With the coming of summer, many students are struck with a debilitating illness known as cantgotoschoolitis. Symptoms may include inability to pay attention in class, wandering eyes, and an overactive imagination.
With students yearning so badly to get out of class, it’s hard to believe that on this day in 1976, many young students gave their lives fighting just to receive a fair and equal education.
In 1953, the white Apartheid government of South Africa passed the Bantu Education Act, which created a curriculum intended to reduce the aspirations and self-worth of the country’s black students.
As the Minister of Native Affairs and future Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd explained,
“When I have control of native education I will reform it so that Natives will be taught from childhood to realise that equality with Europeans is not for them…” (Apartheid South Africa, John Allen)
The supposed benefit of the Act was that it increased the number of black students able to attend school; the reality was that it provided no additional resources for the expansion. As a result, by 1975 the government was spending R644 per white student and R42 per black student.
The final straw came in the 1970s when the Apartheid government announced instruction would no longer take place in South Africa’s many native languages, but only in English and Afrikaans.
As one student editorial proclaimed:
“Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule. They have been living for years under these laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth.” (South Africa in Contemporary Times)
The conflict came to a head on June 16, 1976 when a group of students held a protest against the educational system in Soweto. When students refused to disperse, police unleashed tear gas. Students responded by throwing rocks; police, by firing bullets. At least 27 students were killed in the massacre, including a 12 year-old boy named Hector Pieterson.
A string of protests and riots engulfed the region. June 1976 is considered one of the most divisive and tragic months in South African history.
After the fall of the Apartheid government in the 1990s, South Africa chose to dedicate June 16 as Youth Day, in memory of those who died in the Soweto Riots, and those who devoted their lives to the long struggle for equal education and the abolition of apartheid.
“Money is not going to organize the disadvantaged, the powerless, or the poor. We need other weapons. That’s why the War on Poverty is such a miserable failure. You put out a big pot of money and all you do is fight over it. Then you run out of money and you run out of troops.” – César Chavez
On March 31 (or the last Monday in March), Americans in Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin celebrate César Chavez Day. César Chavez is most famous for organizing the historic food boycotts of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and for improving the working conditions of agricultural laborers in the United States.
“Do not romanticize the poor…We are all people, human beings subject to the same temptations and faults as all others. Our poverty damages our dignity.” – César Chavez
The Chavez family was not removed, but they lost their farm and grocery store in Arizona, causing them to move to California to become migrant farm workers. César attended approximately 30 schools during these transitory years. Having completed the eighth grade he dropped out to help support the family after his father was injured in an accident. In 1944 he joined the Navy and served for two years.
In 1948 the Chavez married and moved to San Jose, California, where he met Father Donald McDonnell. Chavez later said about McDonnell:
“He told me about social justice, and the Church’s stand on farm labor and reading from the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII, in which he upheld labor unions. I would do anything to get the Father to tell more about labor history. I began going to the bracero camps with him to help with the mass, to the city jail with him to talk to the prisoners…”
Chavez was influenced by the works of St. Francis of Assisi and Gandhi. He joined Fred Ross’s Community Service Organization, initially organizing voter registration. After ten years he left the organization and moved his family to Delano, California to co-found what would become the United Farm Workers with Dolores Huertes. The prevailing belief at the time was that the migrant life of farm workers and high illiteracy rates made unionizing impossible.
However, by September 16, 1965 (Mexican Independence Day) Chavez had amassed over 1200 members who voted to join the grape strike organized by Filipino Americans in the AFL-CIO. The following year Chavez led strikers on a 340 mile march from Delano to the steps of the state capital building in Sacramento. In 1968 he held his first hunger strike to draw attention to the treatment of grape farm workers.
When Giumarra, the largest grape grower in California, was allowed by other grape growers to use their labels to minimize effectiveness of the boycott, the UFW extended the boycott to all California grapes
Over the next two decades, Chavez’s boycotts, strikes and fasts improved the working conditions of farm workers, increased wages, united Latino-Americans laborers, and reduced pesticide use. It was in pursuit of this last goal that Chavez kicked off the “Wrath of Grapes” campaign in 1986, and held his final hunger strike in 1988, lasting 36 days.
