Emma Goldman

(After two days off at Thanksgiving. Sorry for lying about my posting schedule!)

Emma Goldman is a famous political activist from the turn of the century in the United States. An Anarchist, feminist, advocate for labor, and champion of immigrants, Ms Goldman was a markedly unpopular woman. At times, I don't necessarily agree with her - she and Alexander Berkman, for instance, conspired together to assassinate a man who ran a factory after it violently suppressed a strike. She famously stated "Ask for work. If they do not give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, take bread." I will even admit I don't know that much about her. A nice introduction to her life can be found here, and I'm planning to read her autobiography sometime, hopefully next year. Overall, I don't always agree with Emma, but from what I know of her, she was fighting the good fight, as best she could.

But, what she thought is almost beside the point - her image isn't up because I'm an anarchist, or anything. It's that when I was young and first saw this picture - it's a very famous one of her, and, being a mugshot, apparently a fairly typical one - it had a feeling of beautiful hominess - I do not know enoguh to judge her actions, but her feelings, in this image, are the feelings that I wish we all had when we looked at social issues: a feeling of deep, compassionate love for all humanity. When I believed in the Church, this is the sort of face I would have imagined Christ making: complex, filled with love and fury, passion and gentle affection, force and kindness. It's the sort of face I wish that I could face the world with. And as a metaphor, the bones of her beginnings always felt powerful to me: while working in a corset factory, she learned about the ways the world crushed people. As an American - a nation that is in many ways ever weaving the world's corset - this means something to me, something that says that we should do, even if we make mistakes, we should do, and try, and make the effort anyway.

Ms Goldman, then, serves as my link to 'Things That are Wrong' - my little round of posts on things that ought to change. Amanda will occaisionally mention how she hates politics, and it always sends me for a moment's loop - because I don't think of Things That are Wrong as politics. The 'politics' is just the forum that we've all made to do what we should do about things that are wrong - or things that could be right. Or even things that could be more right than they already are.

I have a number of topics that are particularly resonant with me: gender and sexuality issues, Haiti, the Romany people, technology ethics, and anti-plutocracy are probably the things you would hear me harp on the most often. I try always to look at these issues with the eyes in that picture, eyes that plead instead of mock, that try to understand instead of try to convince. I know I fail miserably at times, and that I frankly don't think often enough about things that matter more than my petty-day-to-days. But, again, I think I should do, even if I make mistakes, I should do, and try, and make the effort anyway.

Emily Dickinson once said:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
I've broken hearts but do not know how to mend. I've burned but do not know how to cool. I've knocked the robin's from their nests, but don't have the stature to reach up and gently put them back. But maybe, in my little way, I can speak so that some taller, cooler, better mender can know these things still wait to be done.


Nymeth said...

You are awesome and I love this post to tiny little bits.

That is all :P

Jason Gignac said...

Thanks Ms Nymeth :) (*blush-blush-blush*)

Debi said...

Oh Jason. This is eye-welling-with-tears kind of beautiful. So many things that are wrong. The overwhelmingness of it all sometimes sends me into hide-under-the-blankets-in-physical-and-emotional-pain kind of sadness. But this post, Jason, will be bookmarked and reread time and time again...and maybe it will give me the courage to speak more often despite my hesitance caused by my lack of the gift for words.

Btw, as I just told Amanda yesterday, I've been missing you guys.

Jason Gignac said...

Thank you Ms Debi, I'm glad I could give you something to bookmark - I do that with your blog, too, so I fell a little awed :). I know I miss you, and I'm sure Amanda does too :) - I was just telling Amanda the other day we need to move to Vermont or upstate New York... :D

Jeanne said...

I also love Emma Goldman because she reportedly once said "If I can't dance, I won't join your revolution."

Jason Gignac said...

Ms Jeanne - Yes, she could turn a phrase - in part that's why I'd love to read her autobiog

Anonymous said...

Emma is a personal hero of mine. I remember learning about her in late middle school and early high school and devouring everything I could that was even tangentially related to her.

Jason Gignac said...

Ms likeglass - I'm so glad! I love Ms Goldman, and she's kind of forgotten these days. I am still looking forward to reading her autobiography, though I have not gotten to do so yet...