Anti-Militarist Activities in New York

The heroic struggle of the Colorado miners compels the admiration of every friend of labor who has red blood in his veins. In the face of tremendous odds the strikers of southern Colorado have shown a spirit of wonderful solidarity, perseverance and heroism. On many previous occasions workingmen have been forced to fight the armed hirelings of capital; but it is the first time in the history of American labor that the wage slaves dared to resist, in open combat, the armed forces of the State – militia – whose fiendish brutalities in the Colorado mine regions exceed the worst savagery of barbarous warfare. No wonder the capitalist press, especially in the East, sought to suppress the truth regarding conditions in the strike districts.

It was for the purpose of calling public attention to Colorado, as well as to stem the fever of jingoism fanned by the capitalist press, that the Anti-Militarist League was formed in New York. At the first rumor of war with Mexico, the Anarchist elements in the Conference of the Unemployed organized into the Anti-Militarist League, which immediately instituted a campaign of agitation and education in opposition to war and in favor of the Colorado miners.

How easily the people are duped! The Hearstized newspapers strained every nerve to incite the patriotic thirst for murder, so that for a while it was most dangerous to utter in public a protest against the war with Mexico. Urged on by the press, the speakers of the League were repeatedly mobbed and assaulted by the young rowdy element which found encouragement in the tacit sympathy of the police. But perseverance and determination is a might weapon. With these we first forced the police, during the Unemployment Movement, to concede us the right of public assembly and speech. And by the same means we prevailed upon the flag-drunk mobs in New York first to suffer us to talk, then to listen and finally to applaud.

There is no doubt that the tireless activities of the Anti-Militarist League, with its numerous daily open-air meetings and wide distribution of appropriate literature, served to pierce the night of patriotic delirium with a few rays of light. More important still, by the sheer violence of its efforts it woke the people of New York to the situation in Colorado and forced the press to break its conspiracy of silence with regard to the terrible atrocities perpetrated by the masters.

The authorities and the capitalist press mouthpieces fumed and raged at our work. But the League persevered in its indefatigable efforts, in spite of persecution, arrests and convictions.

The first to suffer this persecution as “defamers” of the glorious flag that stands for the burning alive of strikers’ wives and children, were Rebecca Edelsohn and Samuel Hartman, and later Marie Ganz, who publicly expressed the opinion that a multi-murder like John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was not fit to draw breath. She was sentenced to sixty days for alleged “disorderly conduct.”

The trial of Rebecca Edelsohn contributed considerably to the propaganda, inasmuch as our young Comrade declined to be represented by counsel, conducting her own case in a manner that served to bring out all the personal animosity, prejudice and economic antagonism of the real estate witnesses for the prosecution. Comrade Edelsohn closed her case with a well-reasoned and splendidly delivered argument pointing out the historical opposition to all unpopular ideas and emphasizing the right of unconditional free speech.

Comrade Hartman and Miss Edelsohn tried on the same charge, were both found guilty and put under a $300 bond, to “keep the peace” for ninety days. But Miss Edelsohn refused to accept the bond (offered by Comrade I. Benequit) because acceptance involved the condition that she stop speaking in public whenever any policeman saw fit to demand it. Thereupon the Judge sentenced Miss Edelsohn to 90 days to the workhouse, to which our Comrade replied by declaring a hunger strike before she left the court.

The Free Speech League took up the case, through Leonard D. Abbott. After Miss Edelsohn had conducted her hunger strike for 48 hours, she was released on application for a new trial.

The declaration of a hunger strike by Comrade Edelsohn is a significant event. Hunger strikes by prisoners as a protest against conditions within the prison, are not an uncommon occurrence in this country, rarely though the public gets to hear of them. But it is the first time in the history of the United States that a hunger strike was declared in court as a protest against legal or judicial injustice.

The day may not be far when American suffragettes will follow the example of Comrade Edelsohn. Indeed, her example has already found emulation. Upton Sinclair and three women companions, arrested and fined $3 each for silently parading in front of 26 Broadway (the offices of Rockefeller) expressed their protest by refusing to pay their fine and declaring a hunger strike. It is to be regretted, however, that the courageous women did not get an opportunity to carry out their strike, owing to some pusillanimous friends paying their fines against the prisoners’ express wishes. Upton Sinclair hunger-striked for two days and then weakly decided to pay the remaining one dollar fine.

A number of other participants in the League’s work have fallen victims to the wrath of Rockefeller and the police, among them Al Turner, who mad the Sunday School teaching murderer uneasy by parading in front of his residence dressed in a black shroud.

But imprisonment of the active members of the League is not weakening its work. On the contrary, persecution is bringing in new recruits and adding to our numbers. Our work goes on unabated. Large agitation meetings are being carried on nightly in various parts of the city, with big mass-meetings every Saturday.

The League is multiplying its efforts to arouse understanding and sympathy for the striking miners in Colorado by organizing branches of various nationalities in and about New York and other cities. We call for the cooperation of those interested everywhere, to join our League and to form locals in their districts.

No propaganda is more urgently needed in this patriotically drunken land than an effective anti-militarist agitation. In behalf of the brave fighters in Colorado we especially appeal to the workers everywhere to aid and further the work of the Anti-Militarist League and to contribute to its WAR FUND established for the purpose of supplying the Colorado strikers with money and, when necessary, with men, arms and ammunition.

Communications and contributions are to be addressed to Alexander Berkman, Secretary-Treasure of the Anti-Militarist League, 74 West 119th Street,

By James McLane [probably Alexander Berkman]

From: Mother Earth, New York, May 1914.