Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
I NEEDED A REST BADLY, BUT, OUR TOUR THIS TIME HAVING brought us more glory than cash, I could not afford to take it. In fact, we were so short of funds that we were compelled to reduce the size of Mother Earth from sixty-four to thirty-two pages. Our financial condition made it necessary for me to start lecturing again. Ben joined me in New York in the latter part of March, and by the 15th of April he had succeeded in organizing for me a series of lectures on the drama. All went well at first, but May proved to be a record-breaker. During that month I was stopped by the police in eleven different places.
I had had similar experiences before, but the Chief of Police of New Haven outdid his colleagues by a novel way of interference. He allowed Ben and me to enter the hall we had hired, and then placed a detachment of officers at the doors to keep everybody else out. Great numbers, among them many students who had come to hear me, found themselves barred. The Chief soon learned, however, that "originality" is a costly thing. The local papers, which had never before protested against the infringement of Emma Goldman's rights, now pilloried the police for "interfering with a peaceable assembly."
The authorities of New York had always been stupid in their methods of persecuting anarchists; but never had their folly been quite so great as when they swept down on Lexington Hall on the third Sunday of my lecture course. The seditious subject on that occasion was "Henrik Ibsen as the Pioneer of Modern Drama." Before the opening of the meeting several detectives had called on the hall-keeper and threatened him and his family with arrest if he allowed me to speak. The poor man was frightened, but the rent had already been paid and Ben held the receipt. The landlord could do nothing and the plain-clothes men left, taking him along to the station-house.
Just as I started to speak, the Anarchist Squad arrived, spreading themselves out in the hall. The moment I uttered the name "Henrik Ibsen," the sergeant in charge jumped to the platform and bellowed: "You're not sticking to your subject. If you do it again, we'll stop the meeting."
"That is exactly what I am doing," I replied quietly, and continued with my lecture.
The officer kept interfering, repeatedly ordering me to "stick to my subject." Somewhat impatiently I said: "I am sticking to my subject. Ibsen is my subject."
"Nothing of the kind!" he yelled. "Your subject is the drama and you're talking about Ibsen."
The merriment of the audience added to the indignation of my scholarly interruptor. Before I could proceed, he commanded his men to clear the hall, which they did by pulling the chairs from under the people and using their sticks freely.
It happened that these Sunday morning lectures were attended almost exclusively by Americans, some of whom traced their ancestry to the Pilgrim Fathers. Among them was Mr. Alden Freeman of East Orange, the son of a prominent Standard Oil Company shareholder. It was his first experience with the police and he was naturally indignant at their behaviour, as were also the other blue-blooded Americans.
To us, for years targets of persecution, the breaking up of my lecture was no unusual happening. Not only my meetings, but gatherings of workers had been frequently suppressed without the least cause. In the twenty years of my public activity I had always been in uncertainty to the very last minute as to whether I should be permitted to speak or not, and whether I should sleep in my own bed or on a board in a police station.
When the Mayflower descendants had read about such police tactics, they had undoubtedly thought I had given cause; that I had perhaps urged the use of violence or bombs. They had never objected, nor had the press. This time, however, the affront was offered to "real" Americans, among them even the son of a millionaire, the partner and bosom-friend of Rockefeller. Such a thing could not be tolerated. Even the New York Times waxed indignant, and the other dailies followed suit. Letters of protest began to fill the papers. My good friend William Marion Reedy, of the St. Louis Mirror, and Mr. Louis F. Post, of the Public, branded the persecution of Emma Goldman as a deliberate conspiracy of the police of the country to Russianize the American Constitution. As a result of the situation there was formed a Free Speech Society, and a manifesto was issued signed by American men and women in every walk of life. Writers, painters, sculptors, lawyers, doctors, and people of every shade of opinion came forward to fight the New York police methods.
Mr. Alden Freeman had throughout his life believed that free speech was a fact and not a mere pretence. He was genuinely shocked to come face to face with reality and he at once identified himself with the campaign of the newly created committee to establish free speech. Mr. Freeman was confident that I would be permitted to speak in East Orange, his home town, and generously offered to arrange a meeting for me there. He also invited me to be his guest at the luncheon of the Mayflower Society, of which he was a member. "Once people see that you are not as you have been described in the papers, they will be glad to come and hear you," he said.
