The Pageant of the Paterson Silk Strike

The Paterson Silk Strike   By Chris Chandler and Lisa Stolarski   Music arranged by David RoeI believe in Solidarity. /  I believe in the Easter Bunny,   /  I believe in the tooth ferry,   /  I believe in Santa Claus  /  I believe that the power of good is greater than that of evil — but not by very much.  /  I believe in the Buddha,   /  Mohamed,   /  Vishnu,  /  Jesus Christ,  I believe in Peanut Butter  /  I believe that Athena sprang from the head of Zeus. And That Atlas really held the world on his shoulders — though I am unsure as to where his feet were at the time.  /  I believe it is the telling of the tale that makes it so.When John Henry was a little baby I believe that children have imaginary friends,  
He sat down on his daddy's knee and that adults really can't see them,
he picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel and said that hammer's gonna be the death of me lord lord  /  that hammer's gonna be the death of meI believe that blankets have magical powers that protects them from monsters  /  Perhaps that's why I believe in condoms  /  I believe that four leafed clovers bring good luck,   /  I believe that people really do get abducted by aliens   /  and that people who don't believe that never had an imaginary friend.  /  In  2001 I saw a picture of the Virgin Mary on a telephone pole in Miami.  /   I believe that ever picture tells a thousand stories and every story paints a thousand pictures (you do the math.)  /  I believe that photographs, themselves, can speak.  /  In 2005 in Paterson, NJ, I saw a photograph taken in 1913 of  ten thousand people gathered at a balcony in listening to speakers shout their speeches with no sound system.  In the far corner of that photograph — there is a small child, 8 years old — born on 05.   That child told his story.Now The Captain sez to John Henry  /  You gots a willin mind  /  But you just as well lay yoh hammah  /  You'll never beat this drill of mine lord lord  /  You'll never beat this drill of mine  /  He said, "What's a hundred years between friends?"  /  In 1900 there were not 1900 automobiles or 1900 miles of paved roads to drive them on.  /  In 2000 there are enough miles of paved roads to build a bridge from here to Uranus and enough assholes on the road to form a traffic jam.  /  In 1900 it cost 2 cents to get a letter from Paterson NJ to New York City and it took 2 days to get it there  /  In 2000 it costs 38 cents and it takes two days to get it there.  /  But what's a hundred years between friends?John Henry said to his captain  /  A man ain't nothing but a man  /  Before I let your steam drill beat me  /  I'll die with a hammer in my hand lord lord  /  I'll die with a hammer in my hand 1913 European empyreal powers were about to begin slaughtering themselves wholesale with mechanized warfare.  /  It had only been ten years since the Wright Brothers and already they were dropping Bombs form planes.  /  In 1913 The Panama Canal opened as did Grand Central Station.  /  Cracker Jack introduced prizes for the first time.  /  Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show could no longer compete with the new motion picture industry and went bankrupt.  /  The Wild West was over.  /  Richard Nixon was born.  /  The streets of America were frenzied with the sound of factories.  /  Women could not vote.  /  The Russian Revolution had not yet happened.  But its electricity could be felt on the streets of Moscow, Berlin, Madrid, Seattle and Patterson, New Jersey.  /  The sound of revolution is exactly as loud as the sound of a rumbling stomach.  /  Some claimed automation would lead to a reduction in work load.  /  Just like some claim the home computer will reduce ours.John Henry said to his shaker  /  Shaker why don't you pray?  /  If you miss that little piece of steel, tommorow be my burryin' day Lord lord  /  tommorow be my burryin' day When the machine gun was invented people said with this weapon there is no way we would have another war with a weapon that could kill hundreds in seconds.  But the imperial powers of Europe convinced the poverty stricken to throw their bodies into the wake of mechanized destruction.  /  The boy in the photograph told me that he had lived to see his brothers do just that.  /  In 1913 Henry Ford developed the assembly line for automobiles  /  That same year in Seattle — mechanized saw mills had been turning the Great Forests of the west into tooth picks — sure, the first mudslides occurred but dental hygiene was at an all time
high — well that is until The Industrial Workers of the World led the great Saw Mill Strike of 1913.  /  In Akron, OH  Rubber workers were on strike, in British Columbia, Railroad workers, John Henry was up on the Mountain a year earlier the I W W  
The Mountain it was so high  had won the Lawrence, MA strike
He called out to his pretty liddle wife  /  Said I can almost touch the sky lord lord  /  Said I can almost touch the sky  In Paterson, NJ factory owners realized that any one who could convince someone else to run in front of a machinegun nest deserved a ribbon — and the factories of Paterson NJ ran 18 hours a day cranking out silk and fabric and ribbons.  The war to end all wars was in just beginning and there was no shortage of officers needing ribbons.  /  Demand was as high as the profits but the workers were stretched beyond their limit, so the owners introduced a four loom system that they claimed would lessen the work load but in fact doubled it.  /     /  And this was the cigarette that broke the camel's back.  /  Thousands went on strike, thousand were arrested, including the boy in the photograph.  But there is no Jail cell strong enough to with stand the rumble of a mans stomach.  /  The jail cells were the epicenter of an earthquake felt all the way to New York City.  Those tremors caught the attention of the IWW who put together one of the most organized strikes in history.    /  Rallies were held, weekly meetings.  Well-to-do families in NYC offered child care,  The boy in the photograph lived for three months in the home of Mabel Dodge a prominent NYC heiress.  Celebrity speakers were brought in.  New demands were raised.  The 8 hour day, health care. 20,000 people gathered at once to raise their voices into the air.The man who invented the steam drill But for every foot they moved forwards
He thought he was mighty fine they were pushed back 11 inches.
