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Going into Business with Emma Goldman

A pamphlet-release event on the evening of Tuesday November 5 at 5:30 at the Roadhouse.

How the ideas of an anarchist who died 42 years before we opened the Deli have had a huge influence on the way we work at Zingerman’s.

One hundred fifty years ago last week, on October 2, 1869, Mohandas Gandhi was born in the town of Gujarat, in western India. Just over three months earlier, 3,300 miles or so to the northwest, Emma Goldman was born in the Lithuanian city of Kovno. At the young age of 22, Gandhi was already arguing cases in court. At the same age, having emigrated to the U.S. in 1885, Emma Goldman was speaking to large crowds (nearly all men) about how the state and the legal system were crushing the creative spirit of the individual. (One of her most famous quotes is “Every society gets the criminals it deserves.”) Gandhi, as many of you likely know, went on to become a successful campaigner for Indian independence and a leading advocate for non-violence. Goldman, while an equally creative force for change, walked a different road—she advocated for anarchism instead of independent governments; while personally non-violent, she often flirted with the idea of it; she actively worked her whole life against the state; and she set foot in courts of law only when she’d been arrested (which was fairly regularly). And yet, each of these two exceptional individuals, born only a few months and so many miles apart, are among the most influential social change leaders of the early 20th century.

One of the quotes I love most from Mohandas Gandhi is: “First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win.” While that “timeline” will have run longer for Emma Goldman to reach that last stage than it seems to have for Gandhi, I would suggest that her ideas about the individual and society are taking a similar (though slower and more roundabout) trajectory. In 1908, William Marion Reedy, then publisher of the St. Louis Mirror, said Emma Goldman was “8,000 years ahead of her time.” Reedy was responding to the nearly universal criticism of Goldman from the conservative establishment. I love the spirit of what he said. But upon further reflection, I feel like Reedy was off by about 7,900 years—I believe, with great enthusiasm, that Emma Goldman’s time is now! Many of her insights and beliefs form the framework for much of what we now know as “sustainable,” “progressive,” or “positive” business. The then-controversial principles she put forward back in her own era, today offer us a healthy, cutting-edge recipe for leading positive, meaningful lives.

Ari Wenzweig, Emma Goldman

On the evening of Tuesday, November 5, at the Roadhouse, I’ll be doing a talk about “Going into Business with Emma Goldman; 18 Anarchist Lessons for Business and Life.” The pamphlet was published at the end of June, to honor her 150th birthday. It’s a look back at Emma Goldman’s story, but most importantly at her ideas, and how, I believe, they are exceedingly relevant for modern, progressive organizational thinkers. There’ll be a lot of good conversation; a few tasty nibbles; and a copy of the 60-page, locally printed, Zingerman’s-designed pamphlet all included in the $50 price. I’d be honored to see you there and start the evening together. As Emma’s friend and colleague Freda Diamond said of her after she passed away, “She opened your mind and made you think about things you never thought about before. That was her outstanding characteristic. She made people think!” I can say with certainty that Emma got me thinking. I hope that the evening’s talk will get you thinking as well.

Get your tickets now!
P.S. If you like the Emma Goldman quote at the top of this note, we have a limited number of letter-press printed (by Ann Arbor’s own Jim Horton) of a poem written by my friend Meg Noodin based on these powerful lines. The poem is both in the Ojibwe language and in English. Proceeds go to benefit the anarchist Labadie collection at the University of Michigan’s Hatcher Graduate Library. It’s a lovely, limited edition work! Get yours here.