Farmers National Relief
December 7, 1933 — First Farmers National Relief Conference, Washington DC
I am both a busted farmer’s mother and a busted farmers wife, but I am not as proud of that as I am of having had the privilege of working closely with the workers and farmers of this country, to snare their troubles, to try always to show them the way out.
The United Farmer’s League of North Dakota sent me to Iowa to help with the farm strike. (This farm strike was under the leadership of the Farmers Holiday Association.) This was a united front of farmers who agreed that they were not going to sell their milk or other products at current low prices.
The strike started in good faith. The farmers joined in great droves, but when they got started, the misleaders, those who thought they were going to get glory and salaries by leading this movement, suddenly found that the farmers were really picketing. They never dreamed that the farmers would do this.
So the farmers came from far and wide with their wives and children. At one time there were 200 children picketing and that helped greatly because it is pretty bad when a man is going to break strike to see wo many children against him.
The culmination came wen the Governors of ten states decided that something must be done to stop the Holiday strike. They did not say it in the press, but they said we will meet in Sioux City and see what can be done.
So the day came for the Governors’ Conference in Sioux City at Hotel Martin where they had plenty to eat and drink. The leaders of the Holiday Association, Milo Reno and the others went there at the invitation of the Governors. But what happened to the farmers?
We went to Riverside Park, where the farmers were, and we found at least 10,000 farmers all in a bunch. They were in overalls and jackets. I never saw such a turnout. Expected we were going to hear a lot of speeches from the President or other officials, but there was not a single speakers.
After a while I said: “Would you like to have some greetings from North Dakota?” “Can you speak?” they asked me. I asked them where their leaders were. I was told that they were al down with the governors. So I got up on the table and I did not get down for two hours and stood there and talked to them. They were not a bit afraid of denouncing the leadership that had disillusioned them.
Then came the parade, several miles long. It included a cowboy band that was great. The first truck was from Highway Picket Line #20 where not a single kulak truck got through. They asked me to sit o the truck, on top. The man next to me had an American flat which he was struggling to hold. We paraded through the whole city.
One of the greatest achievements of that strike struggle came to me fully in that parade. All the way along the line were thousands of workers, unemployed most of them, and these workers would shout to the farmers: “We’re with you boys.” And the farmers in the parade would shot back to them: “That’s right, boys, we’re with you. If you have to strike, we’ll feed you.” Then when they got out in front of the hotel where the governors were, we realized why the governors and their staffs did not come out. I believe they were afraid. They just peeped out the windows and the farmers would call out: “Here we are, governors, come and get your militia now.”
I noticed another thing — everywhere along the line, the farmers were singing their militant songs, and I want to say to you that you can not break an army of farmers and workers who sing songs as they did.
Later some of the farmers got together in another hotel to plan what to do. They said that the governors are meeting to tell us what they want, but we are going to tell them what we want. There was a lot of free discussion and then a committee was elected to go and present the farmers’ demands to the governors. Also the group endorsed the plan to hold a Farmers National Relied Conference in Washington, D.C.
I was sent back to where the farmers were and spoke to them again. Still not a single leader of the Holiday Association came down. A thousand farmers were waiting and they unanimously endorsed the Washington Conference. Newspapers got out an extra edition and newsboys were shouting under the governors’ windows that the farmers were going to put the governors on the spot.
Next day the pickets asked me to come out and take diner with them. “We don’t stop picketing because our women always bring us dinner. If you come down we will all have a good time and hold a meeting.” It was grand — they set table along the roadside and after it was over I stood up on a table and spoke to the whole countryside. Then I asked them to tell me how they got pickets out of jail on another occasion. They replied that “We just had about 5,000 farmers fro Council Bluffs area and the first step was to keep the sheriff busy then gave him so many minutes to let the farmers out of jai.” They also told about how the sheriffs and their deputies came down to the picket line to try to scare us — but nobody was scared. The farmers just took their guns and badges away.
We have come here to Washington today with a program of unity for all farm organizations, the United Farmers Protective Association of Pennsylvania, The Farm Holiday Association, etc. we have seen our misleaders go to Washington to lobby. We have seen the real estaters and lawyers come here to misrepresent us. Now we come here to attend to our own business, and we are going through with it.
Source: Ella Reeve Bloor Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton MA.