John Henry drove fifteen feet  /  That steam drill only made nine lord lord
That steam drill only made nine  MUSIC as if you were repeating The power of good is greater than that of evil — but just barely.  That steam drill only made nine  Picketers were killed, more were arrested.  But no matter how many workers were killed it was the mills that remained dead.  And no amount of violence could make them come back to life.    /  The only thing that could break that picket line is the mightiest force on earth — the sound of a rumbling stomach.  /  Although they had never been hungry a day in their life — It was the Greenwich Village Intellectuals who realized this the most.    The earthquake erupting in Paterson, NJ was just a tremor warning of the Ten Days That Shook The world. Later Jack Reed's famous book would do just that. — But for now, he — a Greenwich Village intellectual began to work on a play.  /  After all, it is the telling of the tale that makes it so.  Why else would great stories only happen to great storytellers?  /  He took his new play and it turned it into a fund raiser, though you won't find his name in the program.  Big Bill Heywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn spoke, though you won't see their names on the marquee.  Famed Scenic Designer John Sloan created the set, though you will not find his name in the credits.  /  No, instead you will find "The Pageant of the Paterson Silk Strike Performed by the Workers Themselves."  Madison Square Gardens was filled to capacity.    /  Critics sat in the isles prepared to hate this new propagandist art form.  /  The striking workers waited in the wings — for in this play — the workers themselves would act out the events. Yes, in June of 1913 1000 Striking Mill workers joined Actors Equity in NYC to perform one play, for one night. They would tell their own tale.  /     /   When the curtain went up as a whistle sounded as if to begin a new work day — on that stage it was 6 AM on a February Morning.  The Mills were alive, and it was the workers who were dead.  But soon, the workers began to think.  Soon they were singing together "Marsellaise."  The Audience joined in the chorus.  The Great Silk Strike had begun.Oh the Cap'n said to john Henry  With each triumph the audience cheered.
The Mountain is sinkin in  With each set back they booed.
John Henry said, to the cap'n  Taint nothing but my hammah suckin wind Lord Lord
Taint nothing but my hammah suckin wind  /  
MUSIC as if repeating
No rock concert could recreate the enthusiasm of that crowd.  
Taint nothing but my hammah suckin wind
They made Woodstock seem like an episode of American Idol. The boy in the photograph was there.  He was one of the tens of thousands  in the audience at the end, in standing ovation, fist in the air, John Henry, Oh John Henry  singing at the top of his tiny lungs
Blood am runnin red "The International."
Falls right down to the ground and he says
I beat this drill but I'm dead lord lord  /  I beat this drill but I'm deadThe play received overwhelming critical acclaim.  To this day it is considered one of the most important moments in modern art. Few performances could ever match what happened on that stage, that night.  But as with too many great works of art — it lost money.    /  How could it not?  Too many people were let in for free.  How could they not.  How can you ask a family to pay to see a play their striking father is in?  You can't.  The boy in the photograph did not pay.  How could he?  /  Without further financial support the general strike began to decay — the workers slowly went back to work —  many would say it was a defeat and even the end of the IWW itself.  /  But the truth is — it was only the beginning - at least for their goals.   /  There is no way to undo the jubilation of that crowd just as there could be no such thing as victory with out first there being an understanding of defeat.    /  Listen to the Blues.
They Carried him down to the grave yard If dreams were real
Buried him in the sand  There would be no need for dreams
Every locomotive  came a roarin by they cried  /  There lies a steel drivin man lord lord  /  There lies a steel drivin man  /  MUSIC as of repeating  /  In a world of no dreams we could only dream of dreaming. There lies a steel drivin manYa see, the workers may not have gotten everything they asked for — but in truth, they went back to work under pre strike conditions.  Their original grievance - the 4 loom system was not implemented for another decade.     /  But a few short years later on March 14, 1917 congress enacted what the Pageant of the Paterson Strike demanded: the 8 hour day.  /  Three years later women could vote.  /  There has always been a very fragile bridge built between intellectuals and laborers.    /  Intellectuals Intellectualize Mill workers and weavers weave the clothes of the intellectual — they can not be the same thing.  The bridge is there.  But it is fragile, it takes deft skill to cross it.      /  Few can will make it.   /  Perhaps a play.    /  Perhaps a song.     /  Perhaps the photograph of an 8 year old boy hanging in a museum in Paterson, NJ can cross that bridge.   /  Perhaps 1000 striking workers telling their own tale can cross that bridge.  /  Once crossed, there is no end to what can be accomplished.
John Henry had a little baby  /  You could hold him in the palm of your hand  /  The last words I heard that poor boy say  /  Was my daddy was a steel drivin man Lord Lord  /  my daddy was a steel drivin man  /  
It is the telling of the tale that makes it so.  Just like the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy and the greatest story ever told.  

updated 8 years ago