dreaming of bread, roses and joe hill in the stockholm subway

When we moved to Sweden three years ago, I stared every morning at a quote etched in the floor at the Näckrösen subway stop.  It was by Joe Hill, who I knew nothing about, but it was beautiful.  In English it goes something like this, “Give us not only bread, but roses too.”

It summed up everything I liked about Sweden, about the welfare state, about the reasons we more or less fled the New York City exurbs for a land of paid parental leave and universal healthcare.  I’ve meant to write about that quote for three years.  And yesterday I finally did at The Faster Times, where I am the news and politics editor and write the Big News column.

Here is the lede:

“Ninety-five years ago last week, the government of Utah murdered Joe Hill, lining him up and shooting him for a murder he might or might not have committed.

Hill was a labor activist and song writer, an immigrant with a checkered past, a fighter willing to dedicate his life to a cause – the kind of man the American left does not produce anymore, or if it does, the kind of man the American left ignores.

This is important with the rise of the passionate Tea Party and with the lack of a counterweight to the organized American right, with a president who wants to get things done, but seems to need to be led by the people, not to lead them.

Hill was born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in Gävle, Sweden, which happens to be my wife’s hometown.  His birthplace there is a museum, with a twisted tortured statue outside.  I visited the house years ago on a frigid February day, wracked with the flu on a failed travel book tryout.  The museum was closed, so I did not read then about the hard knock misery of 19th century Sweden, the kind of poverty that drove a quarter of the country to the United States.

But a Swedish February day was not a bad time to go – it helped me understand in a more visceral way why a man like Hill would wander into the American desert, fleeing all the darkness and illness that still drop like a veil over the country in the winter … with the world class safety net still decades away …”

You can finish the story here.

One thought on “dreaming of bread, roses and joe hill in the stockholm subway

  1. More than ten years ago I had an internship at LO near Joe Hill´s birthplace. I still remember one of his quotes.

    “Workers of the world awaken,
    rise in all your splendid might.

    Take back the wealth that you are making,
    it belongs to you by right.”

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