This past Labor Day I was honored to be invited to speak at the Labor Day Celebration on Woodstock Square sponsored by Woodstock for Bernie Sanders Volunteers. It was a glorious afternoon and focused on the heritage and connection of Eugene V. Debs, Woodstock, and the origins and traditions of Labor Day. And, of course, we got in a good word or two for Bernie Sanders, the political heir to Debs who is burning up the early Democratic Presidential race and scaring the hell out of the Hillary Clinton campaign, establishment Democrats, newspaper op-ed pages, cable TV talking heads, and, by the way, the American oligarchy.
I always intended to post my remarks as a blog post. But in the end, after organizing my thoughts and reviewing material I am well versed in, I decided to wing it. A written speech, no matter how well crafted, is, well, read. It compels the speaker to closely stick to the written word. Without the technology of the teleprompter, it means the speaker looses eye contact and connection with the audience. Only a gifted actor or speaker can avoid the dreaded drone of reading. An outdoor speech quickly becomes in danger of becoming a stupefying sermon or droning lecture.
Instead, I reached back to my days as a Wobbly soapboxer—loud, dramatic, passionate, and even a tad bombastic. Neither a casual crowd nor an audience has much chance to tune it out. I was tutored in this nearly lost art by veteran practitioners like the diminutive Sheridan brothers, Jack and Jimmy, crusty old Herb Edwards with his thick Norwegian accent, Frank Cedervall. I reached back to days doing street corner rallies in a Pacific Northwest hop-on-the-freight Wobbly speaking tour, to May Days at the Haymarket and at Bug House Square with Studs Terkel and Carlos Cortez. I drew on the speeches at massive rallies by the great Civil Right preachers, most notably the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., although I would never claim to match the majestic cadences of a good Baptist preacher. And there was Utah Phillips who preferred to woo an audience with a yarn and a song, but who, when the occasion demanded it, produce a spellbinder so compelling that it raised the hair on your arms.