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Little known about the now celebrated 1912 Bread and Roses strike is that prominent Progressive-era reformers condemned the strikers as “uncivil” and “violent.” An examination of Bread and Roses’ controversies reveals how a ruling class enlists middle-class sentiments to oppose social-justice arguments and defend a civil order—not for the good of democracy but against it. The strikers’ inspiring actions to push against civil boundaries and create democratic space can challenge today’s teachers of public writing to question the construction of civility as an a contextual virtue and consider the class-struggle uses of unruly rhetoric for our new Gilded Age.


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