UnStorming Sheridan >> Introduction

image of haymarket memorial in downtown chicago

For a year, I occupied the Chicago of the present by tracing the Chicago of the past. My unaccustomed anonymity, the city's vastness, and the gritted-teeth resignation of the fall of 2004 prompted pilgrimages to sites where the faith of long-dead heroes that history would be on their side might be borrowed for a moment.

On November 12, the day after both Veteran's Day and the 117th anniversary of the Haymarket executions, I traced a route by bicycle from the new Haymarket memorial to Fort Sheridan, broadcasting a mournful and distorted "Internationale" at 4 watts all the way there, my signal growing stronger the farther from ClearChannel's downtown antennas I traveled. I wish there was some elegant conceptual reason why my homage to the labor martyrs missed them by a day, but there isn't. On November 11, I had to be at work.

Monuments and memorials commemorate while isolating, becoming unique shrines where the cult of the event or hero might be observed. For a moment needing heroes, this is nothing to sniff at. But Haymarket is not an isolated incident, a fetish for leftist history buffs to contemplate a long-past pivot point where things might have gone otherwise. It is for the Haymarket martyrs that we celebrate May 1st, even if many of us have now forgotten why, but it isn't for them that the mails stop on November 11. Dodging neo-military luxury vehicles for 30 miles, I breathed in the air of today over the land and all the stories of how we got here.

If the 19th century New York Times was correct and the Haymarket anarchists were a cancer on the social body, my pumping legs and steady heartbeat yearned to metastasize that cancer, allowing it to course through 21st century Chicago streets, mutate the airwaves, and run up to and over the structures built to destroy it.

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In memory of Michael Piazza, who kept Haymarket alive for a generation of Chicago artists.