In San Francisco there is an Italian group called Gruppo Anarchico. It appears to be made up of young men chiefly, though a few women attend its sessions. It holds forth in a dingy club room at 1602 Stockton Street, where its members go to read revolutionary periodicals, hear red-blooded speakers and take active part in work which has intelligent resistance for its base. The work consists in doing things instead of talking about them: and that is why this particular circle has more meaning to it than twenty-seven hundred assortments of Socialistic confab.
On the window of the club room is a sign which reads: "GRUPPO ANARCHICO VOLONTA." It is big, clear, done in red and not a letter is missing. Worked in between the lines is a sketch of mountain peaks, with the flaming sun rising above them. Inside, the walls speak eloquently, with their picture of Montjuich, a print of the five Haymarket victims, pictures of Giordano Bruno and Francisco Ferrer, a number of revolutionary posters, and such inspiring placards as, "You aspire to liberty? Fools! Have the strength and liberty will come by itself." Numerous revolutionary booklets, newspapers, etc. are fastened on with clothes pins to a railing midway up the wall and are strung out the entire length of the hall, easily accessible to all who care to read them. A home-made desk-bookcase in the rear of the hall seems to be a sort of storehouse for excess literature.
I am told this group has no officers; that its members come and go as they please; that all contributions are voluntary, including the literature; that the door of the hall is never locked, notwithstanding the fact that the club room is on the ground floor; that anybody is welcome to come in and read to his heart's content; and that, most interesting of all, nobody even knows how many members this circle has. Each member stands responsible for his own acts, but cooperates with other members, all of whom are equally responsible. There isn't anything regular about this aggregation, as far as I can learn. It rests on a foundation of interest, intelligence, spontaneity and courage. Further than that, it just carries out its own wishes and never seems to think of asking leave of any official dignitary.
To illustrate: At the March 10 mass meeting, held in San Francisco to protest against Emma Goldman's arrest, free handbills were given out on which was printed information about preventives [contraceptives]. It was simple information, plain enough for any man or woman to read and profit from. One of the Italian boys, interested in this circle, got one of the handbills and took it to his group's meeting place. The idea was instantly recognized as a good one, and one member of the circle forthwith offered $10 toward the printing of 20,000 of these bills in the Italian language, so that every man and woman in that district might know how to regulate the size of their families. More individuals came up with cash, and the result was that 20,000 leaflets were printed and passed out as freely as water. Then this happened:
One of those bluebirds known as policemen called at the club room and asked a member of the circle, Joseph Macario, who happened to be there, the what, how and why of the group's activity along birth control lines. Now Joseph Macario is beautiful to look at. There is nothing of the liar about him. He therefore didn't hedge, but answered in a way that earned for him an invitational command to call at the "Chief's" headquarters. Joseph went, not in the least ashamed for what he had done, but proud of the fact that he had done a good act, a helpful act, boldly, thoroughly and openly. The Chief looked him over, asked "why," and the boy answered this: "You know these things; you use them; why shouldn't I and the rest of us?" The Chief's answer was short and sweet. He used three words. He said to the key turner, "Lock him up." But there are bubbles in Italian blood. When you scratch it you are liable to get an effervescent reaction, which is just what happened in this case. An Italian attorney, Charles Sferlazzo, interested himself straightway, bailed the boy out, and now there promises to be a lively contest over the right of strangers, official or otherwise, to regulate bedroom affairs. The case is to come up this week, and the Italian boy is not going to be alone.
Another light on this case is this: Since the leaflets were printed priests have stopped to read those which were pasted up on the window of the club's quarters. By any chance can it be that the men in black recognized that such effrontery meant less births, less marriages, less funerals and therefore less fees, not to speak of the abatement of respect for mystery mongers, and decided for their own sakes that it would be well to stamp such efforts as "obscene" and thereby put an end to them? Just an idea, of course, but somehow it sticks.
The most important part about the work of these rebels is that they had the courage to stand back of their acts. They signed the name and address of their group on the leaflets they gave out, and they headed the leaflet with this significant announcement.
Joseph Macario stated that the information wasn't given out in the hope of solving the social question, but to protest against authority; "and by this to voice a stern protest against all limitations of free social development on the part of consecrated authorities."
Last evening I went over to the club room of this circle to hear Alexander Berkman speak. We were a number, including Jack Margolis, the Pittsburgh attorney, who is to defend David Caplan in his coming trial. Both Berkman and Margolis talked to the crowd which filled the hall to overflowing. Everyone in the place listened with rapt attention, including a number of gum-shoe tale bearers who took slurred notes in the rear of the place. I can't begin to outline Berkman's talk here, but it was fine.
He told them intelligent resistance was the key to attainment under the present social system; that what was good for the crowd was good for the man; that anything, everything that served to make people discontented and actively and effectively resistant in their own defense was beneficial; that the man who ties a rope around your neck and accuses you of "disorder" if you attempt to undo the knot, is a bully and a faker and unworthy of the slightest consideration. Margolis, too, dwelt on the absolute necessity of throwing off imposed burdens, no matter in what form they present themselves. And at the finish both were roundly applauded. There were enough red bubbles in that hall to make a pudding that would reach to Mars.
After the meeting I learned that on the night before 6000 preventative leaflets had been placed in the mail boxes of as many citizens by the members of this group. They had confined their distribution to the Italian quarter and, of course, all the handbills were printed in Italian. Ten members had done the work, voluntarily, fearlessly, determinedly. Which only proves what Wendell Phillips said that a dozen or so determined men can commit a revolution over night.
Fine examples are these youth, fiery, conscious, clear sighted. They know what ails them and they are not going to be overdelicate in putting an end to the nuisance. Which recalls the American brand of "bravery." What an invigorating sight it would be could we but see our native drudges take heart and emulate these dark-skinned defiers! Perhaps they will when they see it is safe. More than one man has finally made his base by walking.
From The Blast, Vol. 1, #10, April 1, 1916
Four Walls Eight Windows, P.O. Box 548, Village Station, New York, NY 10014
Life of an Anarchist: The Alexander Berkman Reader, edited by Gene Fuller