I’ve been thinking about the people who started the Daily Worker, way back when (1924). The cast of characters included Bill Dunne, Louis Engdhal, John Ballam, Moritz Loeb, Walter Carmon, and Alfred Wageknecht.
You’ve probably never heard of these people – none were professional journalists, none were famous, all were from modest backgrounds.
Others you may know something about: Art and Esther Shields, Carl Reeve, the son of union organizer Mother Bloor; Robert Minor, who at one point was the highest paid cartoonist in the country, and who defied an order to stop drawing anti-war cartoons during WWI.
Another was Lester Rodney, famous for writing about the integration of major league baseball, one of many stories in American history where the coverage of the Daily Worker shone.
Pete Seeger’s father (writing under the name Carl Sands) wrote for the Worker; Richard Wright edited its Harlem edition.
And we can’t leave out Woody Guthrie – ok, he wasn’t there in 1924, but he did write a series of columns in the early years (almost 200 of them, between 1939 and 1940).
All of these people, some ordinary, some not – participated in the creation of something extraordinary – the Daily Worker was anything but a typical newspaper, since it not only covered news but also advocated for and participated in the struggles of the day.
Fast forward 85 years, and now the People’s Weekly World, the successor to the Daily Worker, having gone through many incarnations, has changed again, in two seemingly contradictory but extremely important ways: one, back – to being a daily press; two, forward – in that it will become an online publication only, peoplesworld.org
Those early working-class journalists would be thrilled with this change. I think – like all good journalists, they wanted their stuff to be read, to have an impact.
So I picture Lester Rodney writing a piece on steroid use by professional athletes – and with a click of a key, sending the article around the world, posting it on other websites, engaging in debate with other sportswriters.
I picture Esther Shields covering a strike and sending her article directly to the union president, to workers she interviewed when she wrote the story, to elected officials, community organizations, and friends.
The ordinary, un-typical journalists who are now writing for peoplesworld.org are also creating something extraordinary – a powerful way to widely disseminate stories of working-class life and points of view, which can empower and mobilize people across this huge country of ours.
Unlike the Daily Worker, which didn’t have a lot of company back in the day, its online heir will join other powerhouses of working-class activism and publishing.
Les and Art, Esther and Walter and Albert must be smiling.