I’m not a humanitarian. I’m a hell raiser. ~Mother Jones
Pray for the dead. Fight like hell for the living. ~Mother Jones.
In the 1890s, an elderly Irish immigrant widow was branded the “most dangerous woman in America.”
Because she fought for workers.
Correction – she fought like hell for workers.
Mother Jones took the United Mine Workers of America from 10,000 members to over 300,000.
That’s amazing – today, we’d be impressed if someone was able to grow that kind of community ONLINE – let alone on foot.
But Mother, as she was called, didn’t start out as an activist; it’s almost as if her life and circumstance moulded her into what she – and the persona of “Mother Jones” – would become. Mary Harris was born in 1837 in Cork, Ireland. Her childhood was shaped by the Potato Famine that forced the immigration of her family to Canada, where she ultimately trained to be both a teacher and a dressmaker.
By 30, she had four children and a husband and – from what little information is available about her – a regular enough life.
One fever changed all of that.
In what must have been a truly horrifying experience, her husband and all four of her children died in an outbreak of yellow fever.
Some biographies simply state that information and move on to talk about her life as an activist.
But let’s linger on that a while. Imagine being 30 years old, in the 1860s. You have a husband and four children. In a very short span of time, you watch your loved ones catch ill, then die – one after the other after the other after the other – as you frantically try to save them all. But you lose all of them – every last one.
To add to your personal grief, your legal and social identity is wrapped up in your role as a mother and wife. Your husband owns everything, of course. Your job is to care for him, and your home, and your babies.
And then suddenly all of the people that you love are gone.
And with them, your status in society and as a person under the law.
To have endured such a defining personal tragedy and navigating what were, I’m sure, the significant legal and financial struggles that would have come with it without simply throwing in the towel shows just how tough this woman was.
She was freaking steel.
And it gets worse, if you can believe it.
She moved to Chicago to rebuild her life – this time as a dressmaker. She worked as a dressmaker for three or four years. Just enough time to settle in, you know? To get her feet back under herself.
And then her shop burned down in the great Chicago Fire of 1871.
The hits just kept on coming for this woman, didn’t they?
So for twenty years, she “worked in obscurity,” as some biographers say. Uh huh. I’ll bet she did. But I imagine that during that time she was healing herself, while seeing the toll that the working class were paying with their lives. Working side-by-side with them, she likely found refuge in their camaraderie, and inspiration from their strength.
I like to imagine her as an inspiring presence on the factory floor, the woman you’d want to sit next to in a break room, or walk out with after the whistle blows. Because she’s tough as nails but soft as cotton.
I also like to think that – after the life she had led by that point – she was the woman at work who literally had no f*cks to give. The one who would go toe-to-toe with a foreman who was treating someone poorly, who would fight for her coworkers like they were her lost children.
Who would persist, even when she should probably back down.
At least, that’s what I like to imagine.
But in any case, by the early 1900s, she had reinvented herself.
By then, she was in her early 60s. A now-elderly childless Irish immigrant widow at the turn of the century. I mean, c’mon. You really can’t imagine a more marginalized person.
But by then she had adopted a bit of a … character. While women at the time were expected to be quiet and obedient, she was outspoken and demanding. She had literally nothing to lose – so why not be brazen, and audacious, and attention-grabbing?
And that she was.
With a sharp tongue, fearless nature and a talent for street theater and public speaking, she criss-crossed America advocating tirelessly for better hours, wages and working conditions for America’s working class.
She wore black antique dresses, and made herself look older than she was. She fudged her age – to make herself older – and lashed out at the corporations and business titans and the government that enabled them. She led marches and protests – sometimes interspersing them with skits and performances to educate townspeople eager for both entertainment and information.
Nobody had ever seen anything quite like it.
And, poetically, she called herself Mother, the role she was robbed of by circumstance and yellow fever. She may have lost her own children, but she chose to be the mother for all of the forgotten. The men and women of the labor movement became her babies, her family, her passion – her reason for living. She testified once in the Senate that her address was like her shoes – it traveled with her. “I abide where there is a fight against wrong.” She said.
She would go, frankly, where her children needed her.
So this immigrant woman with a lifetime of tragedy found her passion and her purpose in her 60s. She made her mark on the American labor movement and on our nation by pushing herself onto the national stage – seemingly through sheer will.
Why am I telling you this (interesting but old) story?
Because it’s the most extreme example I know of a person who had nothing but passion and dedication – who lived boldly and used her personal tragedy and life experience as fuel – rather than as justification for giving up on herself. And in doing so, she made one hell of a difference in the world.
And I know some of you (you know who you are) need to hear that right now.
