Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Visionary Matilda Gage and the Quest for Liberty

If you are in Syracuse, NY, do not forget to stop by the home of Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898) an American pioneer of women rights ("suffragist" - is there an uglier word?), a Native American rights activist, an abolitionist involved in the Underground Railroad, a freethinker, and a prolific author.  She was also mother-in-law of the author of the Wizard of Oz books, Frank Baum, who spent time in her house and garden.

Matilda Gage became active in the women's movement in 1852 when she gave a speech at the National Women's Rights Convention in Syracuse, New York. She served as president of the National Woman Suffrage Association from 1875 to 1876, and was in the organization's leadership for the next twenty years. 

Portrait of Matilda Gage by Martin Willitts Jr. 

Her parents were involved in the abolitionist movement, considering slavery a horrific aberration that should actively be opposed, not silently tolerated. Her home was a prominent stop on the Underground Railroad leading slaves to freedom in Canada - with extensive support of the citizens of Syracuse, known at one time to have stormed the jail to free a black man and prevent his return to slavery in the South.  

The museum in her home in Syracuse includes some images associated with abolitionist movement and shackles used on the legs of slaves that were caught and transported back to their "owners."


A runaway slave came to my door
seeking shelter,
miles from the cotton fields and whips.

there is not need for a trapdoor,
or hidden room,
or soft knowcking to be hidden

for he will be gone
before the frost hits the ground
both feet running.


A woman is seeking shelter
mistreated by a brute
pretending to be a loving husband

her words are blown out into the wind
her eyes are sunken
burn out coals

she will leave as soon as she can
I will make chamomile tea
to soothe and strengthen her legs

but she is already running 
standing there 
in the cold and frightening rains

(c) 2010 Martin Willitts Jr. published in "Protest, Petition, Write, Speak. Matilda Joslyn Gage Poems" published by the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, Fayetteville, NY, 2010.

Ms. Gage wrote many feminist, anti-slavery, and other essays and manifestos. She served as the editor of the National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881) advocating for women's rights to vote and a slew of civil liberties. She wrote on a old-fashioned and highly decorative typewriter. The keyboard below, however, belongs to a cash register, not a typewriter (I thank Martin Willitts, Jr. for correcting my error).

Despite the gap of over 150 years that separates us from her peak writing years, we may find her views on Native-American and African-American rights to citizenship and liberty to be surprisingly modern. She was a true libertarian and valued liberty above all... 


"I received the name of Ka-ton-ien-ha-wi, or 'Sky Carrier,' or as Mrs. Converse said the Senecans would express it, 'She who holds the sky.'" - Matilda Joslyn Gage describing her adoption into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation in 1893.

It is my gift
to hold the sky,
to lift up
the heavens
so the stars do not fall
upon our heads.
I am wolf guarding her cubs
with eyes of clouds.
I was arrested for voting
like a moon keening.
We are all sisters of the spirit.
It is our gift.
It is a deep planting.
The sky is held in my hands
so you may walk without fear.
you are safe in my keeping.

(c) 2010 by Martin Willitts, Jr.

We  now have the name for them: "The First Nations." But do we really treat the earliest inhabitants of this continent, and their cultural and spiritual heritage with the respect they deserve?  When dealing with Native-Americans our government lied and broke its own promises, repeatedly breaking its own word, given in the name of all citizens. The First Nations were attacked, and systematically destroyed - by killing all the bison, by spreading smallpox via infected blankets, by forcing them onto reservations and taking the children away to be "civilized" in "Christian" schools. It is sometimes said that about 30 million Native Americans lost their lives in the process of the Conquest of the West... Nothing to be proud of and Ms. Gage was keenly aware of that, while the treaties were still being signed and their promises were still being broken...


Where is your music, o mother of Micmac nation?
You have been humble, yes, perhaps too kind.
Foursquare rhythms and banal tunes of church hymns
Entered your bloodstream and poisoned your song.

Years of learning:
polluted minds,
distorted memory,
children without a past. 
Nothing remains,

but an awkward copy
of a copy of a copy
of a copy of a song
by the Great Master--
Papa Haydn. 

