The Meaning of Sacco and Vanzetti

By Molly Adelstein

Disadvantaged on three fronts, both Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were immigrants, working class and anarchists, but it was their radical political beliefs and actions that got them killed.

Not simply philosophical anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti were heavily involved in labor strikes and demonstrations for better working conditions. They subscribed to and supported the anarchist journal Cronaca Sovversiva - Subversive Chronicle - and helped to raise money for strikers and political prisoners. Because of these activities, the Department of Justice had begun collecting information on them and other Italian anarchists years before the murders that got them executed.

As a group, the Italian anarchists were targeted for eradication because they were actively working to dismantle the State, and the more successful they were, the harsher the repression they faced. At the time of their arrest, many Italian anarchists had either been deported or forced underground. Only days before, Andrea Salsedo - one of their two comrades who were being held illegally incommunicado by the Department of Justice - mysteriously fell to his death from the 14th floor.

An extremely important thing to understand today, 81 years after their execution, is that the case of Sacco and Vanzetti is not some past aberration of our criminal justice system. We can't just look back, remember and breathe a sigh of relief - because this is how the criminal justice system operates. If anything, it gets worse with time, if only because it has become so pervasive that it seems normal now.

The pattern is clear - this is not an isolated incident. From 1956 to 1971 COINTELPRO used similar surveillance, disruption and entrapment tactics on a number of movements from civil rights groups and the Black Panther Party to Socialist and anti-war groups. Currently, to name just a few examples, immigrants, minority communities and environmental activists are being heavily targeted.

Like in the time of Sacco and Vanzetti, the State will use war in order to scare the general population into submitting to whatever "security" measures that it deems necessary to protect itself. Then, it was WWI, and now it is a stream of never-ending wars - the war on drugs, the war on crime, the war on terror... If we ever get out of Iraq, there's sure to be another country ripe for the occupation - Iran is looking like a good prospect for both of our leading presidential candidates. The media certainly doesn't help, what with making us so afraid of each other that we've submitted to living in a police state. We need to open our eyes and start taking control of our own lives, our own communities, our own media and our own security. We need to realize that the news on the TV and in the papers is not our own, but a perverted, biased and censored version of reality designed to keep us scared and in the dark, grasping tightly onto the State, a venomous barbed wire slicing into our hands and poisoning our minds.

We can create our own media - there are already projects that you can plug into, or you can start your own. We need to realize that our police - which are becoming more militarized every day - are not on the streets to protect us, but to patrol us; to protect private property and the few rich people who own most of it. We shouldn't be afraid of each other, of our brothers and sisters in our communities, our neighbors. We do need security forces, but it's not each other that we need protection from.

The State continues to present anarchists as dangerous radicals to be exterminated by the War on Terror. But what exactly is radical about the idea that every person should have enough healthy food? Do you think that it would be radical to suggest that everyone have access to shelter? That banks responsible for giving out predatory loans should be unable to reap financial rewards from making people homeless?

Is it radical to propose that a system is dysfunctional when the top one percent of the population holds about 40 percent of the wealth, while 80 percent of the population has only 9 percent of it? When millions of people can't support their families with three jobs while a select few own mansions, have multiple cars and SUVs, yachts and private jets?

Is it radical to want to protect our environment from the destruction wreaked by the unsustainable extraction of natural resources that profits few and leaves poor and indigenous communities to suffer the horrific consequences? Is it radical to think that it's outrageous to put a biowarfare research lab in the middle of Boston's South End?

These concepts are only radical to those few who have something to lose, the ones with the power, the money, the property. Sacco and Vanzetti died fighting for self-determination; for an equal redistribution of power; where no one gives up their power and no one takes it from anyone else; where communities can take care of themselves, because we can do it better than any government can.

If we want to truly honor these fallen men, we must continue their work and the work of so many others who are now dead or imprisoned, who dared to try to fight against the exploitation of the State. As long as we continue the struggle, Sacco and Vanzetti live!

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