A formal portrait of a young Bly, serious faced

Gonzo journalist Elizabeth Jane “Nellie Bly” Cochran rarely remained neutral on her subjects, for better or worse.

Tonight the Watercooler is in solidarity with National Nurses United and their recent rally for access to water in Detroit.

Thousands of registered nurses, community, labor, environmental and community activists marched in Detroit today in a resounding protests against the shutoff of water to tens of thousands of city residents — an action the marchers called a wanton violation of human rights that creates a public health emergency. RNs lead the march demanding that the Detroit Water and Sewage Dept. turn back on the water to its residents.

[...] Their message: Turn on the water. Restore the water for those who were cutoff. Tax Wall Street to raise the money needed to revitalize cities and communities like Detroit harmed by the Wall Street created economic crash of 2008. And they voiced emphatic opposition to the corporate policies of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and his undemocratically appointed emergency city manager who have declared a bankruptcy in Detroit and moved to privatize public resources, such as the water supply.

Jean Ross, RN, co-president of National Nurses United, the lead sponsor of the action, delivered a declaration calling the city of Detroit to be a public health emergency zone, supporting the call of numerous city activists of the health crisis prompted by the shutoff. ‘We need clean water for proper sanitation to combat the growth and spread of multiple infectious diseases and pandemics. We need clean water for a safe and healthy environment. We demand the guarantee that all Detroit residents have immediate and full access to clean water,’ said Ross.

It appears that the activists are being taken more seriously by police with the usual show of force in response: DailyKos reports on the use of an LRAD — a sound weapon used by militarized police — to disperse a crowd of protesters.

And Gonzo journalist Laurie Penny recently wrote about another great pioneer of openly biased journalism, Nellie Bly — who among other accomplishments infiltrated an insane asylum to report on the torturous conditions inside. From The New Inquiry:

In 1893, the celebrated reporter Nellie Bly went to visit Emma Goldman in prison. The young anarchist provocateur was held in the first Manhattan jail to be called the Tombs; it was built on the wreck of an old swamp and stank of rot and feces. The two women had both grown up in poverty and obscurity, and found fame, if not fortune, by writing about the conditions suffered by women and the working poor. But while Bly was lauded for circling the globe in only a fetching checkered traveling cloak, Goldman was locked up for incitement to riot.

Bly was one of the only journalists to show Goldman any sympathy and the first to understand her importance as a cultural figure. In Bly’s piece, Goldman is permitted to speak her truth at length, along with some girly chat about clothes of the frivolous sort that Goldman would never have stooped to in her own writings. These are the details that never make it into the manifestos but nevertheless make the politics a hundred times more human.

[...] ‘Gonzo’ journalism is now read as a macho practice: turn up somewhere ripped and stoned and undercover and immerse yourself in a culture or practice, then write viscerally, from the brain and the gut. In fact, women were doing it first. Bly was just 21 when she got herself committed to Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum to report on the dispiriting conditions suffered by the inmates there: the beatings, the starvation, the cold. Her feature in the World drew public attention to the plight of the mentally unwell in the U.S. and led to some limited reforms.

Penny outlines Bly’s entire rise and fail, and why her famous round the world trip was perhaps the least of her achievements.

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Public domain Library of Congress photo from Wikimedia Commons.