Friday, August 31, 2007

Vito Says: Happy Sacco and Vanzetti Day

“I am suffering because I am a radical, and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I was Italian, and indeed I am Italian; I have suffered more for my family and for my beloved than for myself; but I am so convinced to be right that you could execute me two times, and if I could be reborn two other times I would live again to do what I have done already.”

Bartolomeo Vanzetti (upon being sentenced to death)

highwayscribery asks you to remember Sacco and Vanzetti as you head out to your beaches and barbecues this Labor Day weekend.

Wikipedia informs that “Today, Labor Day is often regarded simply as a day of rest and, compared to May 1 Labor Day celebrations in most countries, parades, speeches or political demonstrations are more low-key...”

Indeed, but we rarely do “low-key” at highwayscribery and so chose this edition of Labor Day to note that last week, Aug. 23 to be exact, marked the 80th anniversary of Sacco and Vanzetti’s (at top) deaths in the electric chair.

A long-time ago, Vito Marcantonio (below), highwayscribery’s sainted left-wing congressman from the American Labor Party, wrote “Labor’s Martyrs,” which you can access thanks to the Guttenberg Project.

The opening quote was actually chosen by Vito to begin his essay on the two anarchists.

He traced the lineage of men, which was similar to his own: “For I am an Italian, and proud to be of the same people that produced such a great spirit as Vanzetti, the descendant of Garibaldi, the forerunner of those heroic anti-fascist brothers who are today fighting Fascism and Mussolini in Italy and Spain.”

Marcantonio noted that Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco were poor workers who came to the United States seeking peace and work, but found something else.

Sacco was a shoe worker, Vanzetti worked at many trades before his incessant anarcho-syndicalist (read: organizing) efforts got him blacklisted so that no factory would employ him and thereafter, “had to make a living peddling fish to his Italian neighbors in the little town known as the cradle of liberty.”

There was at the time a tremendous “red scare” going on in the U.S., and Attorney General Mitchell Palmer was conducting pernicious raids on all things progressive that would leave a black mark on the nation’s history.

In the Massachusetts of Sacco and Vanzetti, a wave of payroll robberies was unfolding at the same time as the infamous “Palmer Raids” and the two men were arrested as suspects in the deal of a man murdered during one of those armed thefts.

“What happened after that, though it lasted seven long and torturous years, is fairly familiar to the American people.”

Not so much anymore.

Elsewhere in the world, however, is still known and remembered, at least according to a translated article that ran last week in, lo and behold, the Gray Lady herself,
“The New York Times.”

Written by Andrea Camilleri, Italian author of “The Patience of the Spider,” the gist of “Italy’s American Baggage,” is that there is something about the murder of these two innocent men that won’t leave the world alone, that won’t fade away like so many events in the endless stream of “news” that tell the story of what passes for civilization.

She wrote that even in Mussolini’s Italy, where anarchists were being actively persecuted, the newspaper “Corriere de la Sera” ran, “a six-column headline. Standing out glaringly among the subheads was the assertion: ‘They were innocent’.”

Here’s Camilleri: “There is probably not a single Italian newspaper that has not devoted an article to the case every Aug. 23 from 1945 to the present. In 1977, much prominence was given to the news that Michael Dukakis, then the governor of Massachusetts, officially recognized the miscarriage of justice and rehabilitated the memory of Sacco and Vanzetti.”

But the former is an Italian thing, the latter a Massachusetts/Italian-American thing, because for the rest of the nation, Sacco & Vanzetti might as well be a maker of mass-produced pasta noodles.

And so we remember them here, ask you to remember them, and close with Vito, who says:

“The tragedy of their untimely and cruel death is still an open wound in the hearts of many of us who remember them as shining spirits, as truly great men such as only the lowly off the earth can produce.”

Happy Labor Day.

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