Amherst and Dyer Lum

On Wednesday 27 February I headed west from Boston to the Connecticut river valley and the town of Amherst. Just over twenty people attended the meeting in this small town in Food for Thought Books.

The town itself is small, population is just under 40,000 but it has no less than 3 colleges, part of the 5 colleges network. I'd been driven out there by Dominic from NEFAC who had been driving me from town to town since I arrived in the Boston area, he'd been filling me in on anarchism in the region and I'd been telling him stories of Ireland. We parked in the main square and found the bookshop just a short walk where we met with Anne-Marie, another NEFAC member who lived nearby and who had organised the meeting. Also nearby was a micro-brewery (I think the first I was in south of the border) where I'd a chance to sample the beer before the meeting.

Amherst is named after the British General Jeffrey Amherst who is infamous for putting forward the idea of giving the Native America people's united in the 'Pontiac rebellion' blankets infected with smallpox in order to exterminate them. Amherst himself was one of the causes of the rebellion both in terms of the contempt he showed to the Native American's and his attempt to end the practise of the exchange of gifts in order to save money for Britain's war against France.

The venue was interesting because it looked like a normal bookshop ( ) rather than a radical space - not a criticism I hasten to add. The audience was a mixture of young college age types, students I'd guess and older, sometimes considerably older activists from the local anti-war group. The anti-war group has picketed the town hall every week for a decade or more, some of them have been active since the 1940's, others have visited Iraq in the period since the war. This meeting was recorded for local radio but I've not yet managed to track down a recording of that meeting.

A couple of people at the meeting were involved in Bring the Ruckus - - or their local 'cop-watch' program. This basically seemed to consist of student activists with video cameras heading to a nearby poor Black area to follow the cops around with the intention of videoing any misbehavour. They have a rather grandiose vision of possible outcomes for such program's ".. a program to develop local Copwatch chapters could represent a dual power strategy, since monitoring the police undermines state power by disrupting the cops' ability to enforce class and color lines and also foreshadows a new society in which ordinary people take responsibility for ensuring the safety of their communities." I'm not sure how convinced I am of 'cop-watch' as a first step rather than something that could be organised by community organisations in s neighboorhood that was already well organised.

The micro brewery was too full to accommodate us all after the meeting so we ended up in a Chinese restaurant near where the car was parked before heading back to Anne-Marie's for the night.

At Dwer Lum's grave

The following morning we took the chance to visit the grave of Dyer Lum who was buried in the nearby town of Northampton. There was a good deal of snow on the ground and the graveyard paths had only partly been cleared but we managed to get to the grave site. Dyer Lum is connected with the Haymarket martyrs, the anarchist organisers and journalists executed in Chicago in 1886 for the role they played in building the 8 hour day struggle there. The Labor origins of the mayday parades held all over the world lie in the mass international demonstrations on Mayday demanding that the execution of these anarchists not taken place and on the previous May Day people from Northampton had gathered at this grave.

One of the Haymarket martyrs, Louis Lingg, cheated the executioner though exploding a dynamite cap in his mouth on the eve of the execution. It's considered that it was Lum who smuggled the dynamite cap into the prison. Lum was a lover of the anarcho-feminist Voltairine de Cleyre. Lum wrote for a number of anarchist publications and after the arrest of Albert Parsons edited The Alarm from 1892–1893.

Northampton has an older radical history as one of the center's of Shay's rebellion, when poor farmers rose in 1786 against debt and taxes in the aftermath of the America revolution. One participant Plough Jogger proclaimed that "The great men are going to get all we have and I think it is time for us to rise and put a stop to it, and have no more courts, nor sheriffs, nor collectors nor lawyers." The Boston merchants paid for an army of 900 which marched into the area, killed four of the rebels and hung two more, others would have been executed but for the general amnesty of 1788. During the constitutional debates Shay's Rebellion was held up as a warning but those who favored a central government strong enough "to repress domestic faction and insurrection" and the need to make it "more difficult for all (non-elites) who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other" something that it was warned would arise form "the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society."

In Amherst I interviewed Anne Marie an anarchist from Northampton in Western Massachusetts on activism in a small town / rural setting, how she became an anarchist, the local anti-war movement and class struggle politics. With hindsight I think this is one of the most interesting interviews of my tour, in particular because the way she links her political development with her life experience. The audio is at

That morning I said goodbye to Dominic who had just received a welcome job offer after a period of unemployment. He headed back to Boston and I headed to the Greyhound station for the four hour trip to Port Authority in New York City via a bus transfer at nearby Springfield. The war popped its head up again here, there was a youngish guy partly in uniform, ranting about the war at a large television suspended from the roof in the waiting area. The sound was turned down so I'm not sure quite what had roused him but Bush was on the screen so it wasn't hard to speculate.

This was also my first largish Greyhound station south of the border (the tiny station back in Northampton being my first) and although at the time I thought it pretty run down in retrospect it was way ahead of the others. My connection from Northampton arrived late (but again in retrospect not very late) but the New York bus was also running late so I made the connection.

As I headed south and east the snow at the road side started to thin and then perhaps an hour out of NYC was gone all together. I knew from here on this leg I was heading south as far as Richmond, Virginia and wondered if I'd see snow again this year. The route was close enough to the coast for long enough for me to be surprised by the amount of bridges over what looked like quite large rivers and bays. Ireland is so small that there is really only the room for one decent river, the Shannon, so anything wider than a couple of coach lengths always tends to surprize me.

Arriving in New York I realised one flaw in my travel plans, the bus was due to get into the city at 5pm and the schedule didn't really take into account that this was rush hour. With hindsight I should have expected this from Greyhound but I was still early on the learning curve. So as we traveled through the Bronx the traffic slowed to a crawl and then halted. I was glad of the fact I'd decided to splash out on a 'burner' in Bosto which meant that those waiting for me were able to ring and that we could arrange a meet up in the confused vastness of Port Authority at rush hour.

Entry extensively edited and added to 17th Dec 2008, a little bit more on Jan 5th. A full index of reports from the North America speaking tour is being developed at


WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


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