Jack London’s Political Writings

UrlHoward Tharsing at Threepenny Review:

In 1896, when Jack London was twenty, the San Francisco Chroniclehad referred to him as “the boy socialist of Oakland.” His fame grew out of his power as a public speaker. Week after week he stood on a soap box in the little park in front of City Hall arguing that the unbridled capitalism of his day condemned a great many of his fellow citizens to lives of degradation and misery while enriching a small number outrageously. Dozens of speakers held forth in the park every week, but Jack London always drew the biggest crowds and held their attention better than any other speaker. And in 1897, when Oakland passed a law forbidding public meetings on public streets, London challenged the law by getting himself arrested for climbing on that soap box and speaking. Oakland authorities were surprised that instead of paying the fine or consenting to spend a few days in jail, London demanded a jury trial. Acting as his own lawyer, London argued that the law violated the constitution’s guarantees of the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and he won.

Even at that young age, London already had long experience in the exploitation of labor and the difficulties suffered by the poor. He had worked in a fish cannery, in a coal mine, and in a jute factory, and as a fisherman, a seal hunter, an oyster pirate, and an officer in the Fish Patrol. He had traveled across the country as a hobo jumping trains. He had spent thirty days in jail in upstate New York on a charge of vagrancy.

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