San Diego Labor Council Leads Effort to Commemorate 1912 Free Speech Fight

by on June 2, 2011 · 0 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, History, Labor, Organizing, San Diego

June 1912 cover of Mother Earth, an anarchist magazine, highlighting the free speech fight in San Diego. Public domain via Wikipedia Commons

By Dave Maass / San Diego CityBeat / June 1, 2011

Today’s labor unions stand on the shoulders of giants. And those giants stood upon soapboxes at the corner of Fifth Avenue and E Street, Downtown, in 1912, braving arrests and violence in one of the most turbulent clashes over free speech in American history.

Jan. 8, 2012, will mark the 100th anniversary of the San Diego City Council’s passage of an ordinance banning public speeches in a six-block area, including the Downtown area known as “Soapbox Row,” in an alleged effort to hamper the Industrial Workers of the World’s ability to recruit members. Thousands of IWW “Wobblies” flooded into San Diego to resist the ordinance; they were met with police brutality and vigilantism, which reached a horrifying crescendo with the alleged abduction, torture and tar-and-feathering of renowned anarchist Emma Goldman’s partner, Ben Reitman. (That’s according to multiple accounts, including Goldman’s memoir, the Journal of San Diego History and research compiled by Jim Miller in the book Under the Perfect Sun.)

Last week, professors, labor leaders and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union met for the first time to coordinate a formal effort to commemorate the “San Diego Free Speech Fight,” one of darker episodes in the city’s heritage.

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