Take Back Our Country

Take Back Our Country

Fighting words from a 98-year-old activist about the power of the people to demand peace and achieve peace justice in these troubled times.

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I want to voice my appreciation for all of you that are here today. I also want to voice my appreciation for “Montana Women For Peace, Equality and Justice”. Their aims embody the tradition of Jeanette Rankin. They are fast becoming spokespersons for we, the people. Let’s give them a cheer that can be heard up the mountainsides of the Gallatin Valley!

I was born in 1907. I remember when my mother voted for the first time in 1914. She put her shoulders back and said with pride in her voice, “I voted today!” This event was only made possible by the actions of thousands of women known as the suffragettes. They chained themselves to courthouse pillars. They tirelessly marched and protested and petitioned throughout the country until women won the right to vote.

I was a young woman living in Seattle during the Depression of the Thirties. I saw the Crash.

I saw the banks close and people losing their jobs and being evicted from their houses. I saw industry stop. I saw the country stop. I saw people go hungry! I saw fear. Fear of hunger is almost as bad as hunger itself. I saw people go without health care. I saw racial discrimination among black people, immigrants, women, and the elderly. I saw unfair labor practices. Does all this sound familiar? President Hoover told us that the benefits of big business would trickle down to the people. Sound familiar? And what did we, the people, do?

We, the people, marched from one end of this country to the other to demand change. We marched ten thousand people strong down Main Street of Seattle, demanding work and food. Incidentally, the man who led that march later became my husband. We pooled our resources and drove our “Tin Lizzies” and took boxcars and thumbed rides to Washington DC to demonstrate on the Capitol Mall.

We, the people, educated the working class by publishing a newspaper, the Voice of Action, and distributed it door to door.

We, the people, organized Townsend Clubs after pensions were lost when the banks closed, and we discussed ways to provide security for the working man’s future. This was the beginning of Social Security.

We, the women, boycotted silk stockings. We knew that Emperor Hirohito was flexing his muscles dangerously. We knew that the scrap iron that Japan was buying from us could very possibly come back to this country in the form of bullets, which it did. But we made ourselves heard.

We, the people, united to help our neighbors. People had no jobs, no money to pay the rent. Evictions were common. I saw in my own neighborhood the sheriff taking the little furniture and sorry belongings of a family out the front door and neighbors on the other side of the truck taking it off and returning it through the back door. We, the people, fought back.

What were the results of our actions? If there is one thing I want to make clear today, it is that Social Security, unemployment insurance, bank reforms, the New Deal came from the people! The Works Progress Administration was established by the insistence of people who wanted work and not be given charity. FDR got these ideas because he heard the voice of the people from the grass roots of America!

That’s the way it happened, folks. We did it then; you can do it now! It’s not going to happen by politicians of both stripes in Washington DC. In the spirit of the suffragettes a century ago, we must unite in a common cause!

I want to end with a quote written by Pastor Neomueller, a Protestant Minister in Germany who survived the concentration camps. “When Hitler attacked the Jews, I was not a Jew, therefore, I was not concerned. When Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then, Hitler attacked me and the Protestant Church – and there was nobody left to be concerned.”

We, the people, must have solidarity…unity! The voice of action must be heard…by the people, for the people, from the people. We, the people, can take back our country! We can win!

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