Thursday, April 09, 2009

Happy Birthday Paul Robeson!

Today would have been Paul Robeson's 111th birthday! At the San Francisco Public Library there was a lovely program and celebration of his life with a special presentation by Clarence Thomas, president of the ILWU, Local 10, the rowdy seriously, Local 10, in particular is the Local that refused to unload shipments from South Africa, weapons headed to Chili after President Allende was killed in a coup, and recently in protest of the war in Iraq. This July marks the 75th anniversary of this union, one that made Robeson an honorary member, one of only three such members. Thomas said Robeson was ahead of his time, in that, the issues he fought for would have had more impact if he'd had organized support behind him, then Thomas shared stories of Harry Bridges organizing successes at a time when new laws allowed the government to use the military to break union strikes. In one instance when President Truman threatened to have the navy taken over the docks and shipments, Bridges called ahead and got the support of all the unions at the ports of call. They said they would honor the strike and not unload the ships. Truman backed off.

The people are powerful when they are organized.

Bill Doggett, curator and co-host, played music from a Robeson compilation. The room wasn't full and noticeably absent were youth. Perhaps no one knew any kids? Robeson's maeesage is one young people need to know, that their voices count and that an organized people can bring down the mightiest government or at least make it listen.


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