The I.W.W. organization was only five years old when William began his work on the
streets in Los Angeles in 1917. They had claimed they would organize within the ranks of
the workers. William knew that certainly was needed, but he knew also it should be an
American movement instead of this violent movement of Syndicalists. He himself sought
improved working conditions among the craft workers. Now, he wanted to see something done
for the unskilled mass of production workers who had no champion except this rabid
organization of I.W.W.'s which he felt would irreparably hurt the workers' cause. When the
I.W.W. settled in here they did not settle with families as had the earlier German,
Scandinavian and Irish immigrants, but joined in lawless discontented bands, denouncing
all governments except the new government in Russia. They especially denounced the
American form of government, because it was the most prosperous and, so the most hated.
The I.W.W. gained members quickly in Los Angeles. William agreed they needed a
champion. He referred to them as ''poor, misguided creatures'' for that reason. That was
why he so desperately wanted to help them - before it was too late.
He also wanted to convert them - to get them familiar with the regenerative power of
God before they started to bore from within into the many worthwhile American
organizations. This gave an urgency to his work you could not help but feel when you
conversed with him. ''I want to get into my street preaching as soon as I can,'' he told
us in talking over the matter. ''I really can't function as well as I'd like, otherwise,
but I have to feel my way,'' he said. He might have spared his worry. As it so happened,
the I.W.W. fairly catapulted him into beginning his work.
''You'll know what to do,'' Annie told him, and with a word of caution to Papa to ''be
careful today,'' he was off to start on his one man ''sociological experiment'' as he had
termed it when he sought the cooperation of the city administration. ''I'll be careful all
right.'' Then he reminded Annie, ''You never get a swift kick in the seat of your pants if
you don't walk behind a horse's hind legs. You know that.''
Annie was not convinced. ''Just you see that you don't,'' she came back.
And so the next day, William went down to that section of the city where the wild and
lawless always congregated to speak their propaganda of hate. Although the I.W.W. was a
young organization, they were openly hostile to the United States Government.
They had so intimidated law-abiding citizens of the Los Angeles district that the
owners of wholesale houses located in this section around the Plaza had appealed to the
police for protection, but it was hard to get a policeman to cover the wild, untamed
William moved among the disorderly crowds that day to learn their ways first-hand. Just
as he had first watched the wild horses in their movements on the Texas plains, studying
their nature, how to subjugate them, and then how to gentle them, so he began to study
this maddened band ready to charge upon any who would challenge their threats.
He turned the next corner and walked toward a meeting, already in progress, and was
faced with a large placard that read:
ARISE, SLAVES OF THE WORLD
NO GOD: NO MASTER
''Let's give the young preacher a nice marching song,'' an agitator told the crowd as
he began singing his own parody on ''Onward Christian Soldiers.''
CHRISTIANS AT WAR
Onward, Christian soldiers! Duty's way is plain:
Slay your Christian neighbors, or by them be slain.
Pulpiteers are spouting effervescent swill.
God above is calling you to rob and rape and kill.
All your acts are sanctified by the Lamb on high:
If you love the Holy Ghost, go murder, pray and die.
As William listened, the blood of anger rushed to his face. It was all he could do to
keep silent, to listen to their philosophy as sung in the song, and to watch their
movements. But he was searching for some clue so he could approach them successfully.
History will say of you: "That pack of God-damned fools."
The song ended.
''Yes, we were fools to ever let them spread their hate to the strength they now enjoy
so that no decent man nor woman can walk kown Los Angeles Street, no honest cop can dare
take the beat,'' he admitted to himself.
When the song finished, three long verses, the syndicalist began to discuss their
weapon, sabotage, ''Yep, the little wooden shoe is our symbol,'' he said. ''It is with
this little wooden shoe that the weavers in France were able to make the bastard
capitalists aware of what a sabot (French for shoe) could do. It could break windows and
it could break machines.
''Of course, we wouldn't apply sabotage. Oh no, not us. We are sure no self-respecting
worker would ever resort to that terrible thing called sabotage!''
''Sabotage is to this class struggle what the guerilla warfare is to the battle. The
strike is open battle of the class struggle between the opposing classes. Sabotage means
ordinarily the withdrawal of efficiency. Sabotage means either to slacken up and interfere
with quantity or to botch, in your skill, and interfere with the quality of the capitalist
production or to give poor service.''
And then he ended, ''Our country? The country of millions of hunted, homeless, hungry
slaves. It is not our country!''
Inflamed by this, William went to an open saloon and borrowed a chair. He wanted to
show these no government men, these men of mob violence he was not afraid of them. He had
judged them as men of fear, cowards, and he knew he could conquer them.