With respect to pesticides, Chavez compared the role of farm workers to that of the canary in a coal mine: sickness endured by the farm workers was the first sign of the harmful effects of pesticides that would later be evident in consumers.
Chavez died on April 23, 1993, in San Luis, Arizona. He had been in Yuma testifying in a civil suit filed by a lettuce grower suing farm workers for damages brought on by a UFW lettuce boycott in the 1980s. He died about twenty miles from his birthplace.
The following year, his wife accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom in his honor.
“It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity.” — César Chavez
“We want to be recognized, yes, but not with a glowing epitaph on our tombstone…” — César Chavez
Over a hundred years ago today 15,000 women in New York City came together to march for better working conditions and universal women’s suffrage.
The following year the Socialist Party of America declared February 28 to be National Women’s Day. In Copenhagen in 1910 an International Women’s Day was proposed and unanimously agreed upon by 100 women representing 17 countries. It would be observed simultaneously by women around the world on March 8, 1911.
Over a million people observed the first International Women’s Day in countries like Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark.
That same month the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City killed over 140 women workers, mostly poor immigrants, and propelled the appalling working conditions of women laborers to the forefront of national politics.
In 1917, International Women’s Day played a significant part in one of the most important revolutions of the 20th century: the February Revolution, which took place in, of course, March.
Before 1918, Russia was still on the Julian calendar, so Russians observed Women’s Day on February 23 Julian to coincide with the March 8 observances in the rest of the world. On February 23 (Old Style), 1917 thousands of women demonstrated in St. Petersburg, Russia, demanding “Food for our Children”, and for the return of their husbands and sons from the war with Germany. These massive demonstrations and strikes served as the catalyst for the series of events that led to the abolishment of the centuries-old Russian Czardom one week later, and paved the way for Bolshevik Revolution.
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Over the past century International Women’s Day has served as a day to address issues of women’s rights in countries around the world, notably the developing world and Europe. The holiday has not garnered as near as much of a following in North America, perhaps because of its communist roots.
This year  Every Day’s a Holiday attended the International Women’s Day Rally in Westwood, California. A Communist Rally “in the heart of Capitalism” as the speakers put it.
The theme of rally was solidarity with Afghani and Iranian women against both Islamic fundamentalism and U.S. imperialism. Afghani and Iranian women have born the brunt of the upheaval in these two nations since 2001, indeed since 1979.
Having just finished reading Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China I was dubious about communism being the most ideal route for women’s equality. The book tells the story of three generations of Chinese women, focusing on the author’s mother, who joins the Communist Party in post-war China because it appears to be the best means to bring about long-overdue equality to women. However, once in power, the Communist Party creates an even more brutal and powerful aristocracy than the one it disbanded. The author’s family witnesses party policies that kill tens of millions of men, women, and children, and ruin the lives of millions more families, in the stated aim of achieving a more just society.
Regardless of political and economic ideology, today International Women’s Day fills a purpose long abandoned by another holiday: Mothers’ Day.
The original intention of Mothers’ Day in the United States—as conceived of independently by Julia Ward Howe and Ann Jarvis—was a day for mothers to join together to act as a collective force for social justice.
Having witnessed the brutality of the Civil War, both women sought to bring mothers together on Mothers’ Days of Peace to declare war on war itself.
“Arise then…women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs…”
–Julia Ward Howe, Mothers’ Day Proclamation of 1870
The Mother’s Day we celebrate today in the United States is quite different. It was pioneered by Ann Jarvis’s daughter, Anna Jarvis, after her mother’s passing. Anna conceived of the holiday, not as a day of social activism, but as a day of recognition and gratitude for one’s own mother. And by placing the apostrophe before the ‘s’ rather than after, Mother’s Day became a very personal day rather than a collective one.
And far more commercial. Mother’s Day is a bigger day for the flower industry than even Valentine’s Day.
