The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Culture Corner:
Dear Mama & We Kept Our Towns Going

May 15, 2023

Film: Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur, 2022, streaming on Hulu

This five-part docuseries, directed by Allen Hughes, tells the story of Tupac Shakur through his own words, his hip hop music, his movies, frequent flashbacks to his mother’s life and activism in the 1970s, and numerous interviews with her and the people who were close to them. His mother Afeni Shakur was a Black Panther in New York City in the 1970s. The film shows through interviews and archival footage the growth and philosophy of the Black Panthers, and the role Afeni played as an articulate and powerful militant.

In the 1980s, when crack ravaged the cities, Afeni fell victim. Tupac absorbed it all. The film shows how all these events caused him to be able to passionately give voice to the ravages, the pain, the power. His songs “Dear Mama,” “Keep Your Head Up,” and “Brenda’s Got a Baby” are showcased and convey his ability (like his mother) to be a voice for his community. By moving back and forth in time, the film reveals how much has and has not changed.

Book: We Kept Our Towns Going: The Gossard Girls of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, by Phyllis Michael Wong, 2022

We Kept Our Towns Going is a 2023 Michigan Notable Books selection. The book tells the stories of the Gossard Girls, who sewed undergarments at piecework rates in factories in Ishpeming and Gwinn from the early 20th century to the 1970s. As the Upper Peninsula’s mines became increasingly exhausted and its stands of timber further depleted, H.W. Gossard Co. employed more than 1,000 workers, mostly women and often first- or second-generation immigrants.

The women worked incredibly hard each day to achieve a minimum rate, and, since they were paid by the piece, had to work even faster to make needed extra money. The book recounts the published history of events and, in large part, interviews of women who worked there and who share their stories: about the time-studies, the favoritism, the problems with the sewing machines, but also about the women working together to keep the minimum sewing rate achievable by all, and how the women would help each other on the job and in all aspects of life.

The women relate how for years they secretly organized for a union under threat of firing, and how finally in 1947 they went on a militant four-month strike for a union contract. Above all, we see how these working women impacted and supported themselves, their families, and their community.