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Group re-enacts 1909 International Workers of the World free speech movement in Spokane

Closing a week marking the centennial of the Free Speech Fight of the International Workers of the World (IWW) in Spokane in 1909, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) held a street theater re-enactment of the IWW speakers being arrested.

Lisa Stocker
Lisa Stocker portraying Elizabeth Gurley Jones, known as the "rebel girl" of the IWW is "arrested" first in the mock arrests.

“It was one of the most significant actions of civil disobedience in American history,” said Liz Moore, director of PJALS.

Dressed in a period costume to portray Lucy Parsons, an IWW organizer who was one of more than 500 speakers arrested, Liz told 80 who gathered at Stevens and Spokane Falls Blvd. that “free speech is still denied today.”

She said, “free speech is a critical tool for workers or community members to organize and advocate for social change.”

Twenty-one people held letters to:  “Labor creates all wealth.”

Local historian Malcolm Haworth read from a 1909 speech before pretend cops, wearing period uniforms, took the megaphone from him in a mock arrest.

Speaking at the October Need to Know meeting at All Saints Lutheran Church, Malcolm, who has a master’s degree in history, said this free speech movement counters an attitude of defeatism sometimes evident among progressives in an assumed-to-be conservative area.

Malcolm Haworth
Malcolm Haworth reads one of the historic IWW speeches calling for respecting rights of workers.

He said that in 1908, 19 employment agencies on Stevens St. charged transient workers $1 to connect them with jobs.  Workers were fired after two days and forced to repeat the process.  IWW organizer James Walsh came to Spokane to organize them.

The city council would not revoke the agencies’ licenses and banned the IWW from speaking in public. In response, IWW, known as the Wobblies, began a public-speaking campaign in 1909, drawing workers from around the nation for a Nov. 2 street-corner speak-out campaign.

Malcolm said “500 to 1,600 speakers were arrested.  Many were beaten and injured. They overcrowded the jails and overburdened the city’s infrastructure.”

Liz Moore
As he "arrests" Liz Moore, who played IWW orzanizer Lucy Parsons, Mike Poulin recites the golden rule: "Those with the gold are the onew who rule."

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), joined this fight, was arrested and reported nationally on police brutality.  The publicity led Spokane to drop charges and revoke the employment agencies’ licenses, Malcolm said.

PJALS, the Spokane Regional Labor Council, the Museum of Arts and Culture and KYRS held several events.

• The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture held an

Labor creates wealth
Sign holders remind that "labor creates all wealth."

Oct. 24 workshop, with labor historian James Foster, sharing research and connecting the event to current events.

• A Nov. 1 show on KYRS Thin Air Community Radio (89.9 and 92.3 FM) played music of the movement.

P-Jammers
P-Jammers provide music of the IWW movement.

For the speak-out re-enactment on Nov. 10, several people spoke on historic and current issues.

One decried the “imperialist and mercenary” wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines and other areas of the world.

Another called for ending the death penalty, because 139 innocent people have been killed and the cost is greater than life imprisonment.

One playing a police officer said after several pseudo arrests, “The golden rule means that them with the gold makes the rules.”

Others called for establishing public financing for election campaigns, developing means for police accountability, freeing Palestinians, having a progressive state income tax to end budget deficits, ending the economic-and-education military draft, shifting funds from war to health care and children’s education,  and continuing efforts to change the way Spokane is governed.

For information, call 838-7870.

 

Copyright © December 2009 - The Fig Tree