Many of you have wondered whether and how you fit into the Resistance. I know that because many of you have asked me. You’ve wondered whether you’re qualified, or experienced, too seasoned or not seasoned enough. It’s easy to get caught in that cycle of self-doubt, isn’t it?
I hope Mother Jones’s story helps you understand, and see yourself for what and who you are.
You, friend, are what we need. You’re the change, the engine, the answer.
You don’t need a degree. You don’t need an instruction manual. You don’t need a consultant, or an advisor, or a coach. You don’t need to be older, or younger, or more wealthy or more powerful.
You just need … you.
You need you, and your passion, and your commitment.
That fire that’s in you? That spark that moves you, that motivates you, that speaks to you?
Yeah, you own that. That is all you.
So honor that fire. Let it inspire you to live boldly. Let it inspire you to stretch, and reach, and do things that get you excited and more than a little nervous because that’s when you know you’re growing.
And let it inspire you to stand tall knowing that – dammit – you belong here.
You belong in this Resistance.
We can’t do it without you.
So let’s get to work.
Tuesday: Oh HELL No.
Last night – on the eve of his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, nearly 50k pages of Kavanaugh documents were dumped on the committee.
Not only are they hiding documents by refusing to release them – they’re making it impossible to actually review the documents they ARE producing to properly vet a guy who’s going to occupy the Supreme Court for his entire life.
Kavanaugh is terrible. (Rachel Maddow’s 9/3 show was devoted entirely to his nomination – if you’re wondering why all the hullaballoo about him, check it out.)
But the obfuscation and the cheating to get him onto the Court – that’s a process issue – more norm-breaking that will have long-lasting implications.
The GOP has shown they are willing to burn everything down to get their way. We need to show them we see what they’re doing.
And that there are consequences. (More on that in Thursday’s action.)
Today, call your Senators and express your shock at how the Republicans are bending procedure and hiding documents. Show them that you see how they are breaking the rules – and that you won’t let them forget it.
Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to because I’m outraged at the process that’s being used for Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. Documents are being withheld and then dumped on the appropriate committee at the last minute – really important documents from his time at the White House are being left out – there’s a rush to push this nomination through when the Senate was perfectly comfortable leaving a Supreme Court seat open for an entire year! The level to which the Republican party has gone – the rules and norms that have been broken – it’s completely wrong. And it’s just really sad how leadership seems willing to break the rules to benefit their nominees. For all those reasons and lots of others, I encourage the Senator to vote against Kavanaugh’s nomination and to support a delay on his confirmation.
Wednesday: Cool Training Opportunity!
Organizing For Action is hosting what sounds like an awesome four-part training series on Wednesdays at 7pm (cst), starting September 5. Topics will include “skills and best practices you will need to be an effective volunteer on a campaign.” They’ll cover “how to tell your personal story, persuasion conversations, voter turnout best practices, and digital organizing.”
Sounds like a very interesting training series that will have content for lots of folks that want to volunteer. (And I personally love that they don’t try to jam everything into one session!)
You can register here. Oh! And it’s free.
Thursday: Make a Commitment to Collins: Vote No on Kavanaugh, or We Fund Your Opponent
Boy, we sure do like to think of Susan Collins as a friend, don’t we? She’s probably the most approachable Republican in the Senate, and – in modern standards – is a swing voter because she doesn’t vote 100% with her party.
Susan Collins did not get to the Senate by being anything other than tough as nails and politically wise. As Claire McCaskill once said (I’m paraphrasing) – any woman that’s made it to the Senate is stronger than horseradish.
So let’s recognize that, and honor it by pushing her. Hard. (She can take it.)
How do you do that if you don’t live in Maine? (Where she is one of the Senators.)
By funding her opponent if she votes yes on Kavanaugh.
I love it.
Lots of other people do, too – it’s up to $240k! Let’s bump it up even further, shall we?
And by the way – your credit card won’t be charged if she votes the right way. But if she votes the wrong way, you’ve sent your message and given her 2020 opponent a boost at the same time!
So go to Crowdpac and encourage Susan Collins to do the right thing by funding her opponent if she does the wrong thing.
Friday: Introducing Mobilize America!
If you’re a regular reader you’re familiar with my love of new tricks and tools and resources. So I’m introducing yet another – Mobilize America.
Mobilize America pairs you up with actions in your area – so if you’re not already plugged into a campaign or an issue, it’s a great place to start. Just go to https://www.mobilizeamerica.io and click on “Find Actions” at the top of the page. From there, you can sift and sort by event type, proximity, and date.
Some actions are remote (like text banking) and others are bread-and-butter campaigning (like canvassing). You should check it out!
And if you’re already plugged into a campaign, you can let them know about Mobilize America so they can take full advantage!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together.
If you want one more quick action, make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two.
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Lastly, if you’d like to support this work (thanks to those who have done so!), you can become a supporter here.