What About It?


By DeWITT M. EMERY, President of National Small Businessmen's Association, Akron, Ohio

Broadcast over WGAR Cleveland and the Columbia Coast-to-Coast network, August 26, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 9-11

FOR the past several weeks I have been traveling almost all the time and while my contacts were mainly with small businessmen I nevertheless talked with men and women from all walks of life from day laborers to Corporation Presidents. The result of all these conversations can be summed up in one word—confusion. I doubt if there ever was a time in the entire history of this country when such a large percentage of the people were so utterly confused, so hungry for facts, and most of them haven't the slightest idea where to turn to get the facts.

I made a suggestion to these people which I repeat to all of you. Get the facts from your Congressman. He is your representative in Washington which is the focal point for everything these days. He is right on the firing line, has taken an active part in many of the things which have happened and will be a vital part in whatever lies ahead. Now that Congress is recessed is an excellent time for him to meet with you.

I, therefore, suggest to small businessmen in every community throughout the nation that you take the lead in setting up a mass meeting to which everyone in town is invited and ask your Congressman to be present at the meeting and tell you what it's all about.

Naturally, in order to make such a meeting effective it will be necessary for your Congressman to know what you want to know. He isn't a mind reader and unless he knows what's in your mind he can't be as helpful to you as he'd like to be. Therefore an important part of each of these meetings should be a question and answer period. You—the people at the meeting—ask the questions and he'll supply the answers. Or, write out your questions before you leave home and hand them to the chairman of the meeting as you go in.

I can't think of anything which will be as helpful in clearing the national atmosphere, nor which will do more in straightening out the confusion in the minds of the people than a series of town meetings up and down and across the country. These meetings will also be quite helpful to members of Congress as it will put them in much closer touch with the folks at home, therefore enable each one to more accurately represent the wishes of his constituents.

Last week I visited a mid-west town of about twelve thousand people where such a meeting would be a "God send" to practically every one in the town. This town has two factories both in the same line of industry. About eighty per cent of the employables in the town are on the payroll of these two factories and the other twenty per cent of the employables—the grocers, the butchers, the druggists, and so on—are rendering service to the eighty per cent. It has recently become common knowledge in this town that unless there is a change in the present trend at once, both these factories will run out of materials, one in about thirty days and the other in not over forty-five days and they will have to shut down, thereby cutting off the income of the entire community. Is it any wonder these people are worried? Is it any wonder they are asking "What's to become of us?" Can't you readily understand their wanting to know for sure that the great sacrifice they are about to be called on to make is necessary and justified?

I know that the people in the town we are talking about, and the people in every other town in the country for that matter, will gladly and willingly do whatever needs to be done once they are firmly convinced it is necessary. The American people are that way. Always have been. They never shirk a responsibility nor run away from a fight. What they want now are facts and who is in a better position to give them the facts than their representatives in Congress?

One of the principal difficulties is that not nearly enough of the people in the United States are articulate. Altogether too many of them fuss and fume, cuss and grumble among themselves and that's all; they don't do anything about it. Here's an opportunity for everyone to exercise his right of citizenship sometime other than on election day. Take advantage of it, each and every one of you.

Quite often you hear someone say that Congress is hopeless, just a bunch of rubber stamps. It's true that some Congressmen, and Senators too, are rubber stamps, don't do any thinking for themselves and always vote as they are told, but the vast majority of the members of Congress are honest, highly intelligent, capable, and work a whole lot more than forty hours a week doing their level best to accurately and satisfactorily represent their districts or states. There isn't even one member of Congress who doesn't have his ear close to the ground all the time and who doesn't react quickly to sentiment back home. That sort of puts the shoe right on your foot, doesn't it? Which, incidentally, is exactly where it belongs. Don't blame Congress or the Administration or anyone else except yourself. We are a self-governing people and any time we don't get the kind of government we think we should have it's up to us to say so. That is not only our right and privilege but is also our highest duty; otherwise, our Republic and all it stands for goes into the discard.

In all probability most of the town meetings will revolve around Peace or War, Priorities, Lend-Lease, Taxes, the Draft, Labor, and so on because these are the things in which everyone is interested. In every community there are people on both sides of all these questions which is as it should be. Care must be exercised, however, to see that neither side runs away with the meeting. If the interventionists want to hold a meeting which is advertised as such, that's alright, and by the same token if the isolationists want to hold a meeting, that's their privilege. But the meetings I'm recommending are for everyone, and therefore in order to be successful they must be conducted on a fact-finding basis. Consequently it is desirable for those of you who set up the meetings to keep the fact-finding idea firmly entrenched in your minds from the very beginning. The purpose of these meetings is to find out for sure what's what and why. Then when accurate factual information is available to guide you, each one can make up his mind concerning what he thinks should be done about it. And I, for one, am ready to trust the considered judgment of the American people on anything.