The greeting card companies haven’t yet figured out how to commercialize upon Women’s Day’s 100 year old tradition of social activism. But give it time.
Likewise, as the holiday grows more mainstream, the creators of Women’s Day rallies have yet to rediscover how to turn the date into one of social revolution.
Southern California native Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in the Iraq War, was on hand at the Los Angeles rally to deliver an address to the crowd on Westwood Blvd. Appealing to a more targeted audience than Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign, her credo was the more direct: “What the F***?”
The above quote was from his Mountaintop speech, given one day before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.
Today we remember, not his tragic death, but his remarkable life.
In the early 1980’s, Martin Luther King Day was a holiday in several states, but there was debate about whether King ‘deserved’ a federal holiday. After all only one other American had been so honored. George Washington.
[Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is not a federal holiday. There was a movement to rename Washington’s Birthday ‘Presidents Day’ but according to the Federal Government it is still celebrated as Washington’s Birthday. Lincoln’s Birthday is celebrated at the state level, as is the name ‘Presidents Day.’]
Then-Senator Barack Obama pointed out in his speech for the MLK Memorial ground-breaking that:
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not a president of the United States–at no time in his life did he hold public office. He was not a hero of foreign wars. He never had much money, and while he lived he was reviled at least as much as he was celebrated.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s path differs from Washington’s in many respects; however, his life is consistent with the lives of those who have been honored via holidays throughout the world over the past three thousand years.
Martin Luther King was the unofficial spiritual leader of a large, underrepresented minority, suffering from great, long-lasting injustice.
Against incredible odds he successfully challenged and helped to change the unjust laws and practices of a powerful nation.
In the process he was prosecuted and imprisoned by that nation’s government.
He traveled great distances to deliver 2,500 speeches.
His words reached hundreds of millions of people.
He made it known through his words and proved through his actions that the values for which he lived outweighed the sacrifices he would have to make fighting for them, even if this meant death. (He had received countless death threats before his assassination.)
He was struck down during the height of his leadership, while fighting for those values and leading his people to freedom.
And he left behind a large body of written and–thanks to the advent of television–spoken work that explains his political, spiritual and moral belief system for future generations.
Former Ambassador to the UN Andrew Young was with King in Memphis, Tennessee the day he died. Young reflects on the events that led up to King’s famed: “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
“There had been 60 unsolved bombings in Birmingham, Alabama. There were people being beaten up on the street for no good reason. Martin said, “We’ve got to take on Birmingham.” A group of black leaders came to meet with him to call off the demonstrations because we had several hundred people in jail, and we didn’t have bond money to bail them out. They were asking him to stop the demonstration and to leave town and go around speaking to try to raise money to get these people out. He got up and went into the next room and in about five minutes, he came back with his overalls on, and he said, “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, I know you mean well, but I cannot leave with these people in jail. The only thing I can do is go join them.”
It was in that jail cell that Martin Luther King penned a letter, started in the margins of an old newspaper, and continued on scraps of paper. It is now one of the most powerful documents of the Civil Rights era and a manifesto of civil disobedience.
Observed 3rd Monday in January (January 16, 2012; January 21, 2013)
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. His birthday is observed in the United States on the third Monday in January.
Calling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s address to the American people on August 28, 1963 the “I Cash a Check” speech may not have resonated as well as “I Have a Dream.” But that’s what it was.
One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, a quarter million African-Americans and Civil Rights supporters gathered at the nation’s capital to demonstrate that the end of slavery had not translated to the promise of freedom, or the unalienable rights propounded in the nation’s founding document. As the 34 year-old Baptist minister explained:
“In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”
Tomorrow, even though the actions, events, and policies of the last several years have conspired to nearly bankrupt our American economy, millions of Americans will gather in Washington again to see a segment of that check cashed, a small portion of that dream realized, as the nation swears in its first African-American President.
Barack Obama was a Senator, not even a presidential candidate, when he spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Martin Luther King National Memorial in 2006. On a cold November morning he told the crowd:
“Unlike the others commemorated in this place, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not a president of the United States – at no time in his life did he hold public office. He was not a hero of foreign wars. He never had much money, and while he lived he was reviled at least as much as he was celebrated.
