1912. Wobblies all over the country rush to San Diego to aid fellow workers in a free speech and labor organizing fight with the city's leaders and business elite.
2012. San Diego residents fill the Saville Theatre of the downtown community college, just blocks away from the struggle that took place one hundred years earlier, to remember the excluded history of their city.
The evening of Jan. 26 started off with the premiere of a short documentary about the San Diego Free Speech Fight and introduced the audience to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The film presented the history and analysis of the fight through local historians and professors. The idea was presented that this was not just a free speech issue, but an attempt by the local elite through local politics and media to silence a working class movement that wouldn't let race, nationality or sex divide them.
Local authors Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew, known for their popular radical history book Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See, took the stage to read short segments from the novel Flash, a fictionalized investigation of the actual free speech fight and local Wobbly history.
The IWW Little Red Songbook came to life throughout the night when local musicians the Proles and Gregory Page joined the stage, performing labor classics Bound for San Diego and Which Side Are You On?, amongst others.
A panel of fellow workers, students, teachers and historians sat on stage. Each one took a turn standing atop a vintage soapbox addressing the audience. They performed a people's history of San Diego, reading emotional personal accounts from the Wobblies caught up in the free speech fight, the spiteful local media articles that villainized and encouraged violence against the free speech fight activists, and a sorrowful eulogy to an elderly Wobbly that lost his life in the fight. It was a tribute to the history itself, but it was also an act of tribute to the late Howard Zinn, who spent his life researching and publicizing working class history.
The evening ended with an audience sing-a-long of the union anthem Solidarity Forever, performed by Gregory Page with the Proles. This wasn't just another history lesson or a reminder not to take free speech for granted. It was a demand that the working class remember its roots and to organize.
San Diego Free Speech Fight anniversary events, presented by the AFT Guild, continue at 6pm on Feb. 8, at the intersection of 5th and E (the original site of the free speech fight), for a commemoration with music, speakers and performances. Then concludes on Feb. 20 at University of San Diego with a SD Free Speech Fight Forum.
IWW/Wobblies Free Speech Fight in San Diego Archives
Free Speech Fight 1912-2012 Exhibition Opening Night
Free Speech Fight Anniversary Exhibit Opens