Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Emma Goldman was an anarchist. An immigrant from Lithuania, she was a garment worker when she arrived in New York City in 1889. Her writing and speeches were very important in the anarchist movement. She founded the journal Mother Earth. It is true that she had encouraged violence as a means to the revolution. She plotted with her lover and fellow anarchist Alexander Berkman to assassinate Henry Clay Frick for his actions during the Homestead Strike. Maybe when the violence became real, and the attempt failed to spark the revolution, she realized the futility. She eventually renounced violence and was an early critic of the Soviet Union and its repression of dissidents. She also championed women's rights, not in the mainstream way, she was not part of the suffrage movement. She worked as a midwife and promoted birth control which caused her to be arrested. She was always getting arrested. I thought the 1st of May would be a fitting occasion to have her visit. The Haymarket Riot that inspired the international workers holiday also moved Emma Goldman to become an anarchist.
I am sure she would have liked to visit Union Square, she gave many speeches there. In 1893 the stock market crashed and the panic created a five year depression. Unemployment was at about 20%. There was no unemployment insurance, there were no food stamps. The government did nothing to help. The charities of the day felt that giving food away would make people lazy. Ironically, many businessmen gave generously, offering food, inexpensive lodging. Still it was not sufficient and people did not have enough to eat, had no where to live, were sleeping in parks. It was a mess. In the midst of this, Emma Goldman addressed the crowd in Union Square, telling them to stand up for themselves, to ask the rich for work or at least demand bread. The police described her speech in more incendiary terms. She was found guilty of inciting a riot, although none occured, and spent a year in prison.
I placed her on the corner near Gandhi's statue. She seemed happy. In the afternoon there was a demonstration for immigrants' rights, many were angry about Arizona's new draconian immigration law. I think Emma would have sympathized, her citizenship was revoked in 1919 because of her anarchist beliefs.
This is really just a close up of the previous picture, but she looks so pretty here.
We moved on to St. Vincent's Hospital which closed on Friday. It was pretty shocking to everyone how quickly this hospital disappeared.
It was a great place that treated the survivors of the Titanic as well as the victims of the September 11th attacks. They had an incredible maternity ward with midwives and supported home births. It was one of the first hospitals to treat HIV and AIDS. It is a tragic loss.
If Emma Goldman were alive, I am sure she would be here denouncing the injustice.
Looking for cheer, we headed to the Lower East Side. Emma lived there when she first came to New York. I think she would have really appreciated Babeland, the women-owned sex toy shop on Rivington Street. Emma was a proponent of free-love but while her lovers wandered, she did not. This leads me to suspect that anarchists of the day were perhaps not the most skilled in the amatory arts. I think she would have appreciated a shop like Babeland.
Perhaps the neighborhood would feel familiar.
Or totally changed.
I really wanted to take Emma Goldman to Gorilla Coffee. It is the building on the corner with the benches outside. On a Friday night in April, the entire staff resigned and the cafe was closed. I do not ever remember something like this happening in New York. The former employees were diplomatic, there was no detailed airing of grievances.
It was made clear that they could no longer stand working with one of the owners. After two weeks, the cafe re-opened with newly refinished floors and a new staff. I am glad that they re-opened. I am actually quite fond of their coffee. Indeed, a pot of their Espresso a Go Go fueled my adventure. But this was truly an extraordinary moment. I hope the owners learned something positive from their experience. I hope the former employees found new jobs.
I wanted Emma Goldman's spirit to bear witness of this unusual moment of worker solidarity. I think she would have been proud.
The last place we visited was a small church near the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Although Emma Goldman was an atheist, she did like to dance and this church has free salsa lessons on Saturday night.
Cool Emma Goldman Links:
biography.com - one of the more sympathetic biographies
I Will Kill Frick - Emma Goldman's account of the assassination attempt on William Clay Frick
Anarchy Archives - more of Emma's writing
Dances With Feminists - an essay by Alix Kates Shulman about Emma and her dancing and how it ended up on all those t-shirts (I had one!)
The Gothamist has been following the St. Vincent's story and the Gorilla Coffee story. Links to their stories:
St. Vincent's Hospital Closing
Gorilla Coffee Walkout