Goldman was an anarchist political activist and author. She played an important role in creating the anarchist political philosophy in North America and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.
August 21st, 1893, Goldman began to speak to crowds of frustrated men and women of New York city, speaking to a crowd of nearly three thousand people in Union Square, in which she encouraged unemployed workers to take immediate action, and ordered the crowd to “take everything…by force”.1Chalberg, p. 46
Goldman travelled around the United States nonstop, delivering lectures and agitating for anarchism. When the US justice department sent spies to observe the lectures, they reported the meetings as “packed”.2Intimate, p. 166 The meetings contained writers, journalists, artists, judges, and workers from across the spectrum spoke of her “magnetic power”, her “convincing prescence”, her “force, eloquence, and fire”.3Intimate, p. 168
Berkman was a Russian-American anarchist and writer, an important figure in the anarchist movement in the 20th century, and well-known for his political activism and writing. He was also a one-time lover and lifelong friend of anarchist Emma Goldman.
In 1917, the United States entered World War I and Congress enacted the Selective Service Act, in retaliation, Berkman organized the ‘No Conscription League of New York’, which proclaimed: “We oppose conscription because we are internationalists, anti-militarists, and opposed to all wars waged by capitalistic governments.”4Life of an Anarchist, p. 155 The organization was at the forefront of anti-draft activism, and other leagues were established in other cities. 5Rebel in Paradise, pp. 186–187
Due to the Espionage Act of 1917, Berkman and Goldman were arrested during a raid of their offices on June 15th, 1917, in which police seized what The New York Times described as “a wagon load of anarchist records and propaganda material”. The couple were accused with “conspiracy to induce persons not to enter”, and were held on a twenty five thousand bail each.6Weinberger, pp. 105–106.7Wenzer, p. 61. The jury found them guilty, and Judge Julius M. Mayer established the maximum sentence: two years imprisonment, a ten thousand dollar fine, and the possibility of deportation after their release from prison. 8Emma Goldman in America, p. 235