read:

“Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”

Utah is a beautiful state, with some beautiful people in it, but here we are almost a century later and I have got to agree. I don’t want to be found dead in Utah either. If you’ve got to bury me, bury me in a Blue state please.

As to other states I wouldn’t want to be found dead in nowadays, I would add anti-immigrant Arizona. There, the right of working people of color to their own history is being abridged through a law passed by the legislature that makes the teaching of ethnic studies illegal in public schools. This law includes the burning banning of books from public school libraries and classrooms that explore the history of colonialism, Native American culture, Chicano Studies, African American literature, critical thinking and  – wait for it! — subversive classics from Tudor England like William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

How right wing are the conservative politicians dominating the Arizona GOP? They are SO right wing that Barry Goldwater’s daughter and granddaughter are endorsing Democrat Richard Carmona for Senate against GOP candidate Jeff Flake (who is endorsed by Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan.)

Arizona and Texas, whose state GOP platform includes a plank eliminating the teaching of critical thinking from public schools, seem determined to turn themselves into the nation’s laughing stock when it comes to education. But why should kids be subject to enforced ignorance?

This brings us to what can you do to celebrate Labor Day, dear.

  • Visit the Arizona Ethnic Studies Network website to educate yourself about what is at stake and who is organizing. A list of the banned books (which were removed from schools in commando-style police raids) can be found here.
  • Collect books and send them to Librotraficante, a non-profit which is organizing underground libraries in Arizona. Librotraficante organizers are working with schools and teachers who oppose the ban to get good books to the kids who need them. For instructions on how to donate books, go here.
  • Donate to, a group of progressive teachers, scholars and citizens who are fighting for freedom of thought in Amerika’s leading police state.
  • While you are at it, inquire in your own community what books are — and are not — available to public school children, the homeless, and working adults. Do public library hours in your community facilitate access to books for workers, undocumented families and people who have no permanent address? Start your own movement to support freedom of thought for working people in your community.

Happy Labor Day folks! “Where working folks defend their rights/That’s where you’ll find Joe Hill.” Here’s Joan Baez to sing it to you:

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