“By his own accounts, he was a man frequently racked with doubt, a man not without flaws, a man who, like Moses before him, more than once questioned why he had been chosen for so arduous a task – the task of leading a people to freedom, the task of healing the festering wounds of a nation’s original sin.
“And yet lead a nation he did. Through words he gave voice to the voiceless. Through deeds he gave courage to the faint of heart. By dint of vision, and determination, and most of all faith in the redeeming power of love, he endured the humiliation of arrest, the loneliness of a prison cell, the constant threats to his life, until he finally inspired a nation to transform itself, and begin to live up to the meaning of its creed…
“In the Book of Micah, Chapter 6, verse 8, the prophet says that God has already told us what is good. “What doth the Lord require of thee, the verse tells us, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
“The man we honor today did what God required. In the end, that is what I will tell my daughters…I will tell them that this man gave his life serving others. I will tell them that this man tried to love somebody. I will tell them that because he did these things, they live today with the freedom God intended, their citizenship unquestioned, their dreams unbounded.”
In his last speech over 40 years ago in Memphis, Tennessee, King alluded to the journey of Moses and the Hebrew slaves who escaped from bondage in Egypt, only to wander for 40 years in the desert.
After four decades, God called to Moses and told him to stand on the mountaintop, to look over the land God would bestow on the Israelites. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” [Deuteronomy 34:4]
King concluded his final speech with:
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
On this day in 1955 a 42 year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, made history for something she didn’tdo.
When bus driver James Blake told 4 African-Americans to give their seats to white patrons, 3 of them did so. Rosa Parks, a department store employee on her way home, refused to move. Blake threatened to have her arrested. She replied, “You may do that.”
Rosa Parks wasn’t the first African-American woman to defy Montgomery’s segregated bus system, but hers was the case that captured America’s attention.
Long ago I set my mind to be a free person and not to give in to fear…When I sat down on the bus the day I was arrested, I was thinking of going home…After so many years of oppression and being a victim of the mistreatment that my people had suffered, not giving up my seat–and what I had to face after not giving it up–was not important. I did not feel any fear sitting in the seat I was sitting in. All I felt was tired. Tired of being pushed around. Tired of seeing the bad treatment and disrespect of children, women, and men just because of the color of their skin.
After Parks’ arrest, Civil Rights activists Edgar Nixon and Jo Ann Robinson organized a one-day boycott practically overnight. What started as a one-day boycott of Montgomery’s bus system lasted 381 days. A young minister from Atlanta named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was elected to head the boycott. Tens of thousands of African-Americans, who comprised the vast majority of Montgomery bus patrons, walked the long road to work or school rather than ride the bus.
The following year the Supreme Court deemed Montgomery’s bus segregation unconstitutional in Browder v. Gayle.
Parks died on October 24, 2005, just a month before the 50th anniversary of her famous stand–or sit rather.
In 2008, during Barack Obama’s historic election campaign, a short poem traveled across the web and radio:
“Susan B. Anthony is not on trial; the United States is on trial.”
— Matilda Joslyn Gage
Women’s Equality Day celebrates the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920. The amendment gave American women the long-fought-for right to vote. One of the most vocal and influential activists for women’s suffrage was Susan B. Anthony. In fact, in Massachusetts it’s Susan B. Anthony Day today, in honor of the famed activist, human rights defender, and convicted felon.
That’s right. Susan B. Anthony was arrested on November 18, 1872 for voting in the November 5 presidential election, “without having a lawful right to vote and in violation of section 19 of an act of Congress.”
In order to prevent damage to her reputation, Commissioner Storrs sent word to Anthony, requesting that she come down to his office. Anthony responded saying she “had no social acquaintance with him and didn’t wish to call on him.” The Commissioner was forced to send a deputy marshal to Anthony’s residence in Rochester, New York. She later recalled:
“He sat down. He said it was pleasant weather. He hemmed and hawed and finally said Mr. Storrs wanted to see me… ‘what for?’ I asked. ‘To arrest you.’ said he. ‘Is that the way you arrest men?’ ‘No.’ Then I demanded that I should be arrested properly.”
