Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
Comrade Yetta

By Albert Edwards

(Pen-name of Arthur Bullard, American novelist and war-correspondent. The story of an East Side sweat-shop worker who becomes a strike-leader. The present scene describes a meeting in Carnegie Hall)
YETTA stood there alone, the blood mounting to her cheeks, looking more and more like an orchid, and waited for the storm to pass.  1
  “I’m not going to talk about this strike,” she said when she could make herself heard. “It’s over. I want to tell you about the next one—and the next. I wish very much I could make you understand about the strikes that are coming.…  2
  “Perhaps there’s some of you never thought much about strikes till now. Well. There’s been strikes all the time. I don’t believe there’s ever been a year when there wasn’t dozens here in New York. When we began, the skirt-finishers was out. They lost their strike. They went hungry just the way we did, but nobody helped them. And they’re worse now than ever. There ain’t no difference between one strike and another. Perhaps they are striking for more pay or recognition or closed shops. But the next strike’ll be just like ours. It’ll be people fighting so they won’t be so much slaves like they was before.  3
  “The Chairman said perhaps I’d tell you about my experience. There ain’t nothing to tell except everybody has been awful kind to me. It’s fine to have people so kind to me. But I’d rather if they’d try to understand what this strike business means to all of us workers—this strike we’ve won and the ones that are coming.…  4
  “I come out of the workhouse today, and they tell me a lady wants to give me money to study, she wants to have me go to college like I was a rich girl. It’s very kind. I want to study. I ain’t been to school none since I was fifteen. I guess I can’t even talk English very good. I’d like to go to college. And I used to see pictures in the papers of beautiful rich women, and of course it would be fine to have clothes like that. But being in a strike, seeing all the people suffer, seeing all the cruelty—it makes things look different.  5
  “The Chairman told you something out of the Christian Bible. Well, we Jews have got a story too—perhaps it’s in your Bible—about Moses and his people in Egypt. He’d been brought up by a rich Egyptian lady—a princess—just like he was her son. But as long as he tried to be an Egyptian he wasn’t no good. And God spoke to him one day out of a bush on fire. I don’t remember just the words of the story, but God said: ‘Moses, you’re a Jew. You ain’t got no business with the Egyptians. Take off those fine clothes and go back to your own people and help them escape from bondage.’ Well. Of course, I ain’t like Moses, and God has never talked to me. But it seems to me sort of as if—during this strike—I’d seen a BLAZING BUSH. Anyhow I’ve seen my people in bondage. And I don’t want to go to college and be a lady. I guess the kind princess couldn’t understand why Moses wanted to be a poor Jew instead of a rich Egyptian. But if you can understand, if you can understand why I’m going to stay with my own people, you’ll understand all I’ve been trying to say.  6
  “We’re a people in bondage. There’s lots of people who’s kind to us. I guess the princess wasn’t the only Egyptian lady that was kind to the Jews. But kindness ain’t what people want who are in bondage. Kindness won’t never make us free. And God don’t send any more prophets nowadays. We’ve got to escape all by ourselves. And when you read in the papers that there’s a strike—it don’t matter whether it’s street-car conductors or lace-makers, whether it’s Eyetalians or Polacks or Jews or Americans, whether it’s here or in Chicago—it’s my People—the People in Bondage who are starting out for the Promised Land.”  7
  She stopped a moment, and a strange look came over her face—a look of communication with some distant spirit. When she spoke again, her words were unintelligible to most of the audience. Some of the Jewish vest-makers understood. And the Rev. Dunham Denning, who was a famous scholar, understood. But even those who did not were held spellbound by the swinging sonorous cadence. She stopped abruptly.  8
  “It’s Hebrew,” she explained. “It’s what my father taught me when I was a little girl. It’s about the Promised Land—I can’t say it in good English—I——”  9
  “Unless I’ve forgotten my Hebrew,” the Reverend Chairman said, stepping forward, “Miss Rayefsky has been repeating God’s words to Moses as recorded in the third chapter of Exodus. I think it’s the seventh verse:—  10
  “‘And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;  11
  “‘And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.’”  12
  “Yes. That’s it,” Yetta said. “Well, that’s what strikes mean. We’re fighting for the old promises.”  13

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