“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your Revolution”

That quote was by Emma Goldman. She was a Russia Jewish immigrant to this country at the end of the 1800s; an anarchist and labor organizer. Feminist and hell-raiser. Also a great thinker and writer. She was deported back to Russia during the era of the Palmer raids, when the director of the FBI was rounding up radicals and sending them anywhere but here. You can read her work widely, and read more about her and her work here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/goldman/

But my point here is not to dwell on the lessons of dead anarchists, though there are many. My point is the idea that Emma put forth in that claim: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” It also reminds me a lot (though it came quite a bit earlier) of Martin Luther King, Jr.’ s concept of “agape”, of the “beloved community. Dr. King, whom we all were taught was heavily influenced by Ghandi’s nonviolent protests, talked a lot about doing things from a place of love, rather than anger. Emma Goldman’s quote reminds me that even though we fight for civil rights, women’s rights, voting rights, workers’ rights, what we are ultimately fighting for are HUMAN rights. The right to live our lives with not just dignity, but joy. That the reason we engage in the process of fighting is not simply to win, to beat the other side for the hell of it, but because we believe that we can Do Better. Because we believe that our work and our worth are connected, but they are not the same thing. We believe that we should have higher pay and better benefits because we have earned them. And why do we want them? Because we have worked hard, and all the children of God deserve to live well and provide when we have worked hard. We believe that the human rights we fight for as a labor movement should extend to all workers. We are not simply trade unionists: At our best, we are HUMANISTS. We believe that human beings have inherent worth, simply by being ourselves. We believe that all workers means all people. For what is the human experience, if not to toil?

I’ve been trying to keep these things in the front of my mind as this Right to Work legislation gets debated, as the Emergency Manager gets put into place, as the Right wing reactionaries get bolder and meaner. But I just remember that Emma & Martin, decades apart, wrote about love & joy. These are the two things that I’m trying to keep highest in my reservoir. It’s not easy, but I know that because I am human, I am granted nearly infinite capacity for both. I am trying, trying, trying to approach the fights ahead with a deep well of both love for my human family and the joy in knowing that the struggles that undertaken are fueled by that love. And I’ve started reading The Art of War, just for good measure. I’ll see you on the picket lines, in the voting lines and at the marches, with all the love in my heart.

In solidarity,

Stepchild in the Promised Land

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About Stepchild in the Promised Land: Notes from a Tier-Two Autoworker

A third-generation Detroiter, Wayne State grad, mother and tier-two autoworker.
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2 Responses to “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your Revolution”

  1. canoelac says:

    Allow me to suggest that your selection of Emma Goldman as heroine is in opposition to your determination to be on the side of the working class.
    In the Russian revolution, the workers of Russia and the peasant masses were fighting a desperate battle against both the old feudalism that kept them in rural poverty, and the new capitalism that kept them in urban poverty. They were indeed fighting in the name of that new day when all could dance. But since the struggle was so desperate, there was not room at the moment to dance, not for anyone. Goldman selfishly took the attitude that her personal life and her personal thoughts were more important than the actual struggle against the oppressors. She said to the workers, in effect, “If you don’t do it my way, I am taking my marbles and going home.” She left the workers in the lurch. Did the same in Spain later on.
    Since she was an intellectual she knew how to cover her retreat from the battlefield with fancy bullshit language. Lots of people do that. Bob King, for instance. I don’t think any of them are good examples. I don’t think we can afford to be taken in by fancy language that covers questionable deeds.

  2. It has been a struggle for me to integrate Love into my work. King said “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” This has helped me along the way.

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