Eugene Debs: I am my brother’s keeper

(Eugene Victor Debs. Nov. 5, 1855-Oct. 20, 1926)

A little break from my usual poetry posting. Eugene V. Debs. Labor leader. Five time Socialist Party candidate for U.S. Presidency. Much of what he said still burns with his original intensity, and is as true today as when he said it:

Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society in which we live today, not because I lack the natural equipment to do for myself, but because I am not satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest necessities of life. We were taught under the old ethic that man’s business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago the question was asked: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society.
Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality, but by the higher duty I owe to myself. What would you think of me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death.
                                 –Eugene Debs, from his 1908 speech “The Issue”
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