Chapter 34 continues

The story so far: The Biwabik Marching Band and IWW organizers lead a march.

 

When Lily was settled in the buggy, Katka took out her notebook and jumped off the wagon. She moved stealthily to the front of the line and stood, briefly, with Paul. Andre the Bulgarian was giving a speech and she had already missed the beginning. She copied what she could salvage of his speech, writing frantically:

We are Americans now. We don’t want to fight the flag. We don’t want to fight anybody. What do we want? What we want is more pork chops. We will march and have a big, beautiful parade. Be peaceful, brothers, do not make much noise. Remember: Let the mining companies be the ones to incite disorder. We will put them to shame!

The translators of many tongues went to work. Katka recognized “pork chops” being translated into Slovenian, Croatian, Italian, Finn and Russian. When the men and women heard the translation, they nodded, smiling grimly. “I could use a pork chop right now,” she heard a man say.

Katka ran back to her buggy and hopped on. The band started to play Solidarity Forever and the marchers moved swiftly. The townspeople walked from Biwabik to the McKinley location, three miles away. At the onset, the temperature was warm for an Iron Range morning but still comfortable. By the time they reached the location, the sun had risen and so had the temperature. There, the women and children who inhabited the impoverished location town flocked to the dusty street that separated one row of ramshackle abodes from another. The shacks were built of old, found wood, gray and desolate. “Did the wood ever have a glimmer of bright paint or varnish?” Katka wondered. There were thirteen houses and four privies shared by the families. The stench of offal hung in the air. The water well was less than fifty meters away from the privies. The women walked each day to fill their water buckets from the well. They were told the water was clean, but dysentery had killed too many to convince them. Yet, what choice did they have? Everyone needs water. After hauling the water, the women ritually boiled it before drinking. There was no store, no restaurant or saloon. It was company land and the Oliver Mining Company forbade business establishments in the locations. They didn’t want to distract the men from their work or take business away from the company store. The band played “America the Beautiful.”

Children jumped up and down, tugging on their mothers’ skirts. “Look!” Katka heard a little boy yell in Slovenian. “A parade! Is it the Independence Day?”

The night shift miners had not yet returned from work and the day shift miners were long gone. The wives were quickly apprised. They gathered provisions and babies, joining the procession. The entire stop took fifteen minutes.

The parade moved on, buoyed forward by music and hope. Their next stop was not an empty location town. It was the Rouchleau mine outside the town of Gilbert. It was a small mine, with only forty workers and three bossmen on the shift. Even so, tensions were high. Milo and Andre led the march to the main entrance. The band stopped playing. The workers and unencumbered women fortified their positions, four people abreast. Women with babies clambered into the buggies and silenced the little ones with a breast. Toddlers were given sweets. Katka took out her notebook. She breathed in and held her breath. This is what dawn feels like, she wrote. My world is about to change. June the 6th, in the year 1916.

Paul and some of the other men walked the perimeter of the march, handing out leaflets with the words to a few IWW songs. Those who could read English took them. Those who could not passed on the leaflets. They began to sing the Wobbly anthem, “Solidarity Forever.” By the fourth round, nearly everyone in the crowd could sing the chorus. It was, after all, a simple song: Solidarity Forever, solidarity forever, solidarity forever, the union makes us strong. Suddenly, a small man with beady eyes emerged from the office.

He spoke not a single word, this man with the pebble eyes, Katka wrote in her notebook. He simply gazed in wonder at the crowd. What was he thinking? He didn’t look angry. He looked befuddled.

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 34 continues.