Today we held our annual Pullman debates. We bring Eugene Debs and the ARU, George Pullman, Jane Addams, Attorney General Olney, the Reverend Carwardine, the Pullman workers, the General Managers Association, Governor Altgeld, and the Federal Troops to the table to try to resolve the Pullman strike that occurred in the summer of 1894. Of course in reality, these people never sat down together. In fact Pullman refused to meet and negotiate with the workers, Debs, even with Governor Altgeld, which totally exacerbated the situation. Several students were assigned one of the characters and worked hard over a week or so to prepare their case to convince the others of their point of view. In our simulation today, there was a great deal of passion but not too much resolution.
Near the end of Attorney General Olney’s proposed resolution, (s)he used one of the editorial cartoons I had previously shared with the students (see above), and with great passion and commitment said, “Workers, you’re going down these stairs. Don’t you understand? You have stepped down the step of strikes. You have stepped down the step of disorder and riots. Yes there are murders now. Do you see what is next? Chaos! And then? Who knows what will follow! Workers, workers, go back up these stairs. Do you hear me? Go back up the stairs!”
After all had a chance to rebut each other, there was time for a short caucus and then we came back to the table. Following the last emotional closing statement, Attorney General Olney waved an injunction in the air and ordered the Federal troops to arrest Eugene Debs. The workers were enraged and got out of their chairs and rose in support of Debs. Governor Altgeld, incensed, rose too and soon the whole table was on its feet either trying to stop the troops from taking Debs away or urging the troops on. Once everyone was out of their chairs, one of the workers went around and turned everyone’s chair over.
Jane Addams, after tossing her notepad at Olney, got onto the table and sat in a meditative pose, her hands in a kind of mudra and eyes shut, chanting, “Peace. Peace.” And then it was the end of class. Flushed and excited they exited the room.
“I guess we didn’t go back up those stairs,” NP said as he rushed out the door to his next class.
“Yes, it was a total leap into the abyss.”
I love my job.