Saturday, 15 October 2011

Liberty is one of the 99%

Today, you may have noticed a lot of stuff going down in a city near you, all tied up with the We Are The 99% movement. So I thought I might share something I learned recently.

When the Statue of Liberty was being built, there wasn't a lot of support from the people up top. They desperately needed 100,000 dollars to build something for the statue to stand on. Grover Cleveland, then mayor of NYC, vetoed a bill to provide half that money. Congress couldn't get its act in gear. The next bit is actually from Wikipedia:

The New York committee, with only $3,000 in the bank, suspended work on the pedestal. With the project in jeopardy, groups from other American cities, including Boston and Philadelphia, offered to pay the full cost of erecting the statue in return for relocating it. Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the World, a New York newspaper, announced a drive to raise $100,000 (the equivalent of $2.3 million today). Pulitzer pledged to print the name of every contributor, no matter how small the amount given. The drive captured the imagination of New Yorkers, especially when Pulitzer began publishing the notes he received from contributors. "A young girl alone in the world" donated "60 cents, the result of self denial." One donor gave "five cents as a poor office boy's mite toward the Pedestal Fund." A group of children sent a dollar as "the money we saved to go to the circus with." Another dollar was given by a "lonely and very aged woman." Residents of a home for alcoholics in New York's rival city of Brooklyn (the cities would not merge until 1898) donated $15; other drinkers helped out through donation boxes in bars and saloons. A kindergarten class in Davenport, Iowa, mailed the World a gift of $1.35.
As the donations flooded in, the committee resumed work on the pedestal. In June, New Yorkers displayed their new-found enthusiasm for the statue, as the French vessel Isère arrived with the crates holding the disassembled statue on board. Two hundred thousand people lined the docks and hundreds of boats put to sea to welcome the Isère. After five months of daily calls to donate to the statue fund, on August 11, 1885, the World announced that $102,000 had been raised from 120,000 donors, and that 80 percent of the total had been received in sums of less than one dollar.

There are two competing visions of the American Dream right now. One says from the tops of the skyscrapers and from the ignorant masses hiding behind their television screens: "I have what's mine because I earned it. I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps, and if the poor are too lazy to do it themselves then they have what's coming to them".

The other proclaims in the poet Emma Lazarus' words, as she has done since 1886, at the very gates of America: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I don't know about you, but I stand with Lady Liberty and the 99%.

No comments: