A Wobbly speech from Occupy Portland

A member of the Portland IWW gives a speech at Occupy Portland.

Hello. My name is Tabatha. I’m a mother, a student and a worker. I’m here as a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. We refer to ourselves as Wobblies. I’ve been thinking a lot about wealth, lately, as I’m sure y’all have been as well. I’ve been thinking about where it has come from in the United States, and how it has accumulated. It started here by theft of land from indigenous peoples. Sacred land had been stolen and continues to be stolen to build up this accumulation of wealth. This is the origin of wealth in the United States in the form of real property. For each treaty that is broken, that wealth grows. Wealth is the accumulation of stolen lands.

From there this land was populated with slaves—people stolen from their families, from their land. For each child that was torn from their mother, that wealth grew. Immigrants from the world over came and continue to come to this country, driven from their own countries by poverty that has a direct line to the wealthy in this country. These immigrants worked and continue to work in some of this country’s worst conditions. When they organize, and they do, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is called and immigrant communities are torn apart. For each immigrant that suffers terrible working conditions in fear of being imprisoned or deported if they organize, that wealth grows. Wealth is the accumulation of stolen people.

Workers in this country go without healthcare. We are told that we are lucky to have a job. Lucky, while our families literally die for want of needed medicine. For each death due to negligence of our country to take care of our own, that wealth grows. As our homes are taken from us and given to banks, the wealth in this country continues to grow. Wealth is the accumulation of desperation.

Wealth, then, isn’t just an accumulation of money. It is the accumulation of human suffering due to capitalism.
I do not wish for wealth to be more fairly distributed. I do not wish for the 1 percent to be 5, or 10 or even 20 percent. I yearn with every piece of my being for wealth to stop. I ache for a world where we take care of each other and our planet. I look around at what we have now and am consumed with sorrow. But there is hope.

There’s a saying in the IWW that originated when one of our organizers was unjustly murdered by the state: “Don’t mourn, organize.”

The wealthy in this country are powerful. They have resources and they are guarded by the military and the police. We all pay for the police with our taxes. They are paid to protect us. Instead they oppress us and protect the wealth that is destroying our lives, our earth. At times, the totality of their power is overwhelming. But we know how to overcome it. We know what the path out of this is. We’ve used it in the past, as workers. We organized and went on strike. And when we went on those strikes, we got children out of factories; we fought and won breaks and weekends. We fought for this, and we took it, because it was rightfully ours. And how we did this was to join together and refuse to work for them. We refused to give them our labor for their profit. A general strike, where every worker everywhere refuses to work is the vision of Wobblies. We know that if we cease to line the pockets of our oppressors, they are weakened. They need us. We already know how to make everything we need; they don’t know how to do anything.

The people in Oakland know this. They are calling that all workers refuse to work today. And we are here in support of them. We know that when all workers refuse to work in solidarity with each other, we can change the world. We know this, because we already have.

The key to our liberation in each other’s hands: we must join together and free ourselves.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2011)