The settlers stole your soul
leaving you with traders' beads                        
(under the pretence of humility and trust). 
Who knows what was there before? What riches?
Five hundred years cannot be recovered.
Five hundred Micmac years could begin today.
Oh, Rita Joe, be bold and teach your children!
Listen to ancient motherlode of song.
Create anew, refresh your memory with brightness--
voices of living water, echoes, distant hills.

I'm guilty too: I came to breathe your air,
walk on your land, shudder from your winds.
A gentle stranger took me from my garden
into the vastness of indifference and cold.

Their streets--too wide
Their trucks--too big
Their grass--too short
Their eyes--too empty
                      of kindness. 

Rage: boys and men rest while the unborn
kicks in the ribs, the mother fainting
get up--you there--with the headphones!!!
(embarassed, caught--perhaps he'll learn?)
Rage: hypocritical lies, double-faced
how-are-you's without caring how
or even waiting for an answer.
Rage: what ugly mask they made for you
when they came to tame and steal!

What would my music be
if epochs earlier Slavic barbarians
had fought for their faith?

Converted: a foreign princess came
with her kind God.  Books of her gentle chants
replaced pagan cults of fierce and fearful deities.
What was?  What could have been
if the gentle had not been the iron?
Armed with twin swords of arrogance and contempt
forever fixing the course of Polish fate:
to look up to the West, to the real Europe
for art, truth, hope, for a place on Earth
(and always be rejected as second-hand impostors). 
Create afresh, o proud Micmac nation!
Can you forget their art?  Discover yours?

(c) 1995 by Maja Trochimczyk (Maria Anna Harley)

What Matilda Gage did not value was the Christian Church that she considered oppressive to women, and, especially, the Temperance Movement that, though well-intentioned, resulted in the disaster of Prohibition, and the growth of organized crime. She was witty and articulate, and her words speak for her vision of a free and just society, based on compassion, respect, and mutual care.

She wrote in "All the Rights I Want" - "It is sometimes better to be a dead man than a live woman." 

With statements like that, she would have been camping out with the Occupy Movement on the lawns of New York, Los Angeles... She would have been arrested in our times as well.  After leaving the women's organizations that turned too "Christian" and too "Temperance-oriented" for her temper, Gage established the Woman's National Liberal Union (WNLU) in 1890. She was its president until her death in 1898. The WNLU was radical and liberal ideas, expressed in the official journal that Gage edited, The Liberal Thinker.


"While so much is said of the inferior intellect of woman, it is by a strange absurdity conceded that very many eminent men owe their station in life to their mothers."

I imagine it is like the chicken before the egg.
A man suddenly appeared out of clay.
No one entertains the strangeness of that notion.
A man just suddenly came out of nowhere.
I know many people believe it happened this way.
But it just seems contrary to reality.

I tend to believe that you need a woman to give birth.
Foolish me. To think that with my inferior intellect
a woman would have anything to do with birth.
I guess babies just come out of thin air.

I guess a man just have given birth to me.
Or maybe I just appeared one day.
Who knows? I am a motherless child.

Luckily for us women, we have smart men
to tell us these things. Why if it wasn't for them
Who know s what strange things we might think.

Perhaps the chicken does not need the egg. 

(C) 2010 by Martin Willitts, Jr. 

After Matilda Gage's death, her favorite saying was carved onto her tombstone. Her home is used for lectures, workshops, seminars, and guided tours, where you can see that quintessential "women's art" - a quilted image of the home.

Trying to find common threads between my writings and hers, I looked for political or socially engaged poems of mine and found very few. I did have a poem published in OccuPoetry last year, "The Mirage" - about the futility of elections for the truly poor. But to find something relevant, I had to go back to my beginnings as a poet and the year 1995. Above is a reflection on Native Americans in Canada (there was a lot of conflict on reservations at that time), and on being Canadian.

Photo by Martin Willitts, Jr. 


