Bread and Roses
In 1912 in Massachusetts, America, a group of textile workers went on strike to protest the awful conditions at the Mill they worked in. There were workers of 51 nationalities united in the effort, and it was the women who mainly led them. No one in power believed they could make an impact. No one 'important' believed they had to listen.
Somehow, the strike kept going through a brutal winter. The sort that sticks needles into your bones when you go outside, and freezes your windpipe as you try to speak. With no money coming in, they would have been starving and yet, they woke up every day and continued fighting. Not in the fierce adrenalin rush of a war, but through the gnawing constant battle of everyday and how to survive it.
Before the strike started, the mortality rate of their children was 50 percent by the age of six, and just over a third of every hundred workers at the mill never saw another birthday after they had reached twenty-five years old. Death was always leaning over them, his long cloak brushing against them, and yet they found their courage.
Eventually, as the strike hit them harder and harder, the children had to be shipped to sympathetic families in New York, New Jersey and Vermont in order to be fed. An exodus of children that must have made the hearts of their parents more ragged than I'll ever know. It was this that finally caught the sympathy of the public and made the Mill owners offer better terms like pay increases, money for overtime and no discrimination against those who had joined the cause.
The strike dubbed 'the bread and roses strike' was over. But it is never really over.
The phrase itself comes from a poem and, later, a song. The idea of it is that while humans need bread in order to exist, we need roses, too, in order to live.
Throughout history, and right up to this very second, as you are reading the words I am writing in the half-light, there has always been a fight for bread and roses for someone in your land.
It is a fight against inhumanity. We seem to become like so many ants to those who are in charge of us. It allows them to sideline entire demographics and deny them the bread and the roses that, as people, we must have.
Whether it is because we are black or gay or lesbian. Whether we are transgender or poor or disabled. Whether we are foreign or we are ill. Whether we are women or we are men. The government and the rich quietly dehumanise whole groups of people. They do not see the beauty in the teaming and glorious mass of life we collectively embody. They do not think of us as individuals with dreams we cherish and others to love.
It is easier for them to do what is best for the few which includes them, than to listen to the many which does not.
We are the many. Not all of us are wanting for bread and roses, but if you believe that is what we each deserve, that makes you part of the struggle. That makes you part of our humanity.
There are many kinds of roses. Enough to fill a garden of them. There is equality and kindness and community as a beginning. These are just three of the essential blooms we must be allowed to grow.
When people are denied the things that make being on this earth worthwhile, they are not being given enough.
We cannot, as individuals, bake enough bread or offer enough roses to save many lives, although perhaps we can save some. We can, however, refuse to tolerate injustice and, when we see someone else is lacking something they should have, we must not allow that to be dismissed as unimportant. Even if we are still fighting for something of our own.
Every rose that gets handed out makes the world more beautiful. Whether we ever get to touch its petals or not.
That is something to hold onto, and it is something to be be lived for.