Last week, celebrated SL and RL artist Bryn Oh notified us members of her Immersiva in-world group about an academic / historic exhibit titled The Bread and Roses Strike at LEA13. The exhibit started out as an exercise for Dr. Sharon Collingwood’s Women’s Studies 110 distance class at The Ohio State University in the winter of 2013, spawned by the centennial of the Bread and Roses Strike which took place in January 1912 in Lawrence, Massachussets, USA.
The exercise itself grew over successive courses, and continues to grow and evolve even now. It is now available to the public, hosted at LEA13, one of the regions provided by the Linden Endowment for the Arts. As is admitted in the informational notecard provided by the exhibit’s team, the exhibit is not complete. It will continue to evolve while it is on display at LEA13, and the students involved will continue adding their projects in the meantime, hopefully providing further historical depth and more perspectives.
The exhibit, which will run until December 31st, 2014, does not aim to analyse the strike in detail, but rather examine a point in history. Students and other visitors are asked to think about the similarities between 1912 and or own time, and to think about the conflicts of gender, class, race and culture that arise in this and any historical period.
To achieve this, the exhibit recreates the atmosphere of Lawrence as it was in 1912, and juxtaposes the workers’ tenements with those of the higher classes, as well as with the texture mill owned the American Woolen Company. It also makes extensive use of Second Life’s interactive and immersive capabilities, by providing the visitors with four types of avatars they can wear in order to “fit in” with their role in the era’s social and political context, and also by assigning them with tasks that need to be done during their visit. Furthermore, almost ghost-like black & white cutout figures provide insights into the opinions that were expressed back then by various members of the society of Lawrence.
An upper-class house in Lawrence, as shown at The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13. “My dear, if your husband strikes you, it means that he cares about you. Try not to make him jealous.” – “Patience, dear. Your own peaceful demeanor and moderation should help him model his behavior.”: Words women were supposed to live by at the time. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.
While the exhibit may seem “old school”, to compare it with the professionally-made houses and pieces of décor provided by various content creators would be unfair; it is an educational project, which touches upon issues of income and gender inequality, workers’ rights, child labour. All of these issues have reared their ugly heads again in recent years thanks to our complacency and – silent or vocal – acceptance of ideas like Murray Rothbard’s “free baby market”.
The proclamation of the striking workers: “We, the 20,000 textile workers of Lawrence, are out on strike for the right to live free from slavery and starvation; free from overwork and underpay; free from a state of affairs that had become so unbearable and beyond our control, that we were compelled to march out of the slave pens of Lawrence in united resistance against the wrongs and injustice of years and years of wage slavery.” Source: Proclamation of the Striking Textile Workers of Lawrence (1912). The Bread and Roses Strike exhibit at LEA13. Please click on the picture for the full-size version.
In all, it is a very thought-provoking, important and politically challenging exhibit, which should remind us of a landmark in the history of the worldwide labour movement, and of the inconvenient fact that these rights we now take for granted (and which are being taken away day by day) have been won through hard, bloody struggles by unionised workers and not through the non-existent “trickle-down” effect.
As said earlier, the exhibit is of an educational nature. It was designed mostly for university classes that will complete assignments there, and the informative notecard provided not only helps the visitor get their bearings around SL and the exhibit, but also offers a number of questions as a test; further questions are provided by the blue buttons placed on various walls of the exhibit’s buildings.
Although the workers won their fight, it is noted in the Wikipedia article that they “lost nearly all of the gains they had won in the next few years. The IWW disdained written contracts, holding that such contracts encouraged workers to abandon the daily class struggle. The mill owners proved more persistent, slowly chiseling away at the improvements in wages and working conditions, while firing union activists and installing labor spies to keep an eye on workers. A depression in the industry, followed by another speedup, led to further layoffs.”
A private classroom for school groups is also available, and can be booked by contacting Ellie Brewster in-world.
With thanks to Bryn Oh