San Diego Activists Commemorate 100-Year Anniversary of the Fight for Free Speech

It started as an organizing drive for the International Workers of the World. But one hundred years ago in San Diego, when the Wobblies took to their soapboxes, it turned into a battle to defend free speech that mobilized thousands across the country.

A city ordinance banned public speaking in a downtown area, and protesters were jailed, beaten, tarred and feathered, tortured and even killed for demanding their right to stand on a soapbox and speak. The fight attracted the likes of Emma Goldman, who was nearly attacked by a mob when she arrived in San Diego, and stretched until legal picketing was finally established three years later.

Free speech itself is on stronger footing today. We've seen across the country and right here in San Diego that the fight for real freedom continues every day. The freedom of earning a living wage and being able to afford a decent place to live as well as the freedom of building a secure retirement and having access to basic health care.

Thanks to great work by the American Federation of Teachers Local 1931 and our other partners, we've enjoyed a month-long retrospective celebrating those who stood up against the rich and powerful to protect the basic rights of all.

Our celebration has included a fantastic museum exhibition, music, film screenings, and readings. Just last week, we partnered with other community groups to commemorate the mass jailing of free speech advocates by occupying the same downtown intersection that saw pitched battles in 1912. It featured music, speeches and readings from atop our own soapboxes (constructed by union carpenters of course), remembering the fight one hundred years ago and the battle for basic rights that continues. Click here to view photos.

This month of celebration – especially our commemoration from atop our own soapboxes – has provided a fantastic launching pad for the latest round of challenges in this election year. Extremist mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio is hoping to make San Diego the “Wisconsin of the West” with endless attacks on working families.

At the ballot, we’re up against attacks on public pensions, on project labor agreements, and even the rights of workers to bargain for themselves. Not to mention our statewide effort to stop the Corporate Deception Initiative just like we did in in 1998 and 2005.

Then as now, the fight pits the power of people standing up for our basic rights against rich corporate interests that want to strip those rights away. Then as now, the fight may be hard and may be bitter, but standing for basic dignity will prevail.