In John Sayles's A Moment in the Sun, Hod Brackenridge's colorful past is marked most deeply by his participation in a working class uprising. A group of men, inspired by Populist rhetoric, hijack a train car in an attempt to bring their economic grievances to the nation's capital.
Turn-of-the-century America was fraught with class conflicts of this sort, some of which exploded in violent strikes and protests. In 1894, Jacob Coxey - a wealthy Ohio businessman - headed an "Industrial Army" of diverse men and women, who were dissatisfied with "the federal government's inaction in the face of economic crisis."
Though many promised to march on Washington DC, only a small number fulfilled the commitment. "Coxey himself, predicting that he would arrive at Washington with 100,000 unemployed men, never had more than 300 men on the road with him at any given time, and had only about 1000 men waiting for him in Washington made up of other 'armies' who believed in his cause."
Once at Washington DC, he was arrested for trespassing on the White House lawn and was unable to give the speech he had prepared. Though the event fizzled out quickly, it had a large impact on the lives of working-class people. As noted in the Report of the Bureau of Agriculture, Labor, and Industry in the State of Montana, "It is almost impossible to realize now the intensity of feeling it evoked... it is not probable its like will ever be seen again. It was as unique in its character as a stray comet that flashes athwart the sky and is gone..."
This article was originally published in September 2011, and has been updated for the
February 2012 paperback release.
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