Free (Radio) Speech Fight 1998 - x345417

An article by x345417 about a pirate radio conference in Washington, DC that a number of IWW members attended. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

Over the weekend of October 4-6 micro-power radio broadcasters gathered in Washington DC for a weekend of workshops, networking and action dubbed "Showdown with the FCC."
IWW members from New Hampshire, Washington DC, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Tennessee were present throughout the proceedings, in a display of the continuing networking of Wobblies in the Free Radio/Free Speech movement. Which makes plenty of sense considering the history of the free speech movement, in which the IWW played a pivotal role in the early 1900s by defying laws outlawing public speech (by "undesirables") which resulted in thousands of wobs filling up the jails to the point that the laws were changed in city after city around the country. Add to that the radio programs that IWW organizers used in Detroit in the 1930s, the recently organized IWW International Radio Network, and the syndicated IWW radio show, "Soapboxing the Airwaves," and you have a great reason for Wobs to come to DC to fight for free speech.

On Sunday, workshops were held on topics including how to work transmitters, the current legal situation, organizing strategy, public relations, and a new station being started in D.C. Afterwards, a free dinner was served followed by a Community Cabaret in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, where local performers broadcast hip-hop, tango, bluegrass, poetry, spoken word and folk music to the community over Radio Libre, 97.5 FM. The broadcast was in Spanish and English, with calls going out to garner community support for an upcoming "anti-INS raids" protest.

On Monday morning, a debate between micro-broadcasters, lawyers and FCC officials took place at the Freedom Forum, an organization in DC. Shortly afterward, the "free speech fight" and march took place, with about 200 people marching from DuPont circle to the FCC and NAB buildings, illegally broadcasting throughout, daring the FCC to make an arrest. Surprisingly, the goons who have shut down over 200 community radio stations in the past year dared not show their faces, even when the issue was brought to their front door.

This was taken as a major victory by the militant crowd of broadcasters who as a result were emboldened as they marched on to those who really pull the strings of free speech: the National Association of Broadcasters. The crowd approached the NAB building,and easily took the plaza in front despite security attempts to stop it. Amidst slogan-chanting and street theater, the NAB flag was brought down and a Jolly Roger (skull and crossbones) hoisted in its place.

16-year-old Gainesville resident Boni Ramey, who came up to D.C. with the Gainesville IWW/Free Radio Gainesville contingent, was scapegoated although the flag was not in her posession. She was handcuffed while the NAB and DC police debated what should be done with her.

Meanwhile, IWW members stayed around for support while the rest of the demonstration moved along. A security goon tried to pick a fight with some of the IWW's present but was sarcastically told that a fist-fight couldn't protect corporate radio interests. The guard looked embarrassed and awkwardly walked away. Eventually Ramey was taken to the juvenille division for processing where they said she would be let go without charges.

IWW members located Free Radio D.C./D.C. IWW member Chuck Munson who gladly navigated the way to the station where she was picked up. After her rendevous with the corporate radio elites, Boni said that she is interested is interested in the IWW because of our history of fighting for Free Speech, and is currently considering joining up. The new IWW-wide radio show "Soapboxing the Airwaves" (currently on the third edition) was also promoted to interested people throughout the duration of the event, and will be featuring the event in the third edition.

Soapboxing the Airwaves can be heard on Free Radio Memphis, Free Radio Gainesville, Free Radio Twin-Cities and on the internet at

-- X345417

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)