This poem was originally published in Mess Age, a counterculture magazine, but was reprinted in Modern Militiaman later. (My works tend to get republished a bit.) I'd been wanting to dig out a copy, because it's doubly relevant, now. Well, lookee, lookee...
A Sense of History
by Jane G. Beckman,
It is not conspiracy, but only realization---
History swinging its pendulum,
Replaying old fears and ancient ways.
Whither our world? Down routes we have gone
A thousand times before,
Even in the land of the Free.
I have been there, when Cary Chapman Catt sounded the call,
Or the agents of Pinkerton beat the strikers senseless,
Gone to jail with Woodhull and Sanger.
I remember COINTELPRO, and wars created for the sake of News.
They have lynched me in the South, and beaten me on marches.
I have shared a podium with Anthony and Fanny Wright,
Made impassioned pleas with the Sisters Grimke.
There is a black list, and a man named McCarthy,
And a man named J. Edgar who keeps a list of his enemies.
Houses have burned, and offices of newspapers,
Men jailed for speaking forbidden Truth.
This is America, but it has never been the Land of the Free,
But rather the Land of Opportunity, where the scrabblings of a few
Can raise them to rule over us.
To some, liberty or justice has ever been but a word.
Tell of Freedom to the railbaron, the magnates in patent-leather,
The oilmen and the ursurers, the politicians and the police.
And of "protection" and payoffs, of people of no consequence,
Of crushing taxes, of oppressive factories, of company stores.
This, too, is the history of Our Land.
There is no more child labor, but it could come again.
Women are equals? Tell another story of utopias!
The soldier and the policeman are your friends?
It depends on where one stands in the scheme of things.
The lawyer and the politician, are they friend or foe?
Do they fight for ideals, or for personal gain?
Mr. Jefferson, how right you were, speaking of raided coffers,
And the way history might swing and sway, right and left.
Radicals and revolutionaries have ever given blood and bone,
Dear-bought the rights, the lives we lead,
That we might cast them to the winds, uncaring.
Such is the way of things, when man grows sleepy, sated,
When he forgets the terror of a knocking at the door.
And yet he wakes, and wakes to fight again,
Against an ancient spectre of injustice.
Perhaps it was Spartacus, or O'Connell, or Thomas Payne.
Perhaps it was a Martin Luther King, or Lech Walesa,
Or the shoutings of mobs in St. Petersburg or Paris,
Those crushed by tanks in Tienamin Square.
We look to heros of legend, name William Tell and Robin Hood,
Add our own names to Magna Carta or beneath John Hancocks,
Thinking we, too, might bear such company, never thinking price.
For there are expenses to be borne in bold acts,
And life and fortune are such little things to pay.
These are the currents of history,
Lifting frail banners of Freedom aloft.
They ebb and flow like tides,
And when the tide flows out,
There are bodies in the rockweed.