Monday, August 8, 2016

Garden of Commemoration: Every Year in Boston


            Looking backward, looking forward. Both directions giving the same signals.
            The execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, whose real-life journeys of commitment and tragic ends are the basis for my fictional account in "Suosso's Lane," took place 89 years ago on Aug. 23. Each year The Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society recognizes this date with an event in Boston. This year the group, which defines its goal as the preservation of "the memory of Sacco and Vanzetti's struggle to radically change society," has invited me and the musicians J.P. Provenzano and Jake and the Infernal Machine to take part at a commemorative event held every year on that date.
            "We want to educate our neighbors about Massachusetts' radical history, and draw connections between the struggles of Sacco and Vanzetti and similar struggles today," the Society states on its webpage. "We stand against the death penalty and political persecution as well as the persecution and scapegoating of immigrants."
            For some years the Society has organized marches and outdoor rallies on the date. This year it has chosen to hold an indoor event in downtown Boston, at Encuentro5, a non-governmental organization that describes itself as "a space for progressive movement building in the heart of Boston."
           The address is 9A Hamilton Place; a location close to the Park Street MBTA Station. The event begin at 7 p.m. The group's website is
            Historian Robert D'Atillio will lead off the program by providing some background on the case and an introduction to the program. "We hope that you continue to support this timeless cause for justice and make plans to attend the event and bring friends to it," the Society states.
            A few years back a speaker at this event, Dorotea Manuela, an activist for workers' rights and Boston's immigrant communities, pointedly made the connection between the anti-immigrant background of the Sacco-Vanzetti case and the contemporary uproar and governmental crackdown against so-called "illegal" aliens.
            "(...) How strangely reminiscent are today's events," she said. "Arabs, Latinas, Haitians and Caribbeans are kidnapped from their streets and confined in secret prisons where they rot without hearing or trial. We do not even need the sham trials of Sacco and Vanzetti.
            "In addition, our xenophobes in Congress and the press announce that yesterday's Italians are today's Latino, Haitian and Caribbean immigrants. They come here, we are told, to draw our resources, to burden our schools, to overwhelm our services and to collect welfare. Paradoxically these 'lazy immigrants' are taking all of our jobs."
            I wonder what Ms. Manuela would have to say about the current political climate in this  year of Trumpery and the noxious 2016 election campaign in which the candidate of one of our two 'major' parties spouts ignorant bigotry in lieu of political policy or proposals.
            In fact, I find it hard to see how I can anything that doesn't repeat the burden of Ms. Manuela's pointed comments on the connection between the sham trial in 1921 that condemned two men who held 'dangerous' ideas about social and political change and spoke in heavy accents, the contemporary defamation of 'Mexicans' and Muslims who come from "terrorist nations."
            Perhaps I'll simply give up trying to say anything original and quote the elegant voices on this subject such as Ms. Manuela and New Yorker writer Kathryn Schulz, who have made these points already.
            Nah, just fooling. I expect I will try to say a little something about story-telling, as well as the case's continuing relevance.
            But I expect I will refer to the Ms. Schulz's recent piece by "Citizen Khan," which describes how one "enterprising man," an Afghani Muslim, planted an immigrant community in northern Wyoming. She concludes her story this way:
            "Over and over, we forget what being American means. The radical premise of our nation is that one people can be made from many, yet in each new generation we find reasons to limit who those “many” can be—to wall off access to America, literally or figuratively. That impulse usually finds its roots in claims about who we used to be, but nativist nostalgia is a fantasy. We have always been a pluralist nation, with a past far richer and stranger than we choose to recall."
            Hope to see you there.