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The Spiders of Wall Street: Threads of History Run Through Occupy Boise

A Big Old Tent

There is a great big old tent on the west side of the Occupy Boise encampment.

Occupy Boise Pic 28 from Katie F
On one of my first visits to Occupy Boise, I wandered by an old tent that had just been set up as a dank gray November dusk settled in. The vintage canvas had an intense musty smell.  Skylight came through ragged-edged holes in the roof that looked like a giant moth had been chomping away. The intrepid Boise Occupiers draped plastic and covered the holes –making do nicely amid the symbols of power and prosperity in the heart of the Capital.

Occupy Boise Pic 31 from Katie F

The marbled halls of the Statehouse across the street.

Big Bill Haywood

The Occupiers call the big tent the Wobbly tent. Yes, that would be the IWW Industrial Worker’s of the World Wobblies. The IWW donated it – just like a local Boise couple donated solar panels, just like folks come by all the time to offer encouragement, food, or help with camp materials, and just like Firedoglake has donated sturdy gear including boots.

Occupy Boise Pic 6 from Katie F.

Engineer and near-octogenarian Occupy Volunteer Gene, both hands loaded with camp equipment while holding some fasteners in his mouth

The Wobbly tent’s longer name is the Big Bill Haywood Justice Action Center.

I’ve never been deeply into American history. But I did grow up in Pennsylvania  – where one can’t escape knowing about the Molly Maguires and the Pinkerton thugs of the mine union busting era.

Big Bill Haywood was a renowned leader with mine and other unions, and a founder of the IWW in the turbulent years of the early 1900s.  He was put on trial for murder in Boise.

Former Idaho Governor Steunenberg had been assassinated outside his home. The authorities went gunning for Union leaders. A lower level operative, Harry Orchard, with a long troubled record, was jailed. Orchard finally took a deal and squealed – implicating Haywood and others.

Then a former Pinkerton detective, James McParland, who had earlier infiltrated and helped bring down the Molly Maguires, aided in a kind of within-the-US-rendition of Haywood. Haywood was abducted from Colorado, and whisked to Idaho on a “special train”.

Wikipedia describes the event:

McParland then used perjured extradition papers, which falsely stated that WFM leaders had been at the scene of the Steunenberg murder,[17] to cross the state line into Denver, Colorado and arrest Haywood, Moyer, and George Pettibone.[6] On February 17, 1906, in what writer Peter Carlson described as a “kidnapping scheme,”[17] McParland forced the three men onto a special train and extradited them to Idaho before the courts in Denver could intervene.[18] The abductions were so egregious that even American Federation of Labor president Samuel Gompers, who had little good to say about the WFM, directed his union to raise funds for the defense.[19] Yet a habeas corpus appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court failed, with only Justice Joseph McKenna dissenting.[20]

Mother Jones autobiography describes how this train had the right of way over every other train on the line from Denver to Boise, and then:

When the men arrived in Boise, they were taken to the penitentiary and placed incommunicado. Not for days did their families and friends know of their whereabouts.

So — is this where the dark door opened by the NDAA may be headed? Outsourcing to Blackwater types government-sanctioned internal abductions on a special train?

The Spiders of Wall Street

At least Big Bill got a jury trial. Clarence Darrow was his attorney. Mother Jones attended. And the trial’s outcome stunned everyone. The Idaho jury acquitted Haywood.

Some scholars believe the verdict of the Idaho jury in the summer of 1907 is the best example of the rule of law in American history. Certainly their verdict shocked many in the court room and beyond.

From Darrow’s closing speech in defense of Haywood:

Gentlemen, it is not for him alone that I speak. I speak for the poor, for the weak, for the weary, for that long line of men who in darkness and despair, have borne the labors of the human race . . . .

The eyes of the world are upon you, upon you twelve men of Idaho tonight  . . .

If you should decree Bill Haywood’s death, in the great railroad offices of our great cities men will sing your praises. If you decree his death amongst the spiders of Wall Street will go up paeans of praise for these twelve good men and true who killed Bill Haywood. In every bank, almost, in the world, where men hate Haywood because he fights for the poor and against the accursed system upon which the favored live and grow fat, from all those you will receive blessings and praise, that you have killed him.

[But if your verdict should be ‘not guilty,’] There are still those who will reverently bow their heads and thank these twelve men for the life and the character they have saved. Out on our broad prairies where men toil with their hands, out on the wide ocean where men are sailing the ships, through our mills and factories, down deep under the earth thousands of men, and of women and children — men who labor, men who suffer, women and children weary with care and toil, — these men and these women and these children will kneel tonight and ask their God to guide your judgment, — these men and these women and these little children, the poor the weak and the suffering of the world, will stretch out their hands to this jury and implore you to save Haywood’s life.

The big tent is two blocks east of the building where the Haywood trial was held and Darrow spoke. That building is now called the Borah Building – named after the state’s star losing prosecutor. Borah had just been elected a U. S. Senator, but his swearing in was delayed by Teddy Roosevelt so that Haywood could be convicted in what had appeared to be a sure win for the state.

Over New Year’s weekend, word of a Montana state Supreme Court decision upsetting the Citizens United applecart broke.

The Court upheld Montana laws enacted during this same early wave of corporate and bankster looting and exploitation of the West by mines, railroads and timber barons – the same spiders of Darrow’s remarks to the Haywood trial Jury.

The Citizen’s United Cleaver

This hard-hitting piece of Occupy Art shows how the Boise encampment views Citizen’s United

Occupy Boise Pic 34 from Katie F

People are waking up – and speaking out. Occupy stripped the pretense away, and put the broken system in plain view. This provided space for people (including perhaps those Montana Judges) to act on their conscience.

Thrown into this mix in a place like Idaho is the strong Libertarian element. Right between the Wobbly tent and the Citizen United victim is a tent flying the Don’t Tread On Me Rattler flag.

Occupy Boise Pic 26 from Katie F

State leaders here that would cheer state’s rights elements of the Montana high court Citizen’s United Decision are virulently opposed to unions, or corporate accountability. Yet the personal freedom beliefs of many Occupiers are similar to theirs.

But here’s the divergence – what Occupy is saying includes this, in a big way, too:

Occupy Boise Pic 3 from Katie F.

People need help and compassion. Greed can’t drive everything.

Memories of the early 1900s come roaring back in these hard and unjust times. And in the West, it wasn’t just Idaho and Montana rocked by turmoil. Billy Bragg sings the great Phil Ochs song about Joe Hill, with evocative images, about a murder trial that didn’t end well:

A Footnote

The Occupy Boise campers have thanked me (which means Firedoglake who bought them) repeatedly for the Bunny and Mickey Mouse boots.

Made one year after the Vietnam War ended, the black boots are much older than most of the campers!

Occupy Boise Pic 21 from Katie F

Occupy Boise Pic 20 from Katie F

Occupy Boise Pic 22 from Katie F


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