August 24, 2019
Do You Remember Sacco and Vanzetti?
By Stephanie Scavelli
This week marks the 92nd anniversary of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were two Italian born immigrants to the United States in the early twentieth century. At a time before social media when news was spread by print and word of mouth, through newspapers, personal letters, speeches and pamphlets, the trials that sentenced death upon Sacco and Vanzetti became an international movement.
Sacco and Vanzetti were charged for a crime that occurred in South Braintree, MA in 1920 - a robbery and murder. The trials took place in Boston under Judge Webster Thayer. Even though a man who had participated in the crime named Celestin Madeiros had come forward with a confession revealing the crime had been committed by mobsters from Providence, RI with a history of murders and bank robberies, still the ruling stood. Judge Thayer would not allow for an appeal. At that time it was the overseeing Judge of the original trial that would determine if an appeal would be permitted in order for a re-trial.
Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilt of murder in the first degree and given the death sentence. How could this be? The prosecutors presented false and unreliable evidence and played off the patriotic sympathies of the jury. The witnesses who testified the actual whereabouts of the men on the night of the crime were dismissed because they were broken-English speaking Italian immigrants too. And when Sacco and Vanzetti each took the stand themselves, they were less questioned about their suspected involvement of the crime. Instead, the men were questioned about their personal convictions and value systems.
See this was a time in US history just after WWI when Woodrow Wilson was President and patriotism was a heated topic. Simply put, if you were not clearly a patriot of the US and a supporter of the existing structure you were viewed as an enemy. Any form of political dissent was viewed as an internal threat to the integrity and safety of the Nation. Immigrants were especially questioned for their allegiance. Sacco and Vanzetti were young immigrants that came to the US to work hard at the prospect of a better life. What they found was exploitation of a poor working class under a capitalist system that empowered the wealthy and disenfranchised the poor.
Sacco and Vanzetti championed what they considered a better world that genuinely reflected the natural human spirit of honesty and cooperation but which was being tarnished under the existing exploitative capitalist system. Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchists and believed in order to create a more just world that the tyranny of the ruling class needed to end. Their trials became an examination and exposure of their anarchist beliefs, not a trial of a murder crime. Judge Thayer is infamously quoted as saying at a sporting event to a professional colleague who later published his statement for how ghastly it was, “Did you see what I did to those anarchist bastards the other day? This should hold them for awhile.”
Being men that stood for the liberation of working class people, they drew attention of international proportion. While the two men sat in prison for seven years, at times in solitary confinement and on food strikes, the outside world championed their cause.
The history of Sacco and Vanzetti is so moving and pertinent even today when in the US we are again in a time of virulent internal struggle between patriots and immigrants. Their story is not unique in how they were unjustly treated by the judicial system on their basis of being radical immigrant men. Many innocent people before and after have wrongly had their freedoms and lives taken from them in all forms of circumstances of oppression and slavery in the legacy of american domination and exploitation.
What is most profoundly moving about Sacco and Vanzetti is their integrity of character. Their prison journals reveal men whose anarchist convictions strengthened and so did a belief that the existing power structure did corrupt the true nature of the human spirit. Yet, their hearts remained open and they even found compassion for their oppressors. Their letters to friends and loved ones encouraged them to continue to be brave and continue to stand up against oppression. The letters also expressed their own strength of heart and how they wished for their loved ones to always have an open heart.
On August 23, 1927 the two men stepped up to the electric chair for a most painful death execution. Sacco bid farewell to his wife and children and shouted in Italian, “Long live Anarchy!”. Sacco cried, “Mama!” as he took the charge of the electric chair. Vanzetti entered next and began, “I wish to say to you that I am innocent. I have never done a crime, some sins, but never any crime. I thank you for everything you have done for me. I am innocent of all crime, not only this one, but of all, all. I am an innocent man." Vanzetti shook the hands of the prison guards and doctor. Vanzetti’s last words were "I now wish to forgive some people for what they are doing to me" and then he died.
All over the world hundreds of thousands of people protested in the streets upon news of their execution. The funeral procession in Boston, attended by tens of thousands of people, was the largest event in Boston at the time and for many more years to come. This was no small obscure trial. Their story captivated US and international discourse for almost a decade just a hundred years ago. The Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society (https://saccoandvanzetti.org) carries their legacy forward. Each year they organize a memorial event in Boston where there are no statues or plaques of these men, only their story to be retold.
The courage of Sacco and Vanzetti touches my heart and their integrity humbles me. As the nation continues to struggle around a contentious split of who belongs and labels all others a threat, we are faced with similar challenges of Sacco and Vanzetti’s time. It is still important to have the courage to continue to challenge oppressive mentalities and socioeconomic structures all the while doing it with an open heart. Even though now the division is largely manufactured and sustained by the major corporate media outlets to disempower people, may the power return to the people and may we liberate our minds, bodies and hearts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Certified Yoga Instructor Stephanie Scavelli practices a plant-based diet and traditional herbal medicine. She laughs endlessly at the adventurous whit of the animation series Rick & Morty. She wears minimalist, barefoot-inspired shoes and her favorite dessert is her sister's Oatmeal Crusted Vegan Pumpkin Pie. Stephanie lives in Westchester County, NY with her daughter Juniper. For yoga classes and workshops near you visit www.yogaforager.com.