The Mayflowerites proved to be uninteresting, the speeches dull. Towards the end of the luncheon my presence became known. A bomb hurled into the unsuspecting gathering could have produced no more disastrous effect. There was dead silence for a moment. Then some of the guests scrambled to their feet and haughtily marched out. The women present seemed too paralysed to move and fumbled for their smelling-bottles. Some of them looked daggers at Mr. Freeman. Only a few reckless ones ventured to face the dragon. It was amusing to me, but painfully disappointing to my host, the second blow within a short time to his cherished ideas of American freedom and traditions.
The third came soon after the luncheon. The Mayflower Society discussed his expulsion or forced resignation because he had dared to bring Emma Goldman into their presence. But it did not dismay Mr. Freeman. Bravely he proceeded to arrange a meeting for me in his home town.
On the appointed evening we found the hall barred by the police, who announced that there would be no lecture. Mr. Freeman then invited the assembled audience to his home; the meeting would take place on his lawn, he declared. Triumphantly we marched through the streets of aristocratic East Orange, past palatial dwellings, followed by a vast crowd, including police and reporters. It was a demonstration such as the quiet town had never seen before.
Mr. Freeman's house was a fine mansion, surrounded by a beautiful garden. It was private ground, and the police knew that their authority stopped where property rights began. They did not dare to trespass and remained outside the gate. The garage where our gathering took place was more comfortable than some workmen's homes. The coloured lights trembled like shadows in the night, throwing fantastic silhouettes. It was a picture suggesting the legendary birthplace of the Christ-child, the hallelujahs changed into a song of freedom and revolt.
As a result of the East Orange episode people I had never heard of before came to offer their help, subscribe to Mother Earth, and secure our literature. By the grace of the police club they had been made to realize that Emma Goldman was neither assassin, witch, nor crank, but a woman with a social ideal the authorities were trying to suppress.
The Free Speech Society began its campaign with a large meeting in Cooper Union. Although it was the end of June and scorchingly hot, the old historic hall was crowded with people of the most diversified social and political tendencies. The speakers also differed on almost every issue, but all were held together by a common bond: the imperative need to put a stop to the growing despotism of the police department. Mr. Alden Freeman presided and gave a humorous account of how he, the son of a Standard Oil man, had been "driven into the arms of anarchism." He continued in a serious tone to describe the purpose of the gathering. "If Emma Goldman sat on this platform with a gag between her teeth, and a policeman on each side of her," he declared, "the picture would simply and plainly express the reason for our being here tonight and would also explain why it is that letters and telegrams of protest and sympathy are pouring in upon the Free Speech Committee from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf to the Great Lakes."
The speakers that followed expressed themselves in a similar vein, the most brilliant talk being made by Voltairine de Cleyre, who contended that "free speech means nothing if it does not mean the freedom to say what others don't like to hear."
Almost an immediate effect of the meeting and of the energetic campaign of the committee was the dismissal by Mayor McClellan of Police Commissioner General Bingham, whose military régime had been responsible for the suppressive methods.
While busy with these activities, I received a letter from a man on the editorial staff of the Boston Globe, informing me that a contest for a new Declaration of Independence was being planned by the paper. Several radicals had already promised to participate; would not I also like to send in a contribution? The writer further stated that the best essay would be published in the Globe and would be paid for. I replied that though in these days few Americans cared for independence, I would participate for the fun of it. My article, which I kept almost entirely in the form of the Declaration of Independence, giving it new phrasing and meaning, was forwarded to the Globe, and in the course of time I received an envelope containing a check and the galley proofs of my Declaration. The accompanying letter from my newspaper friend explained that the owner had chanced upon the proofs on the editor's desk. "Send that woman a check and return her damned anarchist declaration," he had ordered; "I don't want her in the Globe."
The current issue of Mother Earth was about to go to press, and we just had time to insert my article by leaving out a less important one. On the 4th of July the new Declaration of Independence was read by thousands, as we sold many copies and distributed a great number free of charge.
