Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bread & Roses

The power of beauty for people in desperate circumstance was very much on Bill Schulz’s* mind when we heard him speak Thursday afternoon at Andover Newton Theological School. Recalling one of his trips to a refuge camp in Darfur he told us of a woman, living in the horror of this displacement from human circumstance, who none the less wore a treasured turquoise colored glass necklace which she referred to as herself — not simply something valuable to her, but her very self (the self still in existence despite the degradation of camp life).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the French impressionist painter, cautioned art purchasers to choose with care what they hung on their walls for the power of the paintings they chose would influence them each time they viewed them.

This same power of the beautiful was recognized by the 20,000 striking women textile workers during their famous 1912 confrontation with mill owners in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

The legendary banner the women carried, as part of one of their demonstrations, called for Bread & Roses, just as garment workers had in 1908 when demonstrators marched after the death of 128 women in a New York garment factory fire.

The banner and the courage of the strikers so inspired James Oppenheim, an Industrial Workers of the World union organizer at the time, that he wrote this commemorative poem, later set to music as it appears in our Unitarian Universalist hymnal:

“As we come marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,

Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,

For the people hear us singing: Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!”

*Dr. William F. Schulz, a past president of the Unitarian Universalist Association and former executive director of Amnesty International USA.

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