There isn't any one thing in the entire picture which, directly or indirectly, is causing greater concern to more people than priorities and on it there are two schools of thought: One school, which is typified by Mr. Henderson, believes that everything should be subordinated to the production of war materials. If five thousand or fifty thousand small businesses are put out of business and from two million to ten million men and women thrown out of work, that's too bad but it can't be helped. The other school of thought, typified by Mr. Knudsen, believe that the transition from peacetime to war time production should be handled carefully without unnecessary disruption to the flow of regular production.

This is a mighty important question and the way it is handled will have a profound effect on the lives of all of us for many years to come. England, even though fighting for its very existence, has been able to carry on a considerable volume of "business as usual" not only for home consumption but also for export markets. We know for any number of reasons that this is true: two of these reasons will be enough to serve our purpose. The June 1941 issue of the British Export Gazette, a fifty-year-old publication, published in London, contains advertising offering for immediate delivery, "paper and rubber insulated cables and wires, electric meters, overhead equipment for railways, tramways, light and power; copper and aluminum wires, sheets and sections; electric welders, magnetic moulding machines" and so on through a long list. This same ad states "The best British goods have been delivered in the past; the best British goods will be delivered in the future, but most important, the best British goods can be delivered now." As guarantee of immediate delivery, one of the ads shows a picture of British warships escorting a convoy of Merchant vessels. The other reason we know that England is carrying on "Business as usual" is that a few days ago the British Government, through John Maynard Keynes, promised the American government that "England no longer will sell in Latin America goods she has received from the United States under Lend-Lease." I mention this because if the British, in an admittedly much worse postion than this country, can still find materials and manufacturing equipment to carry on "business as usual", it might not be a bad idea for us to follow their example.

This, I think, is particularly true when we consider that everyone in the United States, directly or indirectly, has a stake in business. A school teacher sells his or her services on a contract for so much per year. Making the contract is a business transaction. A surgeon performs an operation and renders a bill; that, too, is a business transaction. When a farmer sells a dozen eggs or a bushel of wheat, he's "doing business." When a laborer or a skilled mechanic applies for a job and is put on the payroll at so much an hour, day, week, or month, that too is a business transaction. So it is not an exaggeration to say we are all in business. The condition of the plants, factories, mines, or shops in your community, whether or not they can keep on operating, is a matter of major importance to that community. We are really all in business.

Another question which will undoubtedly be discussed at most of these town meetings is labor. Almost everyone I talk with mentions labor unions and the consensus seems to be that so long as wages and hours are satisfactory and working conditions are alright, strikes should not be called, certainly not on defense jobs, to enforce demands for a closed or union shop. This also is a vitally important question and there are two sides to it, both of which should be heard before a decision is reached.

In conclusion, let me again urge the Small Businessmen in every City, Town, and Village to take the lead in holding a meeting for their Congressman and to be sure that everyone in town is invited. Such a meeting, particularly at this time, when the United States faces the gravest crisis in its history, will be most helpful to all concerned. We must allbe ready and willing to express ourselves. This is no time for anyone to hide behind the bushes or, for any reason, fail to express himself or herself. No matter what your views may be, as an American citizen you have the right to express them and right now is the time to exercise that right.

We all know that the Constitutional Government we have in the United States is the greatest blessing ever bestowed on mankind any place on earth. Let's not let anything happen to it. For more than a thousand years the vast majority of the people in every country in the world lived in abject poverty. In many lands, the attention of the entire family was all the time centered on one thing—getting enough food for the next meal. Then came the Constitution of the United States and under it, in the short space of one hundred fifty years, this country became the wealthiest, most progressive, most powerful nation in the history of the world with a standard of living for even its lowest paid workers which is the envy of all the rest of the world.

It has been said many times that "Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty." It is. We all know it. But many of us haven't been too vigilant. We turned our share of "Eternal Vigilance" over to someone else and he wasn't even taking care of his share. That's what's wrong. Most of us just are not working at being American citizens; we've taken our blessings far too much for granted. But we can change that quickly by taking a larger, more active interest in public affairs. A good way to start in this direction is to get busy immediately on helping to set up a Town Meeting in your community. Let's go.