In September I went with Ben on a short tour through Massachusetts and Vermont. We were stopped, stopped, and stopped, either by direct police interference or by the intimidation of the hall-owners. In Worcester, Massachusetts, I spoke out of doors, thanks to the aid of the Reverend Dr. Eliot White and his wife, Mrs. Mabel A. White. They followed the example of our friend Alden Freeman and extended to us the hospitality of their spacious lawn. Anarchism was heard there not under the Stars and Stripes, but under a more appropriate canopy --- the limitless sky and the myriads of glittering stars, while the large trees shaded us from the curious who had come to stare.
The most important event of our Worcester visit was an address given by Sigmund Freud on the twentieth anniversary of Clark University. I was deeply impressed by the lucidity of his mind and the simplicity of his delivery. Among the array of professors, looking stiff and important in their university caps and gowns, Sigmund Freud, in ordinary attire, unassuming, almost shrinking, stood out like a giant among pygmies. He had aged somewhat since I had heard him in Vienna in 1896. He had been reviled then as a Jew and irresponsible innovator; now he was a world figure; but neither obloquy nor fame had influenced the great man.
On my return to New York new struggles absorbed me. There was the shirtwaist-makers' strike, involving fifteen thousand employees, and that of the steel-workers at McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Money had to be raised for bath fights. The anarchists always being among the first to respond to every need, I had to address numerous meetings and visit labour bodies to plead the cause of their fellow unionists.
Then came the uprising in Spain. In protest against the slaughter in Morocco the Spanish workers had declared a general strike. As usual the American press misrepresented the situation. It necessitated an immediate campaign on our part to present the events in their true light and significance. Our Spanish comrades in America called for my help and I gave it gladly.
Before long we received the news of the arrest in Barcelona of Francisco Ferrer, anarchist and libertarian educationist, who was charged with responsibility for the general strike. We realized the imminent danger facing our comrade and the necessity of arousing intelligent American public opinion in his behalf.
In Europe many noted men and women of advanced thought had already begun an intensive campaign in favour of Francisco Ferrer. In America there were too few to make a similar effort, and the situation therefore required the greater activity on our part. Meetings, conferences, Mother Earth, and a constant stream of people kept us busy from early morning until late hours of night.
I had an engagement in Philadelphia, where Ben had preceded me by several days. On his arrival he was informed by comrades that all radical gatherings had of late been suppressed in the City of Brotherly Love. Ben, still imbued with American trust in police officials, went to see the Director of Public Safety, who was the tsar of Philadelphia. That potentate not only received him gruffly, but declared that he would never permit Emma Goldman to speak in "his" city. The Local single-taxers passed resolutions denouncing the despotic decision and sent a committee to the City Hall to demand that I be given the right to speak. Seeing that I had friends among Americans, the dictator in the police department drew in his horns. "Emma Goldman can speak," he declared, "if she will submit to a small formality: to let me read her lecture notes."
I would, of course, do nothing of the kind, since I did not believe in censorship. Thereupon the director decided that I could not speak. "The meeting can proceed," he announced, "but Emma Goldman will not be allowed in the Odd Fellows' Temple, if I have to call out the whole police department to prevent her."
He kept his promise. He placed six plain-clothes men at my unsolicited disposal, who were stationed at the entrance of the little hotel where I was stopping. In the evening, when I started for Odd Fellows' Hall, accompanied by the attorney of the Philadelphia Free Speech League, the detectives followed at our heels. For blocks the hall was lined with police on foot, on horseback, and in automobiles. Not only was I barred from entering, but I was forced to return to the hotel along the route dictated by the officers, who would not let me out of sight until I was back in my room. The meeting took place and was addressed by anarchists, socialists, and single-taxers, but not by Emma Goldman, and thus Philadelphia was saved.
The single-taxers and the members of the Free Speech League insisted that the case should be tested in the courts. I had no faith in legal procedure, but my friends argued that if I refused, the police would undoubtedly continue their tactics, whereas a legal fight would focus public attention on their Russian methods of trying to gag me. Voltairine de Cleyre also was in favour of having a test made, and I consented.
Meanwhile the papers carried sensational stories about the situation, and the detectives remained at the hotel. The owner, somewhat of a liberal, was exceedingly decent to me, but the undesirable publicity was injuring his business. We therefore moved to one of the larger hostelries. I was just beginning to unpack my things in the new place when I was informed by telephone that there had been a mistake: the rooms assigned to us had been reserved before and there were no others vacant in the house. The same thing happened in several other hotels. There were no objections to Ben, but they would not have me.
