In Portland, moms are standing up to protect protestors. Meanwhile, US Atty. Gen. William Barr is suggesting that the Sedition Act be used to bring many US cities—including Seattle and Portland—under “control.” He has suggested that these cities be declared “Anarchist Jurisdictions.” In November, we remember that the Sedition Act was one of the main tools used to attack the socialist movement and the IWW back in the day.
The Sedition Act, in conjunction with the earlier Espionage Act, made it illegal to belong to an organization that refused to endorse World War One—a war between capitalists that was killing fellow workers and stacking their bodies like cordwood. Specifically, it made it unlawful to “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States” or to “willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production” . . . The result of the act was to make illegal work actions, strikes, antiwar counseling, and free speech.
As a result, Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs was forced to campaign from an Atlanta federal prison cell. His death just 5 years after his release is directly attributed to neglect, poor care, and harsh conditions. Meanwhile, the US Justice Department orchestrated the first Red Scare: the Palmer Raids.
The raids of union halls and the imprisonment of anyone with a Red Card forced most to burn their cards and blend in. Under attack, with its leadership in jail and its members on the lam, the IWW almost ceased to exist for a few years. These were the ugly years of the Bisbee Deportation (1917), the murder of Frank Little (1917), and the Centralia Tragedy (1919).
In November, we remember the lessons of the past and see their reflection in the present. The Sedition Act of 1918 is alive and lurking. Beware, be vigilant, be safe.
For additional details, go to the University of Washington IWW History Project at:
and the Justice Department Campaign Against the IWW, 1917-1920, by Steven Parfitt at: