alee_grrl: Girl in a red sundress holding a parasol and walking through the forest (Whimsy)
[personal profile] alee_grrl
One of the things that really resonated with me when reading Julia Stein's "Downtown Women" was how much we still needed the Bessie Abramowitzes of the world. Stein's poem reminds me of our rich history, of the many excellent role models we do have, and of all those women who didn't sit quietly and accept the status quo. I wanted to build on that, to expand her wonderful poem into a modern rallying cry as well. We live in a time where some are trying to erase the achievements of these amazing women, where they are trying to undo years of fighting and go back to a time of less regulations and deny women reproductive health rights. We must remember the women who stood before us, and call on the same strength they did. We must stand up for ourselves.

"Raise Your Voice and March with Me"
inspired by Julia Stein's "Downtown Women"

I am the great-granddaughter of Bessie Abramowitz
                   the Russian-Jewish factory girl
                   who refused the matchmaker
                   who chose her own husband
                   together they shook Chicago
                   they changed the garment industry

I say that we are worth more than your charity baskets
                   we are worth more than pats on the head
                   we make our own choices, we are our own voice

Bread and roses! Bread and roses!
                   Raise your voice and march with me!
Read more... )
raze: A man and a rooster. (Default)
[personal profile] raze
Historical Context
Music, as a strong vehicle of cultural transmission and social experience, has long held a place in activism. As members of the labor movement raised their fists and picket signs in protest, they often raised their voices in song. Music had the effect of rallying workers and creating a sense of camaraderie in the face of tremendous adversity; in a day and age where workers were expendable, standing against the bosses was a bold and terrifying step to take.

Music and Labor
Song is not new to laborers. Long before music was adapted to promote change, song was used to raise spirits and promote cooperation among workers, especially those engaged in the most arduous of tasks. A popular format was the "call and response" song, often used to set the pace for group labor activities while keeping spirits high. Read more: examples, lyrics, and links below the cut )

Music and the Labor Movement
With song already integral to laborer culture, it is unsurprising that music was used to rally support for organization and unionization during the labor movement. The International Workers of the World (IWW), also known as "Wobblies," found music a useful tool to attract members, and adapted popular melodies with lyrics themed around pro-union messages. Read more: lyrics, music links below the cut )

Music and "Downtown Women" - A Chorus of Factory Girls.
Julia Stein's powerful poem "Downtown Women" speaks of the experience of a female factory worker in the time of the labor movement. Read more: historical context, lyrics, and song links below the cut. )

Additional Reading:
In addition to my various Wikipedia spelunking for dates and details, I credit the Union Songs website hugely for the research that went into this post. If you want to see a fantastic collection of labor movement song and poetry, and read more in-depth about the history of music as a vehicle of protest for the labor movement, check out this site. It has lyrics, recordings, and awesome historical context.

Also, for a nice little modern song about song and female laborers, you may enjoy listening to Factory Girls by Flogging Molly. The line "chorus of factory girls" in this post is a tip of the hat to the lyrics of this song.
jjhunter: Drawing of human JJ in ink tinted with blue watercolor; woman wearing glasses with arched eyebrows (JJ inked)
[personal profile] jjhunter
There's something about how listening to a poem can change the way you experience it. I find that is doubly true when I have the opportunity to listen to several different readers' interpretation of the same poem. If one or more of the following recordings moves you as a listener, try to articulate why in the comments. Likewise, readers, please feel free to share your own thoughts about the experience of recording this particular poem.

Note that you may need to click the play triangle twice on some of the audio players.

Julia Niedermaier (LibriVox) [mp3 link]


Four more recordings behind the cut )
lizcommotion: A black-and-white photo of a Victorian woman (victorian lady)
[personal profile] lizcommotion
Hello! I'm [personal profile] lizcommotion , I comment here a lot apparently, and today I'll be writing about historical context for Julia Stein's poem Downtown Women. For background, I have a degree in history and a love-hate relationship with the Progressive Era (see below).

I set out to try to write a history post about "Downtown Women," and realized there was so much historical context that I didn't know whether to go broad or specific. I've gone broad in the hopes that if any of this interests you, you can search out the specifics from the poem yourself. Perhaps someone will also follow up with a more in-depth post about Bessie Abramowitz Hillman and the labor movement.

The poem is set in the early 1900s, an era known as the Progressive Era. "Progress" was seen as a steady march from "barbarism" and "savagery" to the "civilization" of the WASP upper-class society. A whole set of problems emerged from this, such as Eugenics (the forced sterilization of those who were deemed to have poor genes that would set the race back); Questionable Anthropology with Unfortunate Results; not to mention being used as a justification for the horrors of colonialism (i.e. "we are uplifting these poor backward savages and civilizing them").

The Progressive Era was not all bad. There were a number of much-needed reforms in what was called the "Progressive Movement". For example, as a result of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle the US government developed the Food and Drug Administration to regulate what goes into sausages and medications &c. (Never mind that Sinclair was also trying to write about the dehumanizing working conditions of the "downtown" workers in the meat-packing industry, which was largely ignored by the "uptown" people who read his book.) People with mental illnesses were actually beginning to receive treatment; prison reforms began; efforts were made to fight graft and voter fraud; poverty was a large concern.

This was also the heyday of so-called First Wave Feminism. (As distinct from Second-Wave Feminism in the 1960s/70s and Third Wave Feminism of the 90s and today.) First-wave feminists - a prominent one of whom was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, referenced in the poem - were largely concerned with obtaining the right to vote for women, which mattered a lot to "uptown women." They were less receptive to calls from "downtown women" to focus on workers' rights (as most "uptown women" did not face the reality of sweatshop labor), thus creating a rift between "uptown" and "downtown" women. (Don't even get me started on how little First Wave Feminists cared about listening to what women of color wanted to do.) 

Meanwhile, many "uptown women" attempted to "uplift" some of the "downtown women" from their situation of poverty by bringing them baskets of food and clothing rather than by addressing underlying inequalities or forming coalitions with the "downtown women." Thus, Stein's reference in the poem to:
and when the uptown ladies came downtown
with their charity baskets
I told them, "Go to Hell"

Read more... )
poetree_admin: Paper sculpture of bulbuous tree made from strips of book pages (Default)
[personal profile] poetree_admin
jjhunter and alee_grrl

Reprinted from Calling Home: Working-Class Women's Writings, Janet Zandy ed., p. 103, by permission of Ms. Stein. See bottom of post for additional context she wished included.

Downtown Women
Julia Stein

I come from Bessie Abramowitz,
                   the Russian Jewish factory girl;
                   not Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
                   the Wasp judge's daughter;
           from the shtetl in Russia,
                   when the matchmaker
                   came to make a marriage for me
                   after marrying off my four older sisters
                   I said, "Not on your life,"
                   and came over the sea to America.

I come from downtown women,
                   not uptown ladies.

I come from sewing buttons on pants in the sweatshop,
                   piecework rates,
                   complaining to the boss,
                   getting blacklisted;
                   and when the uptown ladies came downtown
                   with their charity baskets,
                   I threw their baskets at them,
                   told them, "Go to hell,"
            and  I came back to get another shit job
                   under a phony name.

I come from downtown women,
                   not uptown ladies.

Read more... )

Julia Stein edited the just published book Every Day is an Act of Resistance: Selected Poems of Carol Tarlen by the brilliant S.F. working class poet Carol Tarlen who died in 2004. Stein also edited the Walking Through a River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Fire Poetry. Previously she has published four books of poetry: Under the Ladder to Heaven, Desert Soldiers, Shulamith, and Walker Woman. Her fifth book of poetry What Were They Like? Poems on the Iraq and Afghan Wars will be published February, 2013. Stein’s grandmother worked in a garment sweatshop and her great-aunt was an union organizer of garment and cafeteria workers.

For more information regarding the Carol Tarlen book Ms. Stein edited, check out the publisher's press release: Mongrel Empire Press Announces Every Day is An Act of Resistance by Carol Tarlen.
poetree_admin: Paper sculpture of bulbuous tree made from strips of book pages (Default)
[personal profile] poetree_admin
[community profile] poetree usually features several poems each week chosen by the weekly Poetry Host. For this multi-Hosted themed week, we will explore in depth one poem: Julia Stein's "Downtown Women".

Ideally we will have one post each day from Monday, Sept. 10th through Saturday, Sept. 15th, that enhances, changes, or challenges how a reader might approach rereading the original poem. One might sign up to provide an overview of the poem's historical context and offer references for further reading; to translate the poem (literal, as in translating from English to another language, or metaphorical, as in 'translating' from the medium of written poetry to a different medium such as audio performance or visual art); to write a new poem that remixes or responds to the original; or do something else that fits the week's overall theme.

If you are interested in participating, please leave a comment on this post indicating what day(s) you might be available & what type of content (e.g. literal translation, remix poem, historical context, etc.) you think you'd like to post. Assignment of days will be on a first come, first served basis; this post will be edited as slots fill up to show which days are still available. Participation is not limited to current comm members or even Dreamwidth members - please contact the admins at [at] gmail if you will need someone to post on your behalf. More than one person can collaborate on a particular post if some wish to sign up as a group. Finally, we strongly recommend preparing your content in advance of Monday, Sept. 10th.

Signup Slots: Monday - Saturday )

N.B. that comm challenges #21 and 22 are thematically related to this week; check out their announcement post for details.

Last edited 9/16/12 by jjhunter


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