January 2012 Is the 100th Anniversary of the San Diego Free Speech Fight

by on January 4, 2012 · 0 comments

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

Speaker addresses crowd during the San Diego Free Speech fight. Photograph courtesy of the San Diego History Center.

San Diego Events Set to Commemorate Historic Struggle That Resonates Today With Clamp-down on the Occupy San Diego Movement

From San Diego Free Speech Fight

January 2012 is the 100-year anniversary of the San Diego Free Speech Fight, one of the most important moments in the history of the city of San Diego.

During the winter and spring of 1912, members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and their allies in labor and the community engaged in a pitched battle against a city ordinance that banned public speaking in the area around 5th and E Streets in downtown San Diego.

During the course of this struggle, many were arrested, beaten, and even killed for asserting their rights to public speech and assembly—for the simple right to stand on a soapbox and speak. The response to what started as an organizing drive for the local IWW turned into a national cause to defend the rights of ordinary working people and citizens of all classes to free speech, with thousands of people flooding into San Diego, defying the ban, and filling the jails in protest.

The enemies of free speech at the time included many in local government, business, and the press, and free speech fighters were the victims of violence at the hands of the local police as well as torture by vigilantes.

Perhaps the best known incident in the free speech fight was when the famous anarchist, Emma Goldman, came to town and was nearly attacked by a mob at Santa Fe Station before being escorted to the US Grant Hotel, where her lover, Ben Reitman, was kidnapped by vigilantes, driven north, tortured, tarred and feathered and sent to Los Angeles. This was, perhaps, the most glaring example of how flimsy American “rights” were for those who held unpopular political opinions at the time.

While the repression shut down the soap-boxers at 5th and E temporarily, the right to free speech was eventually restored to San Diegans in 1915 when the ban was overturned and legal picketing was established as a basic right.

Today, anyone who enjoys the right to assemble, protest, and speak in public in San Diego has the Free Speech League of the Progressive Era to thank for fighting to maintain basic rights for all San Diegans. The legacy of this time lived on in every labor and civil rights fight that followed. [Editor: these same rights are under attack today from the San Diego City and Police Department with protesters from the Occupy San Diego movement.]

The 100-year anniversary of the San Diego Free Speech Fight is a celebration of the legacy of local labor and civil rights activism and a reminder that if we are not vigilant in the protection of our rights, we can certainly lose them.

 You are cordially invited:

to the GRAND OPENING of the San Diego Free Speech Fight 100-year Anniversary Exhibit

Friday, January 6, 2012 — 7 p.m.

Centro Cultural de la Raza, 2125 Park Blvd, San Diego 92101

Join us for an evening of art, history and entertainment! This will be your first opportunity to see the Free Speech Fight exhibit, including photographs from 1912, original pieces by Fred Lonidier (AFT 2034) and other local artists, as music by Gregory Page, The Proles, and The People’s Revolutionary Choir, and a reading from Flash by author Jim Miller (AFT 1931). Admission is free and refreshments will be provided. Free parking is available across the street from the Centro.

The exhibition will be open from January 6th until February 12th, Centro Gallery Hours: Tues. – Sun. 12 – 4 pm

 Please RSVP to Jerry Tomaszewicz by responding to the following email or by calling 619-228-8101 x5.; jt@unionyes.org

Also, please mark your calendars for all of the exciting events coming up in January and February, 2012, to commemorate this 100-year anniversary! A full list of events is below:

 Events – January – February, 2012

  •  San Diego Free Speech Fight 100-Year Anniversary Exhibit Opening Event, January 6th, 2012, Centro Cultural De La Raza, 2125 Park Blvd. Balboa Park. Time 7:00PM
  • San Diego Free Speech Fight 100-Year Anniversary Celebration, January 26th, Saville Theatre, San Diego City College at C and 14th. Music, performances, Time 7:00PM.
  • San Diego Free Speech Fight Commemoration at the original site of the struggle, 5th and E downtown San Diego. February 8th. Music, performances, special guests, time TBA
  • San Diego Free Speech Fight Forum, Auditorium of the School of Leadership & Education Sciences building at the University of San Diego, Mother Rosalie Hill Hall, February 20th, Speakers and Time TBA


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