On days like this, it is important to seperate the love of country from that of state. The Busheveiks, like other ’sheveiks’ of time past, like to confuse this essential distinction. It is difficult for me on days like this to find solace in a president general who would shoot his minute men in the back of the head or a president slave holder who while speaking of freedom and the pursuit of happiness expanded his slave holdings.
No, my heroes come from some place else. They would include Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, Victor Berger, César Estrada Chávez, Joe Hill, Woodie Guthrie, John Lewis, and “Big Bill” Haywood. My heroes do not speak the language of freedom and in the very next breath deny it. They take those words and demand a real world ascension to the concrete.
One this day, I would like to focus on one fellow Wisconsinite who, in a similar hysteria as our times, nevertheless remained consistent in words and deeds to our rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Victor Berger was America’s first socialist member of congress and they did not take it kindly. Berger believed that the working class should be organized politically and could only control its destiny with a party of its own.
Berger is what they used to call Sewer Socialists, those socialist who were often attacked by the more dogmatic socialists, but believed that everyday things like sewers, good roads, education, and beer were as essential as any revolution that attempted to overthrow the capitalist system.
During Berger’s reign, Milwaukee, WI was considered the most clean (clean roads, clean elections, clean goverment) large metropoliton city in the United States. It was highlighted in national magazines and representatives from large cities all over the world visited Milwaukee to see how the Milwaukee Miracle was done.
Victor Berger was first elected to congress in 1910. In Congress, Berger gained publicity for his old age pension bill, which the ‘progressives’ would not take up for many years to come. He also had a strong dislike for both Senate and presidential power. In his 1911 resolution he called for the elimination of the Senate and the Presidential veto. He argued congress,
shall be the supreme law and the President shall have no power to veto them, nor shall any court have any power to invalidate them.
Victor Berger lost in 1912, 1914, and 1916 but staged a come back in 1918. In March, he ran for U.S. Senate and got 26% in the general election. He did this while being banned from using the postal service, campaign mailings, or halls outside of Milwaukee, WI. Milwaukee’s 5th district sent him to congress in 1918 only to have Berger indicted under the Espionage Act which denied him his rightful seat in Congress by a vote of 309 to 1.
He ran again in 1919 to fill his vacant seat, but this time won by an even greater majority than 1918. Congress again refused to seat Victor Berger to his rightful seat and it remained vacant until the next election, which Berger lost.
He was elected again in 1922. In light of the Supreme Court reversing the charges against him (technicality), he was seated in congress without one vote of oppossition. He was reelected in 1924 and 1926 and proudly served Milwaukee’s 5th district until 1929.
Victor Berger sums up the spirit of the Declaration of Independence best when he states,
“What we want socialism for is that we may have life and have it more abundantly.”