I finally found shelter with some American friends. During three weeks their place was under constant watch and I was shadowed from the moment I left the house until I returned. Moreover, the police tried to bribe my host's servant to watch my room and report what was happening. But the dear soul refused. She helped me instead to escape for one whole day from the vigilance of the detectives.
My presence was urgently needed in New York. On Sunday morning, October 13, this servant took Ben and me through the back entrance, across several yards, and out into an alley. Without having been observed we reached the railroad station and were soon speeding east.
Our mission in New York was a mass meeting to commemorate Francisco Ferrer, the victim of popery and militarism in Spain.
The Romish Church had for eight years waged a relentless war against Francisco Ferrer. He had dared to strike her in her most vulnerable spot. Between 1901 and 1909 he had founded 109 modern schools and his example and influence had led the liberal elements to organize three hundred non-sectarian educational institutions. Catholic Spain had never before witnessed such daring, but it was mainly Ferrer's Modern School that gave the Church fathers no peace. They were wroth at the attempt to free the child from superstition and bigotry, from the darkness of dogma and authority. Church and State saw the danger to their dominion of centuries and they tried to crush Ferrer. They had almost succeeded in 1906. At that time they had caused his arrest in connexion with Morral's attempt on the life of the Spanish King.
Mateo Morral, a young anarchist, had devoted his private fortune to the library of the Modern Schools and had worked with Ferrer in the capacity of librarian. After the failure of his act he had ended his own life. It was then that the Spanish authorities discovered the connexion of Mateo Morral with the Modern School. Francisco Ferrer was arrested. It was known throughout Spain that Ferrer was opposed to acts of political violence, that he firmly believed in and preached modern education as against force. It did not save him, however, from the powers that be. World-wide protests had rescued him in 1906, but now Church and State insisted on their pound of flesh.
While Francisco Ferrer was being sought by the authorities he was living with a comrade ten miles from Barcelona. He was in perfect safety there and he could have escaped the fury of the Church and military cliques which demanded his death. Then he read the official proclamation that anyone harbouring him would be shot. He decided to give himself up. The anarchist friends at whose house he was staying were a poor family with five children; they knew their danger, yet they pleaded with Ferrer to remain with them. To quiet their fears for his safety, he promised. But at night, while everyone was asleep, Ferrer left through the window of his room and walked to Barcelona. He was recognized a short distance from the city and arrested.
After a mock trial Francisco Ferrer was condemned to death and shot within the walls of Montjuich prison. He died as he had lived, proclaiming with his last breath: "Long live the Modern School!"
After the Francisco Ferrer commemoration meeting in New York I returned to Philadelphia to continue our free-speech fight. While awaiting the court's decision in the test case, a social gathering was arranged in my room for the committee backing our campaign. We were quietly discussing things over our coffee when there came violent knocking. Several officers rushed into the room.
"You're holding a secret meeting," their leader declared, and ordered the people out.
"How dare you intrude upon my birthday party?" I replied. " These are my guests who have come to celebrate my birthday. Is that a crime in Philadelphia?"
"Birthday, eh?" the officer sneered; "I didn't know anarchists celebrated birthdays. We'll wait outside to see how late you'll celebrate."
Some of the single-taxers who were present were very indignant; not, however, because the police had forcibly disturbed our friendly circle, but on account of their violation of the sacredness of private property. My visitors soon dispersed and I was left wondering whether the greater difficulty confronting us anarchists was the hold upon man of the sanctity of property or his belief in the State.
Our campaign closed with a large meeting under the auspices of the Free Speech League. Leonard D. Abbott presided, while among the speakers were ex-Congressman Robert Baker, Frank Stephens, Theodore Schroeder, George Brown (the "shoemaker philosopher" ), Voltairine de Cleyre, and Ben Reitman. Letters protesting against my gagging were read from Horace Traubel, Charles Edward Russell, Rose Pastor Stokes, Alden Freeman, William Marion Reedy, and others.
Some time later the Director of Public Safety in Philadelphia was dismissed from office on charges of graft and bribery.
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