FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Day of Reckoning: a Review

Just before Albert Parsons was hanged by the state of Illinois on November 11, 1887, for a crime that evidence suggests he had nothing to do with (setting off a bomb in Haymarket Square, Chicago) and a crime that he certainly did do (campaigning for an 8-hour day with decent pay), he wrote a note to his two young children that concluded:

"My children, my precious ones, I request you to read this parting message on each recurring anniversary of my death in remembrance of him who dies not alone for you, but for the children yet unborn. Bless you, my darlings. Farewell."

Many children already born in the United States today have not heard of Albert Parsons, or of his wife, Lucy Parsons. Our school history books are unaware that there has been a labor movement in this country. But little Albert Parsons Jr. and Lulu Parsons, who were 8 and 6 years old respectively when their father and three other activists were hanged, learned all too well, all too early.

After seeing Melody Cooper’s new play, "Day of Reckoning," that quote from Parson’s letter will ring with overtones of grandiosity, showmanship, and neglect. Albert and Lucy were full-time activists who loved humanity, who expected a great deal of their young children and each other, and who neglected their children when a greater calling demanded their time.

Parson’s letter uses the verb "dying" as though it were an active choice he made. And so it was. With his friends already locked up and likely to be found guilty and killed, he turned himself in. His only request, which was denied, was for a separate trial from the others.

"Day of Reckoning" tells us, in two acts, something about the lives of Albert and Lucy Parsons and their children, with Albert Jr. acting as the occasional narrator. The four characters are joined by puppets, projections on screens, and sound effects. Primarily it is the abilities of four actors, and of Cooper’s script, that must tell this story of an ex-confederate soldier in Texas and a mixed-race woman claiming to be Mexican (and not black) for her own protection. Both were journalists, and Albert was the owner / editor of "The Alarm," a widely read, radical, pro-labor newspaper in Chicago.

I have read the script and seen the author, an actor of great talent, read large sections of it, playing every role, at a joint reception of the ILCA and the Independent Press Association in San Francisco last May 1. Given the power of that performance, I can highly recommend seeing the full production.

This play teaches labor history without didacticism, but rather through the personal drama of a couple struggling against accepted racial and sexual roles. This struggle will not strike the viewer as out-of-date. But another element will I hope strike everyone as out-of-date, as supportive of a strategy that brings more harm than good. I am referring to the use of violence as a tool for social change. Both Lucy and Albert, in this play, express a willingness to kill for the sake of social causes.

Most of us are convinced that violence is not a proper tool for social activism, that only massive nonviolent activism can win lasting change. But the violence of these past leaders raises interesting questions. Should we condemn them as terrorists? Certainly, school history books do not rank them as heroes beside others who used greater violence: Washington, Roosevelt, Grant, Lee, MacArthur, etc.

The characters of this play are not only violent, but they speak of the need to bear arms in a way that today you mainly hear from those who vote for the candidates of the corporate bosses. How do we fit all this together and decide whether or not we admire these people? Cooper does not simplify anything for us or push us toward liking her protagonists. She expects us to be able to sort out the admirable from the flawed, the positive example from behavior that must be regretted if not condemned. This is not a handbook for activists, but a work of literature.

You can see "Day of Reckoning" performed in New York City at All Stars Project, 543 West 42nd Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues), from February 4 to 27, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Box Office: 212-941-1234; tickets $15; students/seniors: $10
Group rates: 212-356-8429

The last words Albert Parsons spoke on the gallows: "Let the voice of the people be heard!"

DAVID SWANSON is Media Coordinator for The International Labor Communications Association. He can be reached at: dswanson@aflcio.org

More articles by:

David Swanson wants you to declare peace at http://WorldBeyondWar.org  His new book is War No More: The Case for Abolition.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
November 21, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Reports of War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan Highlight the Failures of Both Wars
Steven Gorelick
Thinking Outside the Grid
William Hartung
America’s Arms Sales Addiction
Michael Welton
Christianity is the Religion of Imperialism
Binoy Kampmark
Letting the Side Down: Prince Andrew, the Royal Family and Jeffrey Epstein
Craig Collins
Open Letter to the People of Planet Earth
David Schultz
The Democratic Party’s Missing Electoral College Game Plan
Norman Solomon
Joe Biden’s AstroTurf Campaign
Bob Lord
Health Care and “Head Taxes”: an Unhealthy Combination
Jesse Jackson
The Right to Vote Should not Fall Victim to Partisan Battles
Ted Rall
Billionaires and Corporations Love Anti-SLAPP Laws, Why Does John Oliver?
Priti Gulati Cox
One Pound Capitalism, a Pinch of Democracy, and an Impeachment
Thomas Knapp
Voters Say They Want a Third Party, They Should Vote Accordingly
Jenna Orkin
Overtunring WI v. Yoder: Making Education a Federal Right for All Children (and Bringing the MeToo Movement to Fundamentalist Communities)
November 20, 2019
Vijay Prashad
The Coup in Bolivia Has Everything to Do With the Screen You’re Using to Read This
Kenneth Surin
Labor and the UK General Election
Ron Jacobs
The Trumpists’ Attempts at Snark Define Their Day: Impeachment Day Three
George Ochenski
The Walls are Closing in on Donald Trump
Timothy M. Gill
Towards a Democratic Socialist Foreign Policy
Robert Hunziker
Neoliberalism Backfires
Thomas S. Harrington
Let’s Give Three Cheers for Those “Western Ears” 
Michelle Renee Matisons
Freedom, Valor, Love: On Snowden’s Permanent Record
James C. Nelson
How Trump is Warping the Federal Courts: the Case Against Lawrence VanDyke
Rev. William Alberts
Whistleblowing Religion
Chandra Muzaffar
The Coup That Ousted Morales
Mike Garrity
Trump Administration Ignores Court Order Stopping 85,000 Acre Payette Forest Logging and Burning Project, Conservation Groups Sue
Andrew Moss
Raising the Stakes in the Struggle Over Immigration Detention
Dean Baker
Making Andrew Yang Smarter
Lawrence Wittner
The People of the World
November 19, 2019
Ramzy Baroud
How Western Media Bias Allows Israel to Getaway with Murder in Gaza
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan’s Ethnic Cleansing of the Kurds is Still Happening
Dave Lindorff
Student Protesters are Walking a Tightrope in Hong Kong
Richard Greeman
French Yellow Vests Celebrate First Birthday, Converge With Planned Labor Strikes
Dean Baker
Impeachment is a Kitchen Table Issue
Walden Bello
Is China an “Imperial Power” in the Image of the West?
Jim Britell
Modern Biology and Ecology: the Roots Of America’s Assertive Illiteracy
Sabri Öncü
Non-Financial Private Debt Overhang
John Steppling
Baby Shark Coup
Binoy Kampmark
Open Guidelines: The Foreign Interference Problem in Australian Universities
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Greece and the Struggle for Freedom
Colin Todhunter
Lab Rats for Corporate Profit: Pesticide Industry’s Poisoned Platter
James Graham
Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn on the Eve of the Debate
Elliot Sperber
Scrutiny – From Scruta
November 18, 2019
Olivia Arigho-Stiles
Protestors Massacred in Post-Coup Bolivia
Ashley Smith
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Macho Camacho: Jeffery R. Webber and Forrest Hylton on the Coup in Bolivia
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail