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Everett Massacre's lessons are relevant today

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By Julie Muhlstein
Herald Columnist

The water was calm. Only sounds of traffic disturbed an ordinary afternoon. There was no mayhem. No gunshots rang out.
Writing about the 95th anniversary of the Everett Massacre, that was my experience looking out the window of The Herald newsroom Tuesday. I work near the site of where Everett's City Dock once stood at the end of Hewitt Avenue.
In the early 20th century, it was a lively place of business and travel. On Nov. 5, 1916, it became a notorious place.
That Sunday, the steamer Verona pulled alongside the City Dock. The vessel and another boat from Seattle, the Calista, carried about 300 members of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Already, members of the I.W.W. union -- called Wobblies -- had seen trouble in Everett. For weeks they had come to town to speak out in support of shingle weavers. Those local workers were on strike, pushing to regain a pay level they had in previous years.
Not long before the waterfront showdown, street-preaching Wobblies had been beaten in the Beverly Park area. When the Verona approached the dock that Sunday, tensions between Everett's ruling class and the Wobblies exploded into violence.
Retired Everett Public Library historian Margaret Riddle spent years with David Dilgard, a history specialist at the library, researching the Everett Massacre. Riddle's essay for the library sums up the saga that ended with a grim toll: Shot to death were at least five Wobblies -- the account says as many as 12 may have died, and their bodies secretly pulled from the bay -- and two local deputies, Jefferson Beard and Charles Curtis.
Historians don't know if the first shot was fired from the boat or by Everett men on the dock. For decades, the killings weren't talked about in Everett, Riddle said. It was Norman Clark's 1970 book, "Mill Town: A Social History of Everett," that shed light on the bloodiest chapter in Northwest labor history.
On Tuesday, the waterfront was quiet. Yet the same high-stakes issues that played roles in the Everett Massacre -- free speech in public places and compensation for mill workers -- are making headlines in today's Everett.
Occupy Everett, part of a larger movement to draw attention to Americans' economic struggles, has set up camp at the Snohomish County Courthouse plaza. Herald readers also learned this week that union workers at the Kimberly-Clark Corp. plant approved a labor agreement with Atlas Holdings LLC, a potential buyer of the plant -- a pact that would bring pay cuts and end pensions. If the deal goes through, fewer than half of today's 750 jobs at the plant would remain.
"One similarity between the 1916 climate and today is that the I.W.W. wanted to bring workers into 'One Big Union' and unite," Riddle said. "Today's protesters express wanting to cut across political and class boundaries and unite for a common good.
"We also tend to see the Everett Massacre as a local event when it was, as it is today, part of a world crisis," Riddle said.
Nearly a century separates 1916 Everett from today. Still, Riddle sees "clearly a division of the haves and the have-nots in both cases."
Historic Everett, a preservation group, is planