Camera Rolls: 314:16-18
Sound Rolls: 314:
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Herman Schott , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on January 31, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
OK, what attracted you to the EPIC Plan?
Well I—I'd read a good deal of Upton Sinclair, I grew up in a home where and was available, my father, though a businessman, was conservative in I think the right sense of that word and not a reactionary, with a great sense of fairness. When I heard that Upton Sinclair had this campaign, had this Socialist plan, I was excited about it and interested to see what part I could play in helping it along.
OK, tell me about how you got involved, what was your role in the campaign?
I don't know exactly how I got involved in the campaign—
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OK, so you were telling me what your role in the campaign was.
Yes, I don't know, went to headquarters or somewhere where one volunteers for something like that, and they assigned me a job as a precinct captain, which meant that they had some store-fronts that they had rented or had been donated to them, I don't know, and I had one of those on a moderately busy street, and people, there were signs indicating what it was, and people would come in who volunteered to help and asked what they could do. We told them that this particular street needed working on, they should go house to house and distribute some literature. We also had literature available- I don't know for sure whether, don't remember whether we sold the literature or gave it to them, because I know the campaign was largely financed by the funds from the voters themselves.
That was a lot of responsibility then, that you had.
Oh, perhaps so, I don't know whether, I took it seriously, but I don't know whether I thought I was all that important. I went to many of the meetings, they had campaign meetings, rallies, sort of thing, but different from political rallies that I'd known before, this one charged admission. People were actually pleased, I think, to feel that they were important and that their contributions mattered, and I think it made the, they took what was said much more interesting, interestedly, because they were involved and their money was involved in it.
Well, why do you think they would have charged admission, was there any other, was that the main form of getting contributions to support the campaign?
That was the main way of getting contributions. They also took collections at meetings, and I think there were two reasons for that. One, they didn't really have a, big—money people were generally against it. They felt it was dangerous to the economy—
I'm sorry, could you start again and say, big money people were generally against what?
Against the EPIC movement, the idea.
OK, so start again.
See, the EPIC movement was a movement by the people. The Plan was to open factories that were closed because of the Depression, and to put people to work there who were unemployed because of the impression [sic], to pay these people with coupons of some sort—I think they had a different word for it—and these coupons would be exchanged for material produced by any of the factories. So there was sort of a, be a sort of separate monetary system that would be developed there, of course temporarily for the period of the Depression, I suppose. But it was as near to Socialism as seemed possible in those days.
OK, and you said that big-moneyed interest were against it so they had to get contributions from the people?
Can you describe that in your own words?
Of course [laughs], they needed, because they didn't have funds available from the rich, those who usually donated to political causes, in order to get the funds to carry on the campaign, it was necessary to get the poorer people, those who felt their future was at stake, to contribute, so that really it was a grassroots campaign, both with respect to the voters and with respect to the contributors.
And did you ever contribute?
Yes, in fact, one time I got carried away and contributed a hundred dollars, which they seemed to think was a great deal, and gave me a gold card instead of the ordinary white cards. I said that it didn't seem right that they should treat somebody better because he gave more money than somebody else, but they didn't understand that, whoever was in charge at that particular headquarters. But, being involved—
OK, tell me, when you went to a meeting and you heard Sinclair speak, how did he impress you as a speaker, what did you think about him?
I have a hard time remembering what Sinclair's voice was like—
I want you to tell me, the part you were just explaining to me, about how Sinclair had made it clear in his books that he thought that the only way— [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]
That's right— [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]
Wait, I was talking when you were talking, now begin.
OK, Upton Sinclair felt, he said, that it was impossible to win with a new party, because of the fact that so many people were riveted to their party. What he called the 'grandfather vote', the people who voted for a candidate, who voted for a party because their grandfathers voted for the party, and it was a family thing to do. So he figured that the thing to do was try and capture one of the major parties. We had a system, a primary system, whereby the people could determine who the candidates would be for the primary, and in the primary decide who was going to run for the party, so he figured the best party, the closest, would be the Democratic Party. [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] count on keeping the grandfather vote, enlist people to join the party, give up their membership in the Republican Party or whatever other party they were in, and join the Democratic Party, and vote for him and the other candidates that he had selected as candidates for the legislatures, the Senate.
