Labor history and social justice combine for Blow It Out! mill tour
(Pawtucket, RI) For mill workers in the early industrial times, the perennial celebration of blowing out the artificial lighting used in mills in the fall and winter months was as much an act of resistance as it was a demarcation of the season.
With the establishment of textile factories, working hours became regulated by a bell. Rather than rely on sunlight, factory owners implemented artificial lighting in order to operate their mills for the same number of hours year round.
Usually, that meant oil lamps that provided less-than adequate light and increased the risk of fire.
Though the introduction of artificial light was met with resistance from mill operatives, it eventually became tradition to “light up” the mills around September 20, and “blow out” around March 20.
Slater Mill’s present day observance of this labor-related equinox is the Blow It Out! Labor History tour.
Now in its fifth year, the event brings together artists, activists and history buffs for a night of reflection through history and art.
This year, the event is cosponsored by the Rhode Island Labor History Society.
Among labor historians, Slater Mill is a common reference. Widely recognized as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, the National Historic Landmark conjures a history of protest, unionization, and social action, as much as it does innovation.
The tour is led by Joey LaNeve DeFrancesco, who wrote and developed the program in partnership with Old Slater Mill Association and the National Park Service in 2013.
The co-founder and guitarist of the punk band Downtown Boys, DeFrancesco employs his time off-stage engaging in labor activism and historical interpretation.
He gained notoriety in 2011 when his video “Joey Quits,” documenting his resignation from a downtown Providence hotel with a 19 piece marching band in tow, went viral, landing him an appearance on CNN.
According to DeFrancesco, this year’s Labor History Tour comes at a pivotal moment for America. “Following events in Charlottesville, VA and debate about the presence of Confederate memorials around the country, the high stakes and modern relevance of how we interpret history have never been clearer,” he said.
Wending through the three buildings on Slater Mill historic site, DeFrancesco’s tour highlights the societal disruptions brought on by the early industrial revolution, the workers and communities that fought back, and the intimate connections between northern mills and southern slavery.
“Rhode Island was deeply embedded in much of the sordid side of American history, and on this tour we hope to confront that past,” adds DeFrancesco.
Following the tour, performance artists Muggs Fogarty (performing as Sweetpea Pumpkin) and Shey Rivera punctuate the evening with poetry and music that aims to contextualize history into the present moment.
Fogarty is co-director of Providence Poetry Slam.
Rivera is artistic director of AS220, and an acclaimed multi-media artist.
Slater Mill’s Blow it Out! Labor History Tour is slated for Thursday, March 29 at 7:30 PM. Doors open at 7:00 PM.
Purchase tickets online at blowitout2018.bpt.me
or by calling 401-725-8638 x.100.
Limited to 40 attendees.