Among the most frightening aspects of the specter of a Trump presidency would be the arbitrary use of power, including his threat to “lock up” his “nasty woman” opponent, enact racist policies of massive deportations from, and restricted entry into, the United States, all while bypassing any semblance of the democratic process.
This scenario was once, in fact, a nightmarish reality in America, during the years just after the U.S. entered World War I. Almost any utterance of dissent — about the war or the conscription of young men into the military — was cause enough for arrest and imprisonment. Outspoken immigrant radicals, like Emma Goldman, were quickly deported.
The Emma Goldman Papers’ Democracy Disarmed 1917-1919, the last of the four-volume series Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years 1890-1919, tracks the trajectory of Goldman’s life as an eloquent opponent of the war, imprisoned for exercising free speech in her protests against it.
The freedoms we exercise as members of the University of California, Berkeley, community, including our ability to gather together outside the Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive to watch, laugh at and shout during the last debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, are freedoms for which Emma Goldman and her comrades paid dearly.
Almost 100 years after she was locked up and cast away from our shores, much of which she fought against or to attain remain points of contention. Among the issues she opposed were economic injustice that left the poor most vulnerable to dying on the battlefield, random arrests and long jail sentences, solitary confinement and harsh prisoner conditions, the lack of due process for those who faced deportation, and for the violation of basic rights of free speech. Issues she fought for included economic, racial and ethnic justice, a security and a sense of belonging for American immigrants, for a woman’s right to control her own body.
Freedom of speech and the right of dissent require vigilant protection. Those who consider these rights fixed and immutable, who claim that a Trump-style world could never take hold, need to remember and learn from our past, when America fought to make the world safe for democracy as the cornerstones of its democracy began to disintegrate at home.
The Emma Goldman Papers, a currently unfunded project of UC Berkeley, is completing work on the fourth volume, Democracy Disarmed 1917-1919, which will be published next year. It is a collaborative documentary history project initiated by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives and based at UC Berkeley.
You can follow Emma Goldman Papers’ blog online.