ILWU Local Ten is shutting down the port on October 23rd, calling for justice for Oscar Grant, with a rally taking place at noon on 14th Broadway. This is significant! The array of organizing that took place — media outreach, thousands of flyers handed out in the streets,
several union endorsements, several community and political organizational endorsements — has now developed a critical momentum for the Oscar Grant movement that was not present on July 8th 2010, January 7th or 14th of 2009. Those rebellions were expressions of raw anger from Oakland youth and young Bay Area working class people of all races. Since then, there’s been a labor-centered development of struggle, where ILWU local ten has publicly stated over and over that their means to fight against injustice will be to shut down the port.
In 1912 two IWW organizers, Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovanniti, were framed for murder. Witnesses saw the murder of the striker committed by the police. But the 30,000 worker strike in Lawrence Massachusets, often referred to as the Bread and Roses strike, was led by Wobblies Ettor and Giovanniti and needed to be stopped by the state. The first phase of the strike won wage increases. The workers went back to work, but then restruck later in 1912, with around 20,000 participating, as a political strike to free Ettor and Giovanniti, as they were politically framed for a murder they did not commit. Philip Foner, the American Communist Party historian, claims this was the first political strike of such kind in American labor history.
It should be seriously noted when the labor movement shuts down part of the industry of commerce as a political means of defending itself as a class against racist state oppression. The ILWU has pushed the theoritical concept “an injury to one is an injury to all,” in practice. If this can develop as a trend throughout the country, then new formations opposed to state oppression and based in labor can rise, giving working people in ghettos and barrios through out the country a method for fighting back against police brutality.
Arturo Giovanniti, an Italian immigrant IWW organizer, was considered one of the best poets of the movement. In 1914, he wrote “The Walker,” that carries within its description of incarceration coded messages of liberation:
I hear footsteps over my head all night.
They come and they go. Again they come and they go all night.
They come one eternity in four paces and they go one eternity in
four paces, and between the coming and the going there is
silence and the Night and the Infinite.
For infinite are the nine feet of a prison cell, endless is the march
of him who walks between the yellow brick wall and the red
iron gate, thinking things that cannot be chained and cannot
be locked, but that wander far away in the sunlit world, each
in a wild pilgrimage after a destined goal.
Throughout the restless night I hear the footsteps over my head,
Who walks? I know not. It is the phantom of the jail, the sleepless
brain, a man, the man, the Walker.
One-two-three-four: four paces and the wall.
One-two-three-four: four paces and the iron gate.
He has measured his pace, he has measured it accurately, scrupulously,
minutely, as the hangman measures the rope and the
gravedigger the coffin – so many feet, so many inches so
many fractions of an inch for each of the four paces.
One-two-three-four. Each step sounds heavy and hollow over my
head, and the echo of each step sounds hollow within my head
as I count them in suspense and in dread that once, perhaps, in
the endless walk, there may be five steps instead of four
between the yellow brick wall and the red iron gate.
But he has measured the space so accurately, so scrupulously, so
minutely that nothing breaks the grave rhythm of the slow,
When All are asleep, (and who knows but I when all sleep?) three
things are still awake in the night. The Walker, my heart
and the old clock which has the soul of a fiend – for never,
since a coarse hand with red hair on its fingers swung for
the first time the pendulum in the jail, has the old clock tick-
tocked a full hour of joy.
Yet the old clock which marks everything and records everything,
and to everything tolls the death knell, the wise old
clock that knows everything, does not know the number of
the footsteps of the Walker nor the throbs of my heart.
For not for the Walker, nor for my heart is there a second, a
minute, an hour or anything that is in the old clock — there
is nothing but the night, the sleepless night, the watchful
night, and footsteps that go, and footsteps that come and the
wild, tumultuous beatings that trail after them forever.
All the sounds of the living beings and inanimate things, and all
the voices and all the noises of the night I have heard in my
I have heard the moans of him who bewails a thing that is dead
and the sighs of him who tries to smother a thing that will
I have heard the stifled sobs of the one who weeps with his head
under the coarse blankets, and the whisperings of the one
who prays with his forehead on the hard, cold stone of the
I have beard him who laughs the shrill sinister laugh of folly at
the horror rampant on the yellow wall and at the red eyes
of the nightmare glaring through the iron bars;
I have heard in the sudden icy silence him who coughs a dry
ringing cough and wished madly that his throat would not
rattle so and that he would not spit on the floor, for no sound
was more atrocious than that of his sputum upon the floor;
I have heard him who swears fearsome oaths which I listen to in
reverence and awe, for they are holier than the virgin’s
And I have heard, most terrible of all, the silence of two hundred
brains all possessed by one single, relentless, unforgiving
All this have I heard in the watchful night,
And the murmur of the wind beyond the walls,
And the tolls of a distant bell,
And the woeful dirge of the rain
And the remotest echoes of the sorrowful city
And the terrible beatings, wild beatings, mad beatings of the One
Heart which is nearest to my heart.
