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Although Wilson gave orders against rough treatment “unless necessary” (San Diego Herald), many saw a man “running around covered with blood from a great gash in his head. He declared a mounted policeman had struck him.”

That night, police arrested 38 men and three women. The charge: conspiracy to commit a crime.

Refused bail, the men went to the newly built jail’s “sobering-up room” and soon filled it beyond its 60-person capacity. Women went to the “female ward.”

When the clerks processed him, an unnamed man had only 15 cents in his pocket. Asked why, he said, “I have money all right, but I left it at home. I knew better than to have money after the police got me.”

As with the others, a clerk told the man to remove his shoes, to see if he concealed a saw or other weapon. No prisoner was armed, but two, the Union reported, “were intoxicated.”

Those two must not have been Wobblies. The IWW was firmly against alcohol: “You can’t fight booze and the boss at the same time.”

Some protesters weren’t without vanity: Kirk demanded to keep his comb, so he could look presentable to reporters in the morning; Laura Payne Emerson, who refused to give her age, became indignant when she learned the jail wouldn’t provide nightgowns for women prisoners.

Overloading jails and the legal system were tactics the Wobblies used elsewhere. The next day, Kirk announced that these weren’t the original aim of the demonstration. The Free Speech League wanted to test the ordinance in court. But the arrests were for conspiracy, a violation of state law, not the ordinance. So the league changed tactics. And IWW Local #13 vowed a “fight to the finish.”

On the morning of February 9, an estimated 1000 people gathered outside the jail. They stood within the law, since they weren’t in the restricted zone. They heard the strangest thing: the prisoners, who had slept on a cold, concrete floor without blankets, were singing. “The voices of the women in another part of the prison,” wrote the Sun, “blended in with the gruffer tones of the men…and the crowds cheered.”

Though not all. The Wobbly version of “Onward Christian Soldiers” alienated potential supporters:

  • Onward, Christian soldiers! Duty’s way is plain:
  • Slay your Christian neighbors, or by them be slain.
  • Pulpeteers are spouting effervescent swill,
  • God above is calling you to rob and rape and kill.

Armed policemen formed a ring around the station. Rumors of a plot to storm the building kept all on close watch. Then, around midmorning, came talk of dynamite. Within the past year, someone had bombed the Los Angeles Times building. Was San Diego next?

Anyone emerging from the crowd became a threat.

A man with white whiskers came forward. Alerted officers closed in. But the man’s hands were empty. He climbed the station steps and held his hands out. “Arrest me,” he said.

“You’re too old,” said a policeman.

“Just imagine I’m 24,” he replied. He was ordered to move along.

The entire police force — 60 regulars and 40 reserves — prepared for an unprecedented siege.

Chief Wilson had never seen the like. “These people do not belong to any country, no flag, no laws, no Supreme Being,” he told the Union. “I do not know what to do. I cannot punish them.”

After a pause, he added: “Listen to them singing. They are singing all the time, yelling and hollering, and telling the jailors to quit work and join the union. They are worse than animals!”

That night, police arrested 15 more at Soapbox Row, and 12 the next. Crowds estimated in the thousands appeared every evening at Fifth and E. By week’s end, 84 inmates crammed the jail, including, for the second time, Laura Payne Emerson and Juanita McKamey.

Police began moving prisoners to the county jail where conditions, many reported to the press, were more favorable.

In the city jail, wrote Robert Warren Diehl, “charges of police brutality were made almost daily: beating prisoners, confiscating tobacco and handkerchiefs, depriving nearsighted inmates of their glasses, and refusing drinking water to the incarcerated.” Other reports mention a foul odor and illnesses spread from such close contact. “The room in which the street speakers are confined,” wrote the Sun, “is the only part of the jail where such disgraceful conditions exist.”

Newspapers took sides. The Union and the Tribune, both owned by J.D. Spreckels, demanded immediate action. “This is a time when friends of San Diego should stand shoulder to shoulder to avert a menace to the city’s welfare,” wrote the Union.

Spreckels’s papers alleged that E.W. Scripps, publisher of the Sun, sided with free-speechers because he owned the vacant lot at Seventh and B. The Sun, which later withdrew support for the protesters, printed a vehement denial.

A call went out to the IWW’s “knights of the road.” Word spread to “hobo jungles”: go to San Diego; a fight was on. Wobblies arrived in autos, “rattlers” (freight cars), the beds of trucks, even boats. They sang:

  • We’re coming by the hundreds, will be joined
  • By hundreds more.
  • So join at once and let them see the
  • Workers are all sore.

They came to get thrown in a jail stuffed in with other protesters, fed bad food twice a day, and possibly beaten.

During that first week, Commissioner Sehon ordered all male vagrants rounded up. Detective Myers claimed that at least 150 Wobblies had been spotted on their way from Los Angeles — and that countless others were coming from around the country.

Indignant members of the Wide Awake Club demanded that more police be sworn in immediately.

On February 11, Clark Braly, the former park commissioner, told reporters, “I don’t want to cast any reflection on the police. They have done their work splendidly. They have shown they can handle the situation as it exists at present.”

But with rumors of many thousands of Wobblies headed to San Diego, Braly proposed a “vigilance committee” to stop “the godless rabble” at the county line and horsewhip them back to where they came.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

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dwjacobs June 9, 2012 @ 12:03 p.m.

It's hard to imagine any of this happening without Joe Hill's lyrics. They cut deeply and simply into the heart of the fight, drawing friends and making enemies.


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