Raising hell

Two great justice-seekers, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (1837) and Primo Levi (1919), were born on this date. Labor crusader Jones has become a progressive icon, Auschwitz survivor Levi a reminder that our greatest foe is our own tendency “to believe and act without asking questions.” WA

“The first thing is to raise hell,” said Jones, “that’s always the first thing to do when you’re faced with an injustice and you feel powerless.”

Levi spoke for the powerless, and depicted a startling vision of aurora so different from mine. “Dawn came on us like a betrayer; it seemed as though the new sun rose as an ally of our enemies to assist in our destruction.” Those of us fortunate enough to face each new day in freedom, graced with the gift of hope in the rays of a morning star, should be raising more hell.

I recently finished Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a novel in the spirit of Primo Levi. It makes a subtler point: before raising hell, you have to see the injustice in front of you. “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever,” is a repeated refrain.

Also recently finished Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Bully Pulpit. TR was often a hell-raiser and usually a justice-seeker, if also a swaggering imperialist and “bully”; but as I read it the great heroes of this story were the “muckraking,” eye-opening journalists who shined light into dark corners. Ida Tarbell was a Mother Jones for her time. We need more like her now.

7:30/5:54, 68/91

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