Friday, June 17, 2005

What We Did to Emma

In 1917, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were arrested for having organized anti-conscription activities. The U.S. government had just made the decision to entere World War I, and for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which being that it would be the poor and the working class who would be asked to go serve in an arisocratic fight that had turned into a disaster, Goldman, Berkman, and a whole host of progressive activists opposed entry into the war.

The details of how Emma came to be arrested can be found in her autobiography, Living My Life. The brief details is that there were a series of public meetings at which Emma spoke. There were also articles published in The Blast and Mother Earth Berkman and Goldman's publications respectively, which they were accused of having given to a man of "conscriptable age," thus they were seen as having handed someone advice on how to escape the draft.

The two were placed on trial. Goldman's speech to the jury is a masterpiece. The entire speech is well worth reading in its entirety. I would publish it here, except that I do not want to violate "fair use" laws.

In reading Goldman's words, I am stunned by the prescience of her words to our current situation. So little has changed in these 88 years. Rather than parse one of our greatest orators, I will simply quote her and admire her in silence.

Oh, and by the way, despite this speech, Goldman and Berkman were convicted and sentenced to two years in jail, essentially for exercising their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. Goldman was stripped of her American citizenship, and she, along with over 200 others, was exiled from the U.S. in 1919. That's right. She was kicked out of her own country.

Emma is buried in Chicago, close to the graves of the Haymarket martyrs. In death, she was able to return to this nation.

Speech: Address to the Jury
by Emma Goldman
[Delivered during her Anti-Conscription trial, New York City, July 9, 1917]


In their zeal to save the country from the trouble-makers, the Marshal and his helpers did not even consider it necessary to produce a search warrant. After all, what matters a mere scrap of paper when one is called upon to raid the offices of Anarchists! Of what consequence is the sanctity of property, the right of privacy, to officials in their dealings with Anarchists! In our day of military training for battle, an Anarchist office is an appropriate camping ground. Would the gentlemen who came with Marshal McCarthy have dared to go into the offices of Morgan, or Rockefeller, or of any of those men without a search warrant? They never showed us the search warrant, although we asked them for it. Nevertheless, they turned our office into a battlefield, so that when they were through with it, it looked like invaded Belgium, with the only difference that the invaders were not Prussian barbarians but good American patriots bent on making New York safe for democracy...

... Gentlemen of the jury, my comrade and co-defendant having carefully and thoroughly gone into the evidence presented by the prosecution, and having demonstrated its entire failure to prove the charge of conspiracy or any overt acts to carry out that conspiracy, I shall not impose upon your patience by going over the same ground, except to emphasize a few points. To charge people with having conspired to do something which they have been engaged in doing most of their lives, namely their campaign against war, militarism and conscription as contrary to the best interests of humanity, is an insult to human intelligence....

...Gentlemen, during our examination of talesmen, when we asked whether you would be prejudiced against us if it were proven that we propagated ideas and opinions contrary to those held by the majority, you were instructed by the Court to say, "If they are within the law." But what the Court did not tell you is, that no new faith--not even the most humane and peaceable--has ever been considered "within the law" by those who were in power. The history of human growth is at the same time the history of every new idea heralding the approach of a brighter dawn, and the brighter dawn has always been considered illegal, outside of the law.

Gentlemen of the jury, most of you, I take it, are believers in the teachings of Jesus. Bear in mind that he was put to death by those who considered his views as being against the law. I also take it that you are proud of your Americanism. Remember that those who fought and bled for your liberties were in their time considered as being against the law, as dangerous disturbers and trouble-makers. They not only preached violence, but they carried out their ideas by throwing tea into the Boston harbor. They said that "Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God." They wrote a dangerous document called the Declaration of Independence. A document which continues to be dangerous to this day, and for the circulation of which a young man was sentenced to ninety days prison in a New York Court, only the other day. They were the Anarchists of their time--they were never within the law....

..Gentlemen of the jury, we respect your patriotism. We would not, if we could, have you change its meaning for yourself. But may there not be different kinds of patriotism as there are different kinds of liberty? I for one cannot believe that love of one's country must needs consist in blindness to its social faults, to deafness to its social discords, of inarticulation to its social wrongs. Neither can I believe that the mere accident of birth in a certain country or the mere scrap of a citizen's paper constitutes the love of country.

I know many people--I am one of them--who were not born here, nor have they applied for citizenship, and who yet love America with deeper passion and greater intensity than many natives whose patriotism manifests itself by pulling, kicking, and insulting those who do not rise when the national anthem is played. Our patriotism is that of the man who loves a woman with open eyes. He is enchanted by her beauty, yet he sees her faults. So we, too, who know America, love her beauty, her richness, her great possibilities; we love her mountains, her canyons, her forests, her Niagara, and her deserts--above all do we love the people that have produced her wealth, her artists who have created beauty, her great apostles who dream and work for liberty--but with the same passionate emotion we hate her superficiality, her cant, her corruption, her mad, unscrupulous worship at the altar of the Golden Calf.

We say that if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America. How else is the world to take America seriously, when democracy at home is daily being outraged, free speech suppressed, peaceable assemblies broken up by overbearing and brutal gangsters in uniform; when free press is curtailed and every independent opinion gagged. Verily, poor as we are in democracy, how can we give of it to the world? We further say that a democracy conceived in the military servitude of the masses, in their economic enslavement, and nurtured in their tears and blood, is not democracy at all. It is despotism--the cumulative result of a chain of abuses which, according to that dangerous document, the Declaration of Independence, the people have the right to overthrow.

...Whatever your verdict, gentlemen, it cannot possibly affect the rising tide of discontent in this country against war which, despite all boasts, is a war for conquest and military power. Neither can it affect the ever increasing opposition to conscription which is a military and industrial yoke placed upon the necks of the American people. Least of all will your verdict affect those to whom human life is sacred, and who will not become a party to the world slaughter. Your verdict can only add to the opinion of the world as to whether or not justice and liberty are a living force in this country or a mere shadow of the past. Your verdict may, of course, affect us temporarily, in a physical sense--it can have no effect whatever upon our spirit. For even if we were convicted and found guilty and the penalty were that we be placed against a wall and shot dead, I should nevertheless cry out with the great Luther: "Here I am and here I stand and I cannot do otherwise." And gentlemen, in conclusion let me tell you that my co-defendant, Mr. Berkman, was right when he said the eyes of America are upon you. They are upon you not because of sympathy for us or agreement with Anarchism. They are upon you because it must be decided sooner or later whether we are justified in telling people that we will give them democracy in Europe, when we have no democracy here? Shall free speech and free assemblage, shall criticism and opinion--which even the espionage bill did not include--be destroyed? Shall it be a shadow of the past, the great historic American past? Shall it be trampled underfoot by any detective, or policeman, anyone who decides upon it? Or shall free speech and free press and free assemblage continue to be the heritage of the American people?


Anonymous Neil said...

(I just found your page via Avedon, "The Sideshow".)

You mention that Emma Goldman is buried in Chicago. (Actually in an adjacent suburb, but close enough.) She is in a cemetary with a large, distinguished anarchist section. It grew around the monument to the Haymarket martyrs. Voltarine de Clayre and Lucy Parsons are on one side, and Emma is a few graves over to the other.

Her birthday is in a couple of days, and every single year that I have been able to go out to the cemetary on her birthday, there have been other people there. Since this weekend is the observance of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World, I expect a larger than usual turnout.

Most heartfelt wishes for the success of your blog.

10:17 PM  

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