Posts Tagged ‘“Bisbee ’17”’

“BISBEE ’17” My rating: B+

112 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

A little-known but horrifying bit of Americana comes disturbingly to life in “Bisbee’17,” a doc in which the past and the present find an uncomfortable accommodation.

In Bisbee AZ on July 12, 1917, hastily deputized citizens raided the homes of copper miners on strike for higher wages and safer working conditions. At gunpoint the strikers were taken to a baseball field and told to either return to work or face permanent exile from Bisbee.

More than 1,200 refused the offer, were loaded on railroad cattle cars and dropped off in the New Mexico desert without food and water. Mass deaths were avoided only when New Mexico officials stepped in to establish a refugee camp.

Robert Greene’s excellent film, shot during the preparations for a centennial observation of that event (“celebration” hardly seems the right word), is not only about a dark moment in labor history, but about how it continues to resonate over the years, especially now that we find ourselves as divided as ever in our lifetimes — or our parents’ lifetimes.

The film singles out a handful of Bisbee citizens, some of whom are portraying their own ancestors in a town-wide recreation of the deportation. ¬†One woman reveals that her grandfather deported his own brother — a labor sympathizer — at gunpoint.

Behind the event were the copper interests, especially the Phelps Dodge Corp., which viewed the agitation of the Industrial Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”) with concern.

The company surreptitiously recruited local law enforcement, terrified the “good” citizens with tales of the strikers hoarding dynamite for terrorist attacks, and on the day of the deportation took over the telegraph and telephone ¬†lines so that not even the local state representative could get word to the governor and legislature.

For years after, Bisbee’s citizens didn’t talk about the deportation…not with each other and certainly not with outsiders.

“In a company town the company makes the rules,” observes one resident. (more…)

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