''You hate all countries,'' he began, ''but America most of all because it is the
freest country of all. You hate God's law. You say you want liberty, but you want license,
and God's law doesn't give it to you. Liberty is not what you want. You want the right to
destroy by terrorism all that is good. You teach the regeneration of society by upsetting
everything that centuries of experience have taught us when the only way that man can be
regenerated is through the power of God.''
But he didn't get the words of his sentence finished when one began singing another of
their hymns from the back of the crowd.
THE PREACHER AND THE SLAVE
Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right;
But when asked 'bout something to eat
They answer with voices so sweet!
You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get the pie in the sky when you die.
It was no use. He could not speak above their ribald songs, for they went in to
another, "HE'S A BUM." He had no choice but to listen. The words were simple
enough. He learned them as they sang.
By now, William was far enough away from the first crowd as not to be recognized. As he
climbed upon the chair once more and this time began to sing up a crowd for himself with
the song he had learned from the first crowd.
''I'm a Bum,'' he sang.
Looking at him in his tailored clothes, they wondered what manner of I.W.W. could he be
and began to congregate around him curiously.
''I.W.W.'s,'' he said sarcastically, and he could be as cutting as a two-edged sword.
He had figured they respected force and ridicule, and he would give it to them
"'Industrial Workers of the World' also stands for 'I Won't Work.' Of course you
won't work. Why should you when you can go out on the American streets, under the warm Los
Angeles sun, and beg a dime from some kind, professional man to make you splits! Why
should you be so foolish as to work the way you had to work in Russia in order to eat your
black bread. It stands for 'I Will Wobble' because you know these Americans, poor fools,
will always feed you and give you enough money for liquor. Wobblies, that's what you
With this, they edged in on him, in the way college boys will surround a popular hero
and carry him off the field. They circled around him so tightly that all they had to do
was shove and push in unison and carry this stalwart body with each shove. There was no
place for William to go but with them. They carried him around the block, but he kept
preaching all the while they shoved him around and around. He was too big to be crowded
off the street by these wild men.
"I had to fight for twenty minutes," he told us when he returned home that
To this day the I.W.W.'s carry the name "Wobblies" which he gave them in his
first Sunday as the Open Air Preacher to the I.W.W.'s. The newspapers picked up his pet
term, and in time they even came to refer to themselves as "Wobblies," and still
Finally, he spotted a policeman, and as he did, he pounced upon the ring leader of the
toughs and with one swift blow, landed him on his face, then picked him up and told the
officer to arrest him. The surprised policeman took the heckler to jail and William
continued preaching for two hours.
"It made me think of the days I used to conquer a vicious horse in about thirty
minutes,'' he told us, "and then make him lie down on the street for an hour while I
preached to the surrounding crowd."
Mama smiled proudly, yet sadly. She knew she would be spending evenings by the fireside
On the second Sunday he withstood considerable abuse, dodging bricks and bottles, and
epithets. When he could stand it no more, he leaped down into the crowd and, with one
swift wallop, felled the worst offender, then picked him up and marched him off to a
police station three blocks away.
Mayor Sebastian told him, "We're going to give you the key to the call box so
preach close by, and the first one to give you any trouble, bring him in."
The opportunity came the next Sunday, before a crowd hungry for more excitement. They
continued to heckle him as they had done the past two Sundays, but this time, with the key
in his pocket, he decided to tackle two toughs. At the propitious moment, he pounced down
from his chair, grabbed two particularly evil-talking and abusive fellows and bashed their
heads together. Then he walked a few steps over to the police call box and with his key,
opened it up and called for the patrol wagon, much to the astonishment of his
Arrests grew amazingly in those first three months of his preaching on Los Angeles'
streets. He was successful for one reason. With all his fighting and arresting and pouring
out wrathful words upon the men who, for some strange reason rallied around to listen to
him, he loved them in the same way he had loved the wild, vicious horses, and when they
were ready to submit, he had a ready gentleness for them, and would help them get work,
and get on their feet.
He was not attacking these lawless men with their anarchy and their sabotage and their
vilification of God and this country. He was only attacking the sin, the lawlessness, the
anarchy that enslaved them, which he hated with all the fury of his tempestuous heart. He
loved the men as he loved his own family and himself, and somehow, they knew it and gave
him a certain, peculiar brand of loyalty.
The leaders among the anarchists and I.W.W.'s, of course, swore they would ruin him.
Some threatened to kill him, and made many attempts (he once told a reporter twenty-two)
but just as he never expected to be hurt by a wild horse, he never anticipated any injury
from these vicious toughs, either, nor were any of the attempts successful.
Sunday upon Sunday they fought it out - the toughs and this one tough man. But he was
enough for he was always under the shadow of the Almighty.
Go to Chapter 19
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