OK, can you tell me, you said that there's a change after the primary that you felt, that you felt that there was a change in the campaign. What did you feel that change was, and how did it affect you?
Well, I noticed it most specifically because I was, had been appointed to the...State Central Committee. I noticed—
Wait, could you start again, that's a problem.
Yeah, I know.
I felt that after the campaign, after the primary, which the Sinclair people won, the Democratic Party, that a change was taken in the way the Party operated. I noticed this because, in the first place, because I had been appointed to the State Central Committee, and I noticed that we went up to Sacramento, had a big meeting and elected a committee and a president. After that, we never heard from them again, they ran the party, together with, and they enlisted many of the old Democratic politicians. Many of them didn't care about the principles of the Party, but they wanted the Party elected because they were connected with it, so, instead of, they no longer asked people for nickels and dimes and quarters, but they asked the big-shots for hundred and thousands of dollars. So, the people didn't have that strong feeling anymore, that it was their party and it was important for them to vote, so I think that was one factor. To me, it seemed a principal factor why Sinclair wasn't able to win.
OK, but again, if you could explain to me but very briefly, that you felt that Sinclair, that maybe Sinclair couldn't win because they lost, they stopped going after the grassroots support.
Yes, I think that many of Sinclair's supporters lost interest in the campaign, because they found that they weren't concerned, considered anymore, nobody asked them for contributions, and the contributions were coming from the old-line Democratic politicians.
Can you tell me about the, do you remember the poll, when that came out, and what did you feel, did you feel discouraged at all when you heard that, what did you feel—
It came out sometime after—
Oh, excuse me, I'm sorry, the conducted a poll. It was a poll of their readers, it was before the days when there were scientific polls which had some statistical analysis. The polls showed that Sinclair would be badly defeated in the final election, and I think it turned out on later analysis that they very much overestimated the strength of the Sinclair opponents, but I think it did have the effect of discouraging people, and apparently also, it tended to discourage Sinclair.
OK, I want you to repeat the end of that again, and instead of saying 'it', say that the Literary poll [sic] was—
Yeah, the poll, I think, discouraged, the results of that poll discouraged Upton Sinclair, as well as many of his followers, because they took it seriously.
Did you feel discouraged personally?
I'm not sure to what extent I felt the, the results of the poll were important, and how much I was affected, I can't remember that. I was more concerned, I think, that Upton Sinclair was apparently discouraged.
But you felt that this may have felt to you like a low-point in the campaign?
Well, the...I've been asked whether I considered this a low-point in the campaign, and I'm not sure that it was, or that I did, but it was just one of the factors that tended to reduce the enthusiasm for it. Soon after that, Sinclair had some sort of meeting with Haight. Now Haight was an independent running in the campaign for governor. There was a Republican, Merriam, and the Democrat, Sinclair, and then there was Haight, and Independent. Apparently, Upton Sinclair had a meeting with Haight. There were some rumors, and I don't know how well they were substantiated, that Sinclair had offered to join with Haight in order to defeat Merriam, and drop out of the campaign himself. Well, anyhow, voters got wind of that, and it discouraged many of them, they felt if Sinclair wasn't, there wasn't much point in their voting for him.
OK, I'm going to ask you a little bit more about that, and, because you were involved, it's better if you answered, like, 'we' felt something, rather than 'they', if you felt that at all.
I see what you mean.
You were, I mean, EPIC was a movement as well as a political campaign, so could you explain a little bit more that people felt that if Upton Sinclair was thinking of withdrawing, or combining his campaign, that they felt they would be let down, is that right?
Probably, it's probably true that Upton Sinclair, that many people felt that Upton Sinclair's run was a campaign, a movement, it was a movement, it wasn't just a political thing, and to join with even a good politician and abandon the movement was something that we didn't like. We felt that Upton Sinclair's Plan was a serious one, it was a way of introducing a sort of Socialism, and also a way of helping the economy and the people who were stranded because of unemployment. So the idea of giving over the campaign to someone else in order to defeat the Republican and get somebody better, really didn't satisfy all of our desires.
