Thursday, January 14, 2010

Big Bill Haywood, Amelia, the IWW and why Muriel might fly

I'm working on a chapter told from Muriel's POV. In it I conflate a lot of what I've read and yes, make up just a few things. But that's my right as an author. I'm not being arrogant saying that. We come to fiction to be surprised and transported. And we surely don't want the action in a novel to be predictable.

As an undergraduate I took a wonderful class on the Labor movement in the U.S. It covered the I.W.W. For those who don't know, they were the Industrial Workers of the World, communist sympathizers, progressives and way to the left of the A.F.L. or C.I.O. Without them, my guess is labor unions would have had a hard time becoming as powerful as they have. You need an outlier, FDR needed one too. In his case, the demon was socialism. Easier to press for change when the alternative is even more frightening to those who might stand in your way.

In her book Courage is the Price, Muriel mentions that Amelia attended an I.W.W. meeting. Muriel says she thought their basic demands reasonable. They wanted workers to have a living wage, retirement and health care. Today, these are still goals that are out of reach for too many. The IWW managed to brew a protest in 1923 even though most of their leaders were in jail or in exile. The San Pedro dockworkers struck and it became a cause celebre.

I think of Amelia having an opportunity to protest in the way I did; I marched with righteous passion towards the White House countless times. I was young enough to believe we could change the world or at least the misguided policies of our own government. I think Amelia would choose her own novel way of expressing dissent. And this one time she would take Muriel with her.

Muriel never much cared for flying. I want to know why. I want to imagine it, the two of them alone in the cockpit floating over Los Angeles. . .


  1. It's surprising but protest marches on Washington were a relatively new idea in the 20th Century. I think Coxey's Army in 1898 may have been the first. The first protestors to picket the White House were sufferagettes during WWI (and they got beaten and taken off to jail. A historian may have better facts - maybe there are earlier examples.

  2. Do you know about the protest in Los Angeles? It was pretty amazing. They basically shut down the city for a while and the police had to build open air jails in Griffith Park.

  3. Are Amelia and Muriel flying low over Los Angeles, dropping IWW leaflets? Today we can't get away with that kind of stunt, but in the early 1920's you could.
    As to why Muriel never cared much for flying, I would guess you put your finger on it in one of your earlier posts. She felt a greater need for security and stability than for adventure.

  4. Good to know as always, yes they are, apparently a plane did at the time. Wonder whose it was? I think Muriel did say she'd gone up in a plane but was vague as to when . . .I'm assuming Amelia took her but who really knows?