Chapter 43

The story so far: The miners’ wives propose taking over the strike.

 

Everyone was nervous. At first, there were only a handful of women on the street. “No one’s coming,” Katka said to Adeline.

“They’ll come,” Adeline said. “Trust me.”

And they did. Moments before the rally was set to begin, the women converged from all directions on Blood Red Road in front of Cerkvenik’s Mercantile. They had been given the usual banner to carry: “One Big Union, One Big Enemy.” But they had made other signs as well: “Sanitation!” “We Want Running Water!” “Medical Care for All.” Those who didn’t carry signs carried children. “I tried to get my husband to take the baby,” Georgia Smith said, “but he said he wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

Adeline Sherek had a whistle in her pocket. She blew it and women tried to hush the babies. “Line up four abreast. When I blow the whistle again, Madeline LeForte will beat the drum and we will march to her rhythm. We will walk to the Biwabik mine and back. You will be home in time to serve lunch.”

Katka, Lily, Helen Cerkvenik and Ava Nurmi, the widow, were in the first row. Anton had agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to watch Gregor. Helen’s son carried the American Flag. Andy the soda pop distributer’s two children, about ten years old, carried a banner with the words: “Industrial Workers of the World.” Katka looked around, up at the hills surrounding town and spied members of the IWW and the strikers’ police force. They were assembled in twos, armed and prepared to protect the women. The deputies were not obscured. They stood in plain sight, on the boardwalks. Mr. Augustine Stone had come out to witness the occasion. He brought along his wife and three children. They stood outside Torelli’s Saloon. Vince Torelli had brought out a chair for Mrs. Stone to sit on. His children sat on the wooden boardwalk, playing jacks.

Adeline blew the whistle. As Madeline beat the drum, the women protestors moved forward. As they walked past Vince’s place, some of the deputies made obscene gestures and shouted remarks usually reserved for prostitutes. One of the protesters pointed her finger at Mrs. Stone. “Shame!” she yelled. “Shame on you and your husband who let men talk to ladies like this. He’s an animal!” Mrs. Stone stood up, her face red, and walked away.

“Where you going, Dumpling?” asked Mr. Stone.

“Home. Come on, children.”

The women’s march was loud and boisterous. They chanted slogans written on the signs. With each block, they gathered more courage and their volume increased. The company guards watched mostly with amusement as they walked past the city limits toward the mine. When they had made it through town, incident free, they began to sing union songs. They were less than a mile away from the mine. They kept walking. The deputies followed. When they arrived at the Biwabik mine, they saw the small band of strikers picketing. There were only three of them together, walking in the line, pacing back and forth. About ten feet away, there were three more men, making another circle, abiding by the law. When the parade of women got there, they took over the picket lines. They chanted for worker rights and for women’s rights. Katka was poised for violence. She had a feeling that something terrible was going to happen. Nothing did. After an hour had passed, they marched back to town, disassembled and went home to fix lunch for their husbands, children and boarders.

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 43 continues.