Stone Soup at the Worcester meeting

Last night saw the first meeting of the USA section of the speaking tour. It was in the town of Worcester which with a population around 175,000 is the second biggest town in New England, just over an hours drive from Boston.

The venue was a radical community center called ">Stone Soup which is a large 3 story house plus basement still in the process of conversion into a social center. Around 25 people came along and took part in the discussion which had been slotted into a regular series of discussion meetings they were having. Stone Soup is pretty impressive, it provides space for an environmental justice group, an ex-prisoners organization (EPOCA), a library, a bicycle workshop (ran on the interesting principle of 'Earn a bike' where you get a bike after spending so many hours fixing one up), a print shop, a meeting space and a alternative schooling centre.

I was given a tour of the building after the meeting. At some time in the past the building was a funeral home so one room in the basement still contains the embalming drain and sink. For a visitor from Dublin its a remarkable building, activists in Worcester do have the advantage that property prices appear to be around 5% of what a similar building would cost in Dublin! This opens up possibilities that do not exist at home where renting a similar square footage would cost in the region of 3,000 dollars per month.

As I travelled around North America there was a clear distinction between towns in decline like this one where the decline made this sort of project possible and the better known boom towns like NYC which had the more familiar situation of space always being a premium and acting as a seriously limiting factor when it came to organisation.

My background reading since the meeting on Worcester (mostly via Wikipedia) turned up a good deal of interesting history, I've summarised some below. As with most of the other locations I visited I wish I'd have had the time to do some research before visiting to give me more context! Worcester is of interest because although it was settled early in the colonization of North America by Europeans it was far enough west to be at the limit of expansion for a long time.

The Native American population of the region were the Nipmuc who had their own written language prior to colonization and its estimated were divided into as many as 40 or so villages. By the 1640's the Boston colonists were offering bounties on Nipmuc scalps of men, women, and children but it was 1673 before the first settlers set up a small village. This was destroyed in King Philip's war. 'King Philip' was the Native American Metacom who led a large scale rising against the New England settlers in 1675 during which many settler cities were attacked but the defeat of which resulted in the destruction of much of the Native population and the enslavement or exile of those who survived. Worcester was resettled in 1684 but abandoned again during Queen Anne's war of 1702. This was the North American overspill of conflict in Europe over the succession to the Spanish throne with the French and English powers using mixed forces mostly comprised of 'Indian' allies against each other and each others civilian populations in particular.

Worcester third and final settlement was only in 1713. It's inland location meant that Worcester was a relatively safe location for the rebels during the American revolution. It's later radical connections included being the location of an Ice Cream shop opened by Emma Goldman. Less trivially it was the home of the radical (slavery) Abolitionist Abby Kelley who was also a proto-feminist and probably part of the reason the first national Women's Rights convention was held in Worcester in 1850. The New York Times of July 9 1919 carried a report that Worcester employers were calling for 'strong measures' as they feared otherwise 'anarchism will get a strong foothold in Worcester'. On October 19 1924 Worcester was the site of a huge Klu Klux Klan rally which attracted 15, 000. However despite having 400 guards the Klan were given a hammering that night in a huge riot that saw their cars being smashed and burned and individual Klansmen being beaten up. They fled town for good.

The North American tour index

WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


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