Publication Year: 2005
Tags: Political, History
In this small volume, “professional iconoclast” (Newsweek) Mickey Z presents fifty of what he considers to be American revolutions — actions and events that were considered to be dangerous precedents of social protest and rebellions against the status quo. Among these is Thomas Paine’s creation of Common Sense; Eugene Debs campaigning for President from his prison cell; Muhammad Ali refusing to be drafted into the military; and American Indians occupying Alcatraz Island. Presented in brief articles of perhaps a thousand words each, the information here is often glossed over or even go unmentioned in modern history texts.
It’s difficult to discuss or review a book like this without revealing one’s own political opinions and biases. I will ask your indulgence by saying that I’ll do my best to be even-pawed about it, and by suggesting that perhaps a book like this is best offered as a starting point for positive dialog.
Let’s get this part out of the way first: Yes, there is a politically “liberal” bias to this work. The definition of “liberal”, in this instance, should be taken to mean “reminding average white Americans that their diluted version of history is actually a disservice to everyone”. Revolution #04 in this book is entitled, “Nat Turner Puts the South on Notice”; it concerns the outright murder of (in total) 55 whites by negro slaves in revolt (August 13 – October 30, 1830). It is an outrage that white men, women, and children were murdered by Turner and his followers. It is no less an outrage that thousands of black men, women, and children were killed during the years of slavery, as well as in the episodes of lynching that took place for more than a century after the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. These are facts of history and must be faced.
Other revolutions are more like tidbits of history that we’ve forgotten or were conveniently covered over. Helen Keller (1880-1968) is remembered as the focus of the film The Miracle Worker, but few remember that she spoke out strongly against U.S. involvement in war, asking why the country wanted to go abroad “fighting for freedom and democracy” when so many in our country were not truly free, not included in the democratic process, jobless, starving, or even (again, in the case of blacks) being burned out of their homes. She spoke out against entering into WW I at a time when doing so was considered an act of treason (Espionage and Sedition Act, June 1917 — which, I believe, has still to be revoked).
Although history classes may mention the suffragette movement which, ultimately, gave women the right to vote, few tell of the Lowell (MA) Mill Girls who, nearly a century earlier, organized against their mistreatment, creating one of the first successful unions in the country to help ensure their own health and safety. Similarly, Eugene Debs gets little mention; while in prison, he was nominated for the Presidency by the American Socialist Party for the fifth time running, in 1920, and garnered well over 900,000 votes — about 3.4% of the total vote.
Other “revolutions” in the book are perhaps important for various reasons, or are at least entertaining, but they aren’t what are ordinarily thought of as “revolutionary” in the political or militaristic sense. Several are artistic — Lenny Bruce’s breakthrough comedy, Katherine Hepburn wearing pants, Marlon Brando breaking the acting mold, Jackson Pollock shocking the art world. Some are sports related — Jack Johnson, the first black man to win the heavyweight boxing title; Lester Rodney breaking the color barrier in professional baseball; Olympic medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists at the Olympic games. The point of these is to illustrate that small, personal actions may create profound change in the thoughts and future actions of millions. (As this post is published, there is a new, raging furor over the practice of “taking a knee” (kneeling) during the national anthem played before a professional football game; the “offending” team may be charged yardage penalties, fines against the franchise itself, and who knows what else. In supporting Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback “currently a free agent” (Wikipedia) who began the practice, it might be good to remember Smith and Carlos at this point.)
Still other “revolutions” are more like finger-wags. The segment on the “disability rights movement” demonstrates a few glaring contradictions within its own commentary. Another segment suggests that John Robbins’ observations about the American meat- and dairy-based diet is wrong, dangerous, unethical, and that we should all become vegans, or else we’re actively supporting animal cruelty in every possible way. There’s also a segment advocating that we strip bare the World Trade Organization (WTO) because it will enslave us all. While I can’t speak to the WTO itself, other than it is a 500-page treaty that only one Congressman has read (Sen. Hank Brown (R-CO), who had voted for NAFTA and planned to vote for the WTO, until he actually read it), I can say that the “military-industrial complex” that Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower (term: 1953-1961) warned us against took root long before the WTO apparently cemented it into place.
The book is a mixed bag, and no doubt each reader will form his own opinion about the material. (I still think that Pollock was a talentless huckster who made a buck by convincing a pawful of idiots that it was some kind of intentional movement; I think that “white-washing”, as the term has been coined, is real and needs to be addressed; and I’m a wolf, raised on meat-and-dairy, and I’ve no intention of stopping. I eat eggs too. So there. Neener.) The book is a quick read, filled with what appears to be solid information (reference citations in the back), and it will certainly provoke a response. It’s designed to make you think, as are most of the works from The Disinformation Company (publisher). To that end, it’s worth reading.