Anthony refused to pay bail. The case made national headlines, and letters flooded in. To her dismay, Anthony’s lawyer did pay her bail without her knowledge, explaining “I could not see a lady I respected put in jail.” (This however, later ruined her chance of bringing the case to the Supreme Court.)
Anthony’s lawyer argued—as Anthony had done herself outside of court—that the wording of the 14th Amendment gave all citizens of the United States the right to vote. After a lengthy trial, covered daily in the national press, and at which Anthony herself was not allowed to testify, the judge announced: “The Fourteenth Amendment gives no right to a woman to vote, and the voting by Miss Anthony was in violation of the law…Upon this evidence I supposed there is no question for the jury and the jury should be directed to find a verdict of guilty.”
The judge pronounced her guilty without ever calling on the jury to deliberate.
Before sentencing, the judge asked Anthony: “Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?”
Not one to make waves, Anthony told the judge:
“Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government…May it please the Court to remember that since the day of my arrest last November, this is the first time that either myself or any person of my disfranchised class has been allowed a word of defense before judge or jury…All of my prosecutors, from the eighth ward corner grocery politician who entered the complaint, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even then I should have had just cause of protest, for not one of those men was peer; but, native or foreign born, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence in no sense, my peer.”
Anthony continued for some time, ignoring the judge’s orders for silence. Finally the judge ordered Anthony to pay $100 and the costs of prosecution. Anthony simply said:
May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper–The Revolution–four years ago, the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your manmade, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government…And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that ‘Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.’
She never paid the fine.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, she voted Republican.
“We must accept the fact that in our country we cannot win one single victory of political freedom without overcoming a desperate resistance on the part of the Government, and that victory will not come of itself but only as a result of a bitter struggle by the oppressed people for the overthrow of racial discrimination…
The theory that we can sit with folded arms and wait for a future parliament to legislate for the ‘essential dignity of every human being irrespective of race, colour, or creed’ is crass perversion of elementary principles of political struggle.”
Mandela’s story is legendary, not only for the 27 years he spent in prison, but for the reasons he arrived there and for his singular journey since.
Mandela was arrested on Sunday, August 5, 1962 for speaking against the government in public and leaving the country illegally, for which he was sentenced for five years.
“While serving this sentence, he was tried again for more serious charged connected with his leadership of the armed resistance group, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He and his colleagues were convicted of terrorism, narrowly escaping execution, receiving life sentences instead.”
Terrorism? Yes, in a post-9-11 world, heads of state downplay that for nearly three decades Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nelson Mandela had been deemed a terrorist by the apartheid “justice” system.
During his imprisonment the island on which Mandela was held—Robben Island—became known as “Mandela University.” The political prisoner educated other inmates who then continued the struggle against racism outside the prison walls.
“Did they imagine we might forget him and his companions if they banished him to this island? And did they imagine we could forget the misery of our lives?”
The famous cry “Free Nelson Mandela” really meant “Free South Africa”. On February 11, 1990, the first half of that long sought prize came to pass. Since 1966, not so much as a photograph had been taken of Mandela. His release was broadcast around the world.
After the country’s first truly-democratic elections in 1994, Mandela became South Africa’s first black President.
Freedom, however, is not a moment but a journey. As late as 2008, due to red tape and lack of oversight, Mandela and other members of the African National Congress were still on the U.S. terrorist watch list.
“In the 1970s and ’80s, the ANC was officially designated a terrorist group by [South Africa’s] ruling white minority. Other countries, including the United States, followed suit.” — USA Today 4/30/08
President John Evans Atta Mills on Friday called on Ghanaians to observe Saturday, July 18, 2009 as Nelson Mandela International Day to commemorate his leading role in Africa’s liberation struggle… “The day is Mr. Nelson Mandela’s birthday and those observing this day are required to contribute 67 minutes of their time to the service of their communities in recognition of the 67 years Nelson Mandela has spent in serving humanity.”