der: they were his family. As Michael Hill relates in his magisterialrnaccount (Fire and Sword), Sorley Boy watched as Elizabeth’srncommander, the Earl of Essex, slaughtered the Mac-rnDonnell women and children who had been left on RathlinrnIsland. Writing to his bloody mistress, Essex gloated: “Sodeyrn. . . was likely to run mad for sorrow, tearing and tormentingrnhimself… and saying that he then lost all he ever had.”rnSorley Boy MacDonnell was, in his own way, an outlaw, whorndefied both the King of Scotland and the Queen of England.rnHis loyalty was to his people. The same can be said of Frankrnand Jesse, whose loyalty to their mother was part of theirrnlegend. Like many another Celtic outlaw, Jesse was a lonerrnwho praised God and was not afraid to do the Devil’srnbusiness:rnJesse went to his rest with his hand on his breastrnThe devil will be upon his knee.rnHe was born one day in the Counth of ShearnAnd he came from a solitary race.rnWhatever the truth is about the Jameses and Youngers, inrnlegend they are the American Robin Hoods, defending theirrnkinfolk and neighbors from an oppressive government that isrncontrolled by the rich and powerful:rnJesse stole from the rich and he gave to the poor.rnHe’d a hand and a heart and a brain.rnJesse was an armed robber and probably a murderer; the samerncan be said of Johnnie Armstrong the reiver. Both were loyal torntheir kin and betrayed by government.rnThe stories are repeated, generation after generation, fromrnHereward the Wake to Robin Hood to Rob Roy MacGregor tornFrancis Marion fighting the savage Banastre Tarleton in thernswamps of Carolina to the teenage heroes of Red Dawn: thernoutlaw hero is a man who defies authority to defend his people.rnThe logical consequence is obvious: for there to be a RobinrnHood or a Jesse James, there must first be a people. That isrnthe question for us as Americans: Are weâ€”were we everâ€”arnpeople?rnThe conflicts that culminated in the War Between the Statesrnhave never gone away, and they live on in the sectional, religious,rnand ethnic quarrels that are erupting every month: in LosrnAngeles, in New York, and most recently in St. Petersburg. Underneathrnthe surface there is another conflict, more seriousrneven than the apparently never-ending quarrels between Northrnand South, black and white: the struggle between the rubes andrnhicks who work out here in the heartland and the city slickersrnand foreigners who own the government. Most recently it hasrntaken the form of a culture war, between sectarian evangelicals,rnat one extreme, and the corporate American culture of infidelityrnand perversity, on the other.rnThis latest episode in the struggle between the country andrnsmall town hicks that constitute the American people and therncity slickers who exploit and rule them has no coherent form,rnbecause, unfortunately today, the only public debate is betweenrnthe radical slickers who want to tear down the last vestigesrnof decency and explode the last standing chunks of rubblernthat testify to our lost civilization and the more moderate slickersrnwho claim to be the only legitimate spokesmen for the hicks.rnE’en the Christian Right is dominated by epicene and enervatedrnleaders who sold their followers to Bob Dole and kept Marnand Pa Clinton in the White House. If our only choice is betweenrnMr. Reed and Ms. Rodham, between the Village Voicernand the Weekly Standardâ€”we had better all light out for thernterritories.rnOne hundred and fifty years ago, when Rockford was onrnthe frontier, the local people suffered under a differentrnkind of oppression: a local gang of rustlers with influence inrnhigh places. When the decent elements of the county caughtrnup with the rustlers, they shot several of them and drove thernrest out of the area, and when the newspaper condemned thernaction, they burned down its office. Those were different menrnand different times, but one thing has not changed: the needrnfor local self-reliance.rnFor their current nightmare, from which there is no waking,rnthe people of Rockford can expect no outside help. It is up tornthem to make what they can of their town. Rockford’s problemsrndid not begin with the People Who Care lawsuit, but withrnthe entrenched indifference of the People Who Couldn’t CarernLess. The schools were never any good in Rockford, and no onerncared about them until the lawsuit put the school district inrndebt and raised property taxes. When Illinois passed a lawrngranting home rule to cities that wanted it, Rockford votersrnturned it down in the belief that home rule would mean higherrntaxes. A city that will not rule itself should not complainrnwhen others do the job for them.rnIf the people of Rockfordâ€”Swedish and Italian, African andrnMexicanâ€”ever discover that they can be a real city, a communityrnof communities, they can band together to make JudgernMahoney’s life miserable, turn out the politicians who refuse tornfight, reject all the counsel offered by “professional” educationistsrnand community leaders, and once again take responsibilityrnfor their own lives and their own city. If the people of Rockfordrnâ€”who are exactly like the people in other Americanrncitiesâ€”cannot muster the spirit of community outlawry thatrnwill be required, if they are to resist judicial tyranny, then theyrnhad better be very clear in their minds that the smaller ethnicrncommunities within the city will not be so timid. When thernties of common interest and citizenship are loosed, all thatrnremains, to bind people to a place, is the ancient gravity ofrnblood and race.
January 1975April 21, 2022By The Archive