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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November 20, 2013: Times Like These: 1886

[In such bitterly partisan and divided times, it can be easy to feel as if things have never been this bad before. Without downplaying the genuine challenges presented by our own moment, however, it’s well worth AmericanStudying other similarly polarized eras. So this week I’ll highlight five such moments, and think a bit about what we can learn from them. Your thoughts, on these moments, our own, or any others, are very welcome as always!]

On a year that was good for corporations, bad for workers and immigrants, and very important for right now.
Forgive the shorthand, but my first two points here have already been the focus of prior posts; rather than create new paragraphs, I thought I’d ask you to check out those posts. So:
In 1886, a Supreme Court decision greatly amplified corporate power, in ironic and direct contrast to the rights of the American people more broadly.
In the same year, the Haymarket Square bombing and its aftermaths weakened the burgeoning labor movement and gave credibility to anti-immigrant fears and hysteria.
Which is to say, in 1886 America was deeply divided along economic and cultural lines, divisions that would only deepen as the Gilded Age rolled on and the waves of Eastern and Southern European immigrants continued to arrive (among other complex and relevant social trends in the era). Yet the sources and symptoms of these divisions would also lead to many of the most important and inspiring turn of the century histories and activisms: the labor movement’s numerous victories; the Progressive movement’s economic and governmental reforms; and settlement houses for immigrant arrivals, among other such effects. Each of those activist histories arose out of a number of factors and influences, but it’s fair to say that dark and divisive moments like 1886 were significant catalysts for future activism. So when things look particularly divided and bleak, it’s important—if of course very hard—to try to take the long view.
Next divided era tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other divided moments you’d highlight?

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