It's just poetry, it won't bite

Free Speech Canto XVI

10.27.11 Posted in words to linger on by

Michael Ceraolo’s most recent poem to appear here was Bones, published as part of Contributor Series 7: The Confessional Diary of Bone in December 2010.

Free Speech Canto XVI
By Michael Ceraolo
“The gravest threats against our national peace and safety
have been uttered within our own borders,”

so said
the arch-segregationist and alleged progressive
Woodrow Wilson’
even before the country was in the war
he was leading us into in violation of his campaign promises,
and so he said:

“authority to exercise censorship over the press … 
is absolutely necessary to the public safety,”

he proposed to give himself in peacetime
Said proposal and others would languish unacted upon
until the United States was officially in the war,
and even then
the majority of the Congress would eliminate
the press censorship provision,
the non-mailability provision,
and some others from the final bill
that would become a magnificently misnamed law,
would lead another administration member to lament that they had
“secured the passage of the Espionage Act,
most of the teeth which we tried to put in it were taken out”
Which wouldn’t matter much,
what with enforcement left up to the executive branch

Postmaster General Albert Burleson:

“For instance,
papers may not say that the Government is controlled
by Wall Street
or munitions manufacturers,
any other special interests,”
any dissenting political opinion was criminalized,
if that opinion was expressed in cartoon form,
as was the case with the literary/political journal The Masses,
silenced by denying it the prevailing postal rate for periodicals,
silenced by refusing then to mail the publication at all,
silenced finally by the arrest and jailing of its editors
(said silencing multiplied by a thousand all across the country,
and in your neighborhood too)

“what a tremendous instrument of tyranny
this rather innocent looking provision of the bill
will become,”
and did become,
even more

June 16, 1918
Canton, Ohio
Eugene V. Debs makes a speech,
a very carefully worded speech given the above,
first stating
“They have come to realize,
as so many of us have,
that it is extremely dangerous to exercise
the constitutional right of free speech in a country
fighting to make democracy safe in the world,”


“You need to know that you are fit for something
better than slavery and cannon fodder,”

this last utterance
being the basis for his conviction of violating the provision
concerning the recruiting and enlistment of the military,
which he was sentenced to prison for ten years
when Debs appealed all the way to the Supreme Court,
the Court unanimously upheld the conviction,
the specious reasoning first expressed in Schenck,
even though said reasoning was
(and is)
“unsafe doctrine”
if it has to be made plausible by a parallel
so manifestly inappropriate”

Debs served some years of his prison term

this happened all across the country,
to thousands less famous than Debs,
in your neighborhood as well

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