‘The Case of Louise Olivereau’ by Anne Gallagher from One Big Union Monthly. Vol. 1 No. 8. October, 1919.
It is but natural, with hundreds of Class War prisoners in jails thruout the country, that some cases are not given the publicity they deserve. This has been the fate of Miss Louise Olivereau, of Seattle, who ig now serving a ten year sentence in the State Penitentiary at Canon City, Colo.
Miss Olivereau’s crime was the usual one, that of standing for the interests of her class against those of the masters. At the time of her arrest, in the fall of 1917. Miss Olivereau was employed as a stenographer in the office of the Lumber Workers’ Industrial Union, No. 500, I. W. W., and that was, no doubt, a determining factor in deciding her guilt.
While it is unfortunate, perhaps, for the purposes of this article, that we cannot thoroughly sympathize with Miss Olivereau’s purely individualistic position, yet the efforts of the prosecution to implicate the I. W. W., in Miss Olivereau’s ‘‘crime’’, showed clearly the animus of the Court, and makes it incumbent upon us to consider her, in spirit at least, one of our prisoners.
Miss Olivereau thought that war was a bad thing, and she believed that if enough persons thought as she did, there would be no more wars. On that supposition, she wrote and had printed and circulated at her own expense, letters urging that those who were about to engage in the project of war, seriously consider what it is. She did not advocate draft resistance, or violence in any way, but merely made an appeal to the individual conscience of the prospective soldier. That was her crime.
However, as was pointed out at her trial, these printed letters circulated freely thru the mails until, in a raid on the I. W. W. headquarters in Seattle, tome of them were discovered on the premises. Miss Olivereau was then arrested and those who took her into custody made strenuous efforts to prove that those letters were circulated at the instigation of the I. W. W., and that the expense of printing and circulating them was met with ‘‘German Money,’’ and it was no doubt the chagrin of the prosecution at being unable to prove their contention that lead to the severity of Miss Olivereau’s sentence.
She was brought to trial in November, 1917 and on Nov. 30th was pronounced guilty by a jury which decided the case in 30 minutes. On Dec. 3rd she was sentenced to 45 years, on six counts, sentences to run concurrently. Ten years is the time she is to spend in the penitentiary for the crime of asking her fellow men to consider seriously the proposition of taking human life for the profits of the master class.
Miss Olivereau conducted her own defense and in a masterly address to the jury, boldly declaring her self an Anarchist, proclaimed her belief in the right of the individual to consult his own conscience about his acts, and to criticize the laws he is called upon to obey.
Her position, viewed from the standpoint of the Class Conscious Mass Actionist, is not without it illogicality, for after all, it is the extreme individualism of capital society that is responsible for so much of its injustice. We elect men to public office because we approve of their private lives, not on account of their fitness for the office, or because of their ability to serve the community’s best interests; we tolerate, as a people, the methods of big business, because we believe in the right of the individual to follow the dictates of his own unscrupulousness, and rather admire the consciousless brute who can trample his fellow men under foot, in the interest of profit, provided he “gets away with it”; in other words, it is our lack of social sense, that makes many of the lesser evils of our present day society possible. And when we come to examine the evils that are fundamental we find them necessary corollary of our system of production, not a matter of individual wrong doing. The real conflict, then, is between classes, not individuals, so an appeal to the individual conscience to right social wrongs, is based on a misconception of society.
It was not, however, the illogic of Miss Olivereau’s position that caused her to be pronounced guilty. She was judged and condemned before she came to trial, and the court proceedings merely emphasized that fact. The judge and prosecutor frustrated all of Miss Olivereau’s attempts to have the ease tried on the broad basis of whether in a democracy, the people have not the right to criticize the laws they are supposed to have made. She pointed out that the people had had no voice in the making of war, and altho her utterances on the subject were not as radical, perhaps, as those of many of our respectable citizens, a few Senators, Representatives, and some liberal minded-persons, the jury was instructed to consider these fundamental questions only in relation to the prisoner. The question they were to decide was not, whether the law was right or wrong, but whether Miss Olivereau, by criticizing the law, had eommitted a crime.
When a small group of persons in a community have the power, not only to make its laws, but also the power to pass laws forbidding criticism of them, then the individual who dares to protest has little to hope for, when being tried by the emissaries of the same powerful group.
Miss Olivereau’s heroic stand in taking upon herself the full responsibility for the writing and circulating of her letters, her courage in acting upon her beliefs, and her able defense of her principles and ideals, have won her the admiration of all who are familiar with the case. She made no plea for herself, but stood firmly on what she conceived to be her rights, and accepted her punishment without fear or the slightest hint of recantation.
Miss Olivereau is an unassuming young woman, ties in labor circles, but she always did her work fairly well known on the Pacific Coast for her activism- quietly, evincing no desire for the spectacular, and it was quite characteristic of her that she went about propagating her ideas in the quiet, unassuming way she did, without thought of the consequences, and but for the accident of having been identified with the I. W. W. would perhaps never have come within range of the attention of our Courts and court officials.
It is only fair, therefore, that in protesting against the imprisonment of men and women whose crime is that they are active members of the working class, Miss Louise Olivereau should be counted with our Class War Prisoners.
One Big Union Monthly was a magazine published in Chicago by the General Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World from 1919 until 1938, with a break from February, 1921 until September, 1926 when Industrial Pioneer was produced. OBU was a large format, magazine publication with heavy use of images, cartoons and photos. OBU carried news, analysis, poetry, and art as well as I.W.W. local and national reports.
Link to PDF of full issue: https://archive.org/download/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1919-10_1_8/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1919-10_1_8.pdf