All this have I heard in the still night;
But nothing is louder, harder, drearier, mightier or more awful than
the footsteps I hear over my head all night.
Yet fearsome and terrible are all the footsteps of men upon this
earth, for they either descend or climb.
They descend from little mounds and high peaks and lofty altitudes
through wide roads and narrow paths, down noble marble
stairs and creaky stairs of wood – and some go down to the
cellar, and some to the grave, and some down to the pits of
shame and infamy, and still come to the glory of an unfathom-
able abyss where there is nothing but the staring white, stony
eyeballs of Destiny.
And again other footsteps climb. They climb to life and to love,
to fame, to power, to vanity, to truth, to glory and to the
scaffold – to everything but Freedom and the Ideal.
And they all climb the same roads and the same stairs others go
down; for never, since man began to think how to overcome
and overpass man, have other roads and other stairs been
They descend and they climb, the fearful footsteps of men, and
some limp, some drag, some speed, some trot, some run –
they are quiet, slow, noisy, brisk, quick, feverish, mad, and
most awful is their cadence to the ears of the one who stands
But of all the footsteps of men that either descend or climb, no
footsteps are so fearsome and terrible as those that go straight
on the dead level of a prison floor, from a yellow stone wall
to a red iron gate.
All through the night he walks and he thinks. Is it more frightful
because he walks and his footsteps sound hollow over my
head, or because he thinks and speaks not his thoughts?
But does he think? Why should he think? Do I think? I only hear
the footsteps and count them. Four steps and the wall. Four
steps and the gate. But beyond? Beyond? Where goes he
beyond the gate and the wall?
He goes not beyond. His thought breaks there on the iron gate
Perhaps it breaks like a wave of rage, perhaps like a sudden
flood of hope, but it always returns to beat the wall like a
billow of helplessness and despair.
He walks to and fro within the narrow whirlpit of this ever storming
and furious thought. Only one thought – constant, fixed
immovable, sinister without power and without voice.
A thought of madness, frenzy, agony and despair, a hellbrewed
thought, for it is a natural thought. All things natural are
things impossible while there are jails in the world – bread,
work, happiness, peace, love.
But he thinks not of this. As he walks he thinks of the most superhuman,
the most unattainable, the most impossible thing in
He thinks of a small brass key that turns just half around and
throws open the red iron gate.
That is all the Walker thinks, as he walks throughout the night.
And that is what two hundred minds drowned in the darkness and
the silence of the night think, and that is also what I think.
Wonderful is the supreme wisdom of the jail that makes all think
the same thought. Marvelous is the providence of the law
that equalizes all, even, in mind and sentiment. Fallen is the
last barrier of privilege, the aristocracy of the intellect.
The democracy of reason has leveled all the two hundred minds
to the common surface of the same thought.
I, who have never killed, think like the murderer;
I, who have never stolen, reason like the thief;
I think, reason, wish, hope, doubt, wait like the hired assassin
the embezzler, the forger, the counterfeiter, the incestuous,
the raper, the drunkard, the prostitute, the pimp, I, I who
used to think of love and life and flowers and song and
beauty and the ideal.
A little key, a little key as little as my little finger, a little key of
All my ideas, my thoughts, my dreams are congealed in a little
key of shiny brass.
All my brain, all my soul, all that suddenly surging latent power
of my deepest life are in the pocket of a white-haired man
dressed in blue.
He is great, powerful, formidable, the man with the white hair,
for he has in his pocket the mighty talisman which makes
one man cry, and one man pray , and one laugh, and one
cough, and one walk, and all keep awake and listen and think
the same maddening thought.
Greater than all men is the man with the white hair and the small
brass key, for no other man in the world could compel two
hundred men to think for so long the same thought. Surely
when the light breaks I will write a hymn unto him which
shall hail him greater than Mohammed and Arbues and Tor-
quemada and Mesmer, and all the other masters of other
men’s thoughts. I shall call him Almighty, for he holds every-
thing of all and of me in a little brass key in his pocket.
Everything of me he holds but the branding iron of contempt and
the claymore of hatred for the monstrous cabala that can
make the apostle and the murderer, the poet and the procurer,
think of the same gate, the same key and the same
exit on the different sunlit highways of life.
My brother, do not walk any more.
It is wrong to walk on a grave. It is a sacrilege to walk four
steps from the headstone to the foot and four steps from the
foot to the headstone.
If you stop walking, my brother, no longer will this be a grave,
– for you will give me back my mind that is chained to your
feet and the right to think my own thoughts.
I implore you, my brother, for I am weary of the long vigil, weary
of counting your steps, and heavy with sleep.
Stop, rest, sleep, my brother, for the dawn is well nigh and it is
not the key alone that can throw open the gate.