Eugene V. Debs was born on this day in 1885. Throughout his life he was an ardent believer in justice, fairness, and freedom. A visionary, he protested the economic gap between the rich and the working class Americans. In a 1918 statement delivered in Federal Court in Cleveland, Ohio, he proclaimed:
"I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence."
Debs worked a fireman for the railways and went on to form the American Railway Union. He spent six months in prison for his advocacy of the striking workers. Radicalized, this firebrand formed the Social Democratic Party and in 1904 ran unsuccessfully for the President of the United States. In one of his speeches as a candidate, he described the Democratic and Republican parties as "the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles."
Debs opposed war. He wrote, "They tell us that we live in a great free republic: that our institutions are democratic; that we are a free a self-governing people. … Wars throughout history have been aged for conquest and plunder. … And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles."
To Name This Day . . .
These four political perspectives by Debs stand as affirmations of his radical vision. They are from Writings of Eugene V. Debs:
"While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am in it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
"Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."
"I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world."
On Being My Brother's Keeper
"Yes, I am my brother's keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by maudlin sentimentality, but by the higher duty I owe myself."
Annie Dillard in For the Time Being points out that God's revelation is ongoing and holiness is all around us. To honor Eugene V. Debs’ vision, try this practice of hers:
"Send an encouraging message to your ‘activist self.’ Make a list of changes in the world around you — developments in line with your vision of a better world — that have occurred in the last one to five years. Then write a forward-dated entry in your journal or write a letter to yourself dated one to five years from today. Write about what you want to have occurring in your life and in the world at that time."