In the winter of 1914, there was mass unemployment.  At a time without government assistance hardly existed, most charitable giving was managed by churches, synagogues, and religiously affiliated organizations like the Bowery Mission.


Frank Tannenbaum, 21, unemployed, and a recent member of the ‘Wobblies’ – the Industrial Workers of the World – led hundreds of unemployed men to demand recognition, food, and housing from city churches.


St. Mark’s Church was one of the few who invited Frank and his group in – providing them food and a warm place for the night.


The New York Times covered the event (with obvious hostility) — and my partner Michael Hickey and I created a song based on it for ‘The News.’  Text from the article together with the song and lyrics are below.



Puts Hunger Above Law

New York Times, March 3, 1914


Frank Tannenbaum, the young leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, last night told the members of his small army of “church invaders,” who say that they are unemployed, that everything in this city, and indeed, in the whole world, belonged to the workers, and urged them to take whatever they wanted by force if they could not get it in any other way.  The “church invaders,” whose ranks almost were tripled yesterday, shouted their approval of Tannenbaum’s utterances.  They were especially pleased when he said that the Municipal Lodging House wasn’t fit for a dog to sleep in, and urged them to establish a boycott, so that no unemployed man would sleep there.


Tannenbaum spoke to 190 unemployed men in the parish house of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at Second Avenue and Tenth Street…. arrangements had been made in the afternoon by the young IWW leader for the church to supply food and lodging last night….. Tannenbaum is only 21 years old.  He once was a waiter, and very recently he joined the Industrial Workers of the Word….


The Rev. William Miller Gamble welcomed the men on behalf of the Socialist Fellowship of St. Mark’s, and said that unemployment was intolerable…..


“At last we have a chance to let the city know what we want,” Tannenbaum began.  “I am glad the reporters are here to tell the city our demands.  We are members of the working class.  Everything in this city was created by our hands or the hands of our brothers and sisters.  We have a right to share in every house and in every man’s loaf of bread.  What’s more, we are going to make the city give it to us or take it by force.


“I have no scruples about what I am saying.  A hungry man knows nothing about law when he is starving.  If it is against the law to break windows behind which there is bread, then I say that when I am hungry I refuse to be a law-abiding citizen.”


This assertion was greeted with applause.


“Men, don’t accept charity,” Tannenbaum went on.  “What we are getting here tonight is not charity.  And men, do not beg for what you want; take it.  It is ours; it belongs to us; if the city won’t give it to us we will take it.  We are only getting back a share of what is ours. …..


“We want work, but we will not work for 50 cents or $1 a day.  We want $3 a day for an eight-hour day… we want union wages and union conditions, and we will not work unless we get them.  We would rather go to jail.” ….


“They tell us to go to the Municipal Lodging House, but I tell you that it is not fit for a dog to sleep in…… there is too much red tape….. First, they send you to jail for sixty days if they find you have been out of work for more than three days; and, second, you have to stand in a line until 1 o’clock and they drive you out on the streets at 4 o’clock.  Or they make you work in the building for five hours where they’ve only let you sleep three.”


“And, men, don’t go to the missions.  Don’t become men who are converted every night for the sake of a place to sleep.  We’re tired of that, too…… We are the working class; we produce everything and have a right to share in everything.”….


Tannenbaum was applauded when he finished.  (People from the).. church then passed platters of bean sandwiches and cups of coffee which the men eagerly seized.  Tannenbaum ate a sandwich ravenously. …


He explained that if St Mark’s Church had not been opened to his army last night the army would have “invaded” some other church….  “All buildings in the city owe us a place to sleep — churches and theaters as well as public buildings.”


link to full NY Times article



from “The News”, music by Michael Hickey, lyrics by Ryan Gilliam
Produced by Downtown Art




WOMEN: Yesterday – thirteen inches
worst snow in thirty years
gales, winds
at eighty miles an hour


an army of the unemployed
invaded St. Mark’s church
an army of the unemployed
invaded St. Mark’s church


ALL We’re here to find a place to sleep
Here to find a meal.
Here to find a place to sleep,
Here to find a meal.


FRANK I’m Frank Tannenbaum
I led this army here.
This invasion of your church.
Not for charity.


ALL We’re not beggars.
We are taking what is ours


FRANK I tell you,
This city
was created by our hands
by our brothers, by our sisters


ALL We got a right to share
in all this city has
We earned a right to share
in all this city has

And if this city won’t give what’s due
we will take it
We’re not beggars
We are taking what is ours


FRANK I’m Frank Tannenbaum
Twenty one
You know me? I’m IWW


ALL Industrial Worker of the World


FRANK If it breaks the law
to break a window
behind which there is bread
then I say
when I’m hungry
I refuse to be
a law-abiding citizen


ALL This city
Says unemployment is a myth


FRANK A myth
Why, you go to jail for sixty days
soon as they discover you been
out of work for three


ALL Do we starve ‘cause there’s no food? No!
We starve ‘cause there’s too much!
The capitalists – they hoard it
They snatch it from our hands
Then turn around and sell it
at prices we can’t pay

This city.. This city!


FRANK You – you are churchmen
Remember Jesus said
Let the man that hath two coats
go and share one?
And him that hath meat
let him do likewise?


ALL Wouldn’t Jesus share
A bean sandwich?
Cup of coffee?
Floor to spend the night?


ALL If such a thing as justice
could be had,
if such a thing as justice
could be had…


FRANK I’m Frank Tannenbaum
I led this army here
This army of the unemployed
Invading St. Mark’s Church


ALL We’re not beggars
We’re not beggars
We’re just taking what is ours

Let them come arrest us
a hundred ninety men
Send us to the workhouse
Go on, then — Arrest us all
a hundred ninety men
and if a hundred ninety
ain’t enough
we’ll send eight hundred men to jail
we’ll send eight hundred men
and keep on sending