Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Brunswick, ME, United States

The collapsing US military & economic empire is making Washington & NATO even more dangerous. US could not beat the Taliban but thinks it can take on China-Russia-Iran...a sign of psychopathology for sure. We must all do more to help stop this western corporate arrogance that puts the future generations lives in despair. @BruceKGagnon

Monday, May 10, 2021

History lesson: A great American leader


The video replays the “Canton, Ohio” speech made on June 16, 1918 by Eugene Debs. 

Eugene Debs made his famous anti-war speech in Canton, Ohio, protesting World War I which was raging in Europe. For this speech he was arrested and convicted in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio under the war-time espionage law. He was his own attorney. 

His appeal to the jury and his statement to the court before sentencing are regarded as two of the great classic statements ever made in a court of law. 

Eugene V. Debs did not speak on election night in 1920. The Socialist presidential contender was, in his words, a “candidate in seclusion,” imprisoned in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for speaking out against the draft during World War I.

Outside the lockup, his supporters handed out photos of Debs in convict denim along with campaign buttons for “Prisoner 9653.” Reporters had hoped to hear a fiery oration. But the warden did let Debs write out a statement.

“I thank the capitalist masters for putting me here,” he wrote. “They know where I belong under their criminal and corrupting system. It is the only compliment they could pay me.”

Debs making his famous Canton, Ohio anti-war speech that landed him in prison.

He’d run for president on the Socialist Party ticket five times since 1900. Eight years earlier, he’d won 901,551 votes — about six percent of the vote. However, this time he was politicking from behind bars.

The jury found him guilty. On Nov. 18, 1918 — a week after Armistice Day — he was sentenced to three concurrent 10-year sentences and lost his right to vote.

In the 1920 election, Debs and his running mate Emil Seidel garnered 913,693 votes, but — as in his previous campaigns — no electoral votes. The winning candidate, Republican Warren G. Harding, promised a “return to normalcy,” restoring the prewar way of life.

On April 13, 1920, the Socialists demonstrated in front of the White House and delivered a petition for Debs’ pardon. Film star Mae West wrote to Harding to push for a pardon.

Almost a year later in March, the warden drove Debs to the rail station. He then boarded a train for a trip to Washington — unaccompanied and unsupervised — to meet with Attorney General Harry Daugherty at Harding’s behest.

The White House planned to keep the meeting secret, but Daugherty, a blustery, machine politician, bragged about it to reporters. When the news hit the papers, veterans groups protested and Harding now had to factor in the political optics of their opposition. He finally released Debs on Dec. 21, 1921 — just in time for Christmas.

“He is an old man, not strong physically,” said Harding when commuting the sentence to time served. “He is a man of much personal charm and impressive personality, which qualifications make him a dangerous man calculated to mislead the unthinking and affording excuse for those with criminal intent.”

En route to his home in Terre Haute, Ind., a gaunt and weary Debs stopped at the White House for a meeting with Harding. There is no record of what either man said. Debs died in a suburban Chicago sanitarium, while being treated for his heart condition, in 1926.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter pardoned many Vietnam War draft resisters who had fled to Canada. But Eugene V. Debs, imprisoned for his opposition to an earlier draft, has never been pardoned. 


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