Social Justice Poetry

fighting against injustice poems

Wanda | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

Your control
Ran cool and deep
As you spoke
To power
They wanted you
To scrap and bow
As others
Of your skin
Color did
How they
Resented your opinions
That turned
Their necks red
But emptied your spleen
Black men
Swung for
Years before
But words
A free
Black woman
Confirmed by right
Stiffened in resolve
By injustice
You would not accept
I smiled
At your courage
How hot the truth
The unexpected scald
That helped them
Find their place

Cecil | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

His was the voice
Of an avenging angel
Calling out the greed
The wrongs
Of men
Who amassed capital
Without regard
For workers
The crowd leaned forward
Accidental utterances
Escaping their throats
As he continued
To express
His righteous wrath
Reminding laborers
Of past transgressions
And of the shaky ground
Of the possible reversals
Labor was facing
The preacher
Boiled up in him
As he reminded them
Of a cause
They had won
Of the sacrifices
Miners had made
To secure their livelihood
How unity
Was their only buffer
Against the wrongs
Of safety standards
By the pursuit
Of quick profits
Over the health
And being
Of workers
Of lax inspections
By men
Seduced by perks
Enabled by hateful legislation
Paid for
By coal lobbyist dollars
Of pensions and insurance
Pulled from the hands
Of disabled miners
Broken by long days
In the darkness
In the depths
Of the mines
Of his willingness
To go to jail
To face the danger
Once again
To assure their futures
Some now rising
From their seats
In response
To his indictment
Charged with a furor
Their resolve
Matching his
His job done
He reminded them
Once again
Of solidarity
Their only hope
The applause deafening
He waved a thanks
For their approval
And returned
To his seat

How We Need You, Mother Jones | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

She came to the mountains
An Irish lass
Familiar with tragedy
Prepped by the loss
Of her children
By the loss
Of her husband
Pained by the sight
Of barefooted children
Their bellies empty
Their future
The dark mouth
That swallowed their youth
That broke them down
That stole hope
Always in debt
Afraid for the injury
That would take away
The little
They could earn
She saw their plight
The Blacks
The Europeans
The hill people
All with the common fate
All less than the mules
So much easier
To replace
Her words
Charged greater
Than dynamite
Lifting the eyes
Lifting the spirit
Straightening the spine
Of defeated people
Going to jail
Raising hell
How the mine owner hated her
Feared her
Trying to break her
But trials
And tainted judges
Stoked more
Her determination
The love
Of union members
Beleaguered but unbroken
More determined
To break the bondage
And they won
Children free
To go school
Their limbs intact
Free of the tyrants
Who paid little
But expected more
And how we need her now
When jobs
Go south
When wages stay low
When governors
And legislators
Rob men of living wages
I hear in my mind
Her admonition
“Pray for the dead
And raise hell
For the living”
He cannot hide
Behind her skirt
But we can rise
To the challenge
Organize for the fight
This is our country
We have to take
It back

American Rattlesnake | A Social Justice Poem by Anna Kander

“A federal investigation found that deputies had used stun guns on prisoners already strapped into a ‘restraint chair.’ The family of one man who died after being forced into the restraint chair was awarded more than six million dollars… The family of another man killed in the restraint chair got $8.25 million… after the discovery of a surveillance video that showed fourteen guards beating, shocking, and suffocating the prisoner, and after THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE WAS ACCUSED OF DISCARDING EVIDENCE, INCLUDING THE CRUSHED LARYNX OF THE DECEASED.”

(Evidence against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, pardoned by President Trump on August 25, 2017, as reported by Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker.)


the American rattlesnake is shedding its skin
revealing another layer

sticky with newness and sharp-edged with scales
the same, deathless serpent

brown-on-brown like a Western Diamondback

with each molt, the snake adds a segment to its rattle
sloughing skin into wads of dead keratin

dragging shed skins like history or taken scalps


from 1993–2016, in Maricopa County, Arizona
Sheriff Joe Arpaio reigned

proclaimed his jail a “concentration camp”
in his custody, a hundred men died

on surveillance video, Scott Norberg slurs, dehydrated
barely conscious, strapped to a “restraint chair”

as fourteen police officers
shock, beat, and suffocate him to death

the good ol’ sheriff excused them all
and now the president has pardoned the sheriff

when lawyers started to investigate Scott’s death
the sheriff seized Scott’s body

the evidence of abuse—Scott’s crushed larynx


a larynx, also called a voice box
resembles a rattle segment

pyramidal and hollow
without them, you can’t make a sound


picture them: larynxes
strung like rattles

pieces of victims
clattering after a car like tin cans

someone celebrating
a marriage of evil and convenience

mr. and mr. and mr. complicit:

Joe and Donny
Mitch and Ryan

maybe back to Adam
a circle of snakes

in business suits and fig leaves
paired with red power ties

red, like apples
and slithering on pinstripes

or slipping from breathless bodies
like leather restraints


imagine—me, the serpent

surviving years between meals
you can’t starve me out

horses and cattle know:
you will have to trample me

your voices like rattles

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