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 is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.orgSwanson‘s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and was awarded the 2018 Peace Prize by the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation. Longer bio and photos and videos here. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook, and sign up for:

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail