It is up to us to remember, to teach, and to continue.
That was the message Monday night from United Auto Workers 865 member Josh Saunders, who discussed the Haymarket Affair. Saunders spoke to other members of the new Quad-City chapter of the national Democratic Socialists of America at a potluck that 22 people attended at Laborers’ Local Union 309, Rock Island.
The Haymarket Affair was the aftermath of a bombing at a labor demonstration May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square, Chicago. The bombing happened after a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour work day. Someone — “To this day, no one knows who that person was,” Saunders said — threw a bomb at police. Seven police officers and at least four civilians died as a result of the violence that ensued.
Eventually, eight anarchists — seven of whom were sentenced to the death penalty — were convicted of conspiracy. “One of the jury members was a friend of one of the police officers that were killed,” Saunders said.
Illinois Gov. Richard Oglesby commuted two of the death sentences. One committed suicide in jail and four were hanged in 1887. Eventually, “The (remaining) Haymarket martyrs were pardoned,” Saunders said. He called the Haymarket Affair “one of the worst government frame-ups in U.S. history. It’s up to working-class people like ourselves to keep the memory of these men alive.”
Chase Burghgrave, of Rock Island, chairman of the Quad-City group, said that the national organization has grown since the 2016 Presidential election.
“There are so many people fighting for many different things,” said Amber Rajcevich, of Davenport. “We’re all fighting against the same systemic issues," said Rajcevich, who said she was an "armchair liberal" for some time before she joined the group.
The Haymarket Affair generally is considered the origin of International May Day, which also is known as International Workers Day, an observance for workers.
The Democratic Socialists of America was founded in 1982. The Quad-City chapter officially was recognized by the national organization in April 2017.