Did you feel like maybe you were being betrayed? In any way?
I think some people, I think some people actually felt betrayed by the fact that Upton Sinclair seemed to be shirking, [camera cuts out, audio continues] getting scared and getting cold feet, and leaving, in a sense leaving the movement, which he didn't actually do, but gave some signs of being ready to do it.
Right, so tell me about what you-
Many of us in the EPIC movement were there, not just to defeat the Republican or to have a more Democratic governor, but also because we felt the movement, which was really a Socialist movement and many of us believed in Socialism, and also because we thought it was a genuine way to reduce the effects of the Depression for many people, and perhaps to get it over altogether. So that, we were not terribly excited with the idea of having someone else, Haight, or even Sinclair himself become governor without the Plan, which was an important part of our excitement.
OK, but you, it must be something that you remember, you know, that sixty years ago you remember, that you felt discouraged, a little bit betrayed by Sinclair when you heard that, when you heard the rumors that he may make a deal with, with Haight.
Yes, the idea was discouraging to many of us, I think, that Sinclair had already given up, and was ready to make a, to make a deal. We wanted to carry on with the full expectation of winning, and the realization that we might not.
But you still had hope that you were going to win, I mean, you really felt that you were part of something that was really bigger than-
Oh, sure, and we were upset, and of course when the final vote came, we hadn't, we weren't at all sure that we were going to win, but it was quite disappointing to find it. Merriam was a, he gave the impression, and I think his activities indicated, that he was a pretty conservative Republican, and so many of us felt, even my little son, a five-year-old at the time, later on, in January, after the election, I took him down to the Rose Bowl, to the Tournament of Roses Parade. He went up front so that he could see, and afterwards when we found each other again, he said, "You know, Governor Merriam was in the parade, and he came by, and I didn't say a word to him."
Tell me about your son, though, tell me about the fact that you used to take your son leafleting. Was the campaign something that you felt that your family could be part of?
Yes, and he obviously had some of this enthusiasm for it, and it was a movement that I wanted to be part of.
But tell me that you took your son with, that your son, that your five-year-old son helped you leaflet.
I don't know if I mentioned this before, but he did help me—
But who's 'he'?
My son, my five-year-old son, was helpful, I don't know if it was a serious extent but, at any rate, he did go around the neighborhood and distribute leaflets for the EPIC campaign.
OK, I want you to tell me one more time about how I took my son with me, my five-year-old son with me, and helped me leaflet.
Oh, yeah, well, I don't, I took my five-year-old son with me and he helped me leaflet, and I think sometimes he may have gone by himself, I have that impression, but maybe he was too young to do that- although a five-year-old can do that. So, at any rate, he did get involved in the campaign.
OK, can you tell me how old you were when you got involved in the campaign?
I was just, I was thirty years old at the time.
Tell me again, let me ask you the rest of the question, actually, tell me how old you were, were there people younger or older than you, were you kind of in the middle-age?
When I was a precinct captain there, at least some of the people who came in and helped on it were old-time politically activists. Others were young people who had gotten interested and wanted to help.
And where were you?
I was, I suppose, somewhere in the middle. I don't know, probably towards the younger end, I'm not sure about that. I was, I'm sorry, you want me to start it over again?
Yeah, just tell me that you were thirty years old and you were in the middle.
Yeah, I was about thirty years old, and I was about in the middle-age of the people in the campaign, I think.
Great, OK. Did you think that the EPIC Plan was workable, that if Sinclair won that you'd really have, be able to have some changes?
I suppose that every, there was a difference in opinion of different people how seriously they took the EPIC Plan. Some felt, I think, that it was a good try, but weren't sure it would work; others were convinced by Sinclair that it was a good plan and really would work. I think that I was one of those, but I don't remember too clearly there, I know I was very much excited about the campaign and wanted to work in it. But whether it would really, how workable it would be and whether it would really help to lead to Socialism, I had no idea.
OK, great. We're fine.