A bizarre thing happened today:
balmy air opened up to a vision
of a lost nation (traded for a baseball card).
The world in miniature, a sign of heaven.
Or so said the taxi-driver carrying his Bible
around Calgary to prove that Jesus loves you,
yes, but, what's more: Canada is like paradise.
Heaven is full of people we do not know:
Indians, Africans, Inuit, Arabs,
all the good people who followed the road
without the road-signs.  So is this country:
on the ruins of an ancient way of life respecting life,
bustling with memories from over the ocean,
still eaten after the language is all but gone
(rye bread and pasta, won ton, souvlaki, tea and salade).
Hamburgers are here too, with apple pies and Coke
under the star-spangled banner.  Are Canadians
disqualified by their loyalty to the Queen
(shadowed by scandals and the Fleur du Lys)?
Outnumbered losers, faithful to their young flag,
still carried with pride, though others use it
as a disguise. What will become of them
after the borders fall? Canadians: do they exist?
Squished between the snow
and the hungry deluge from the South
poised to devour the Universe.
When will their dream be over?
Their paradise lost? 

(c) 1995 by Maja Trochimczyk 

What would Matilda Joslyn Gage write about today? What would she see as the most pressing issues? The abuse of Native Americans has faded from public spotlight, and with the rise of casinos, some "wealth transfer" started occurring. We can only applaud the choices made by thousands of gamblers to pay back Native Americans and help them rebuild their destroyed culture, family, way of life... As for the Abolitionism, Slavery has not been abolished, but expanded to all Americans in 1865:

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

This amendment makes legal "slavery and involuntary servitude" as "punishment for a crime" - so label someone a criminal, through "war on drugs" for instance, and voila! you have yourself a slave... or an indentured servant for as long as the sentence last. The amendment does not put limits to the terms of sentence, so, theoretically it could be for a lifetime...

Enough of these sad matters. Let's look at the sky... but what do we see there? Planes? Planes and more planes? Why do they fly around in these criss-crossing patterns? Covering parts of the sky with white haze?


I look at the cloud heart dissipating above the rooftops
Someone’s Valentine or a marriage proposal.
Cute - I sigh. I do not have a heart, a ring, not yet,
not ever. Day one.  Graffiti in the sky.

I read a book, lying on a blanket in my backyard.
I look up at the strange, striped cloud patterns
And wonder – there is no wind, it is sunny,
How did these long, even strips with serrated edges
Get there? Day two. Graffiti in the sky.

Dirty, milky white fog above the horizon.
Crisscrossing patterns spoil the view
of the mountains.  Where are the bluish
edges receding in the distance? Ridges don’t turn
From green, to blue, to deep indigo.  Not today.
My photos are ruined.  Day three.  Graffiti in the sky.

I read strange stories on the web of lies,
Sick imagination, horror, secrets.  Antenna arrays.
Bursts of energy. Fake drought in California.
Fake snow in New York. Tornadoes, blizzards.
Floods.  Over 160 weather modification patents.
Weather warfare?  Day four.  Graffiti in the sky.

Powdered aluminum, strontium, barium
Compounds fall from the sky, enter my lungs
Clog the veins in the tree leaves, settle in roots,
my cells, soil, water, air – the whole world
is poisoned. Day five. Graffiti in the sky.

They say only corporations’-owned
GMO plants will survive in the new world
Made by the spawn of hell. We will all be slaves.
Who pays the pilots of the small red planes?
Who makes the poison to destroy the earth?
War on Nature. Day six. Graffiti in the sky.

Clouds gather for yet another winter day
Of El Nino without rain. The farmers
Will go bankrupt, the rich become much richer.
Do these billionaires live in underground caves,
With artificial air, soil, plants and sunshine?
God rested on the seventh day. They do not
rest.  Day seven. Graffiti in the sky. 

This photo is remarkable as it shows how the edge of a chemtrail cloud-cover looks like, with criss-cross pattern still visible and the edges of lines sticking out like a torn rug... That's what we live under, on a bad day, folks!  To see more photos of chemtrails, visit my Graffiti in the Sky album.
There was a petition against chemtrails on the White House website, but not enough people signed it.
It said: 

Immediately stop the aerosol spraying of our nation’s skies.
The spraying of nanoparticulate matter in the upper atmosphere is not a solution to any problem, it is the deliberate polluting of our atmosphere and is therefore a crime against humanity and all living life on this planet. The use of terms like geoengineering, persistent contrails, solar radiation management, etc. is insulting to the intelligence of the American people. It is what it is, pollution.
We the people are sick and tired of not having a voice in our own destiny and hereby give notice that our Government’s way of dealing with problems of any nature are blatantly recognized as self serving, selfish and destructive to the world we live in.
 Oh, yes, sometimes they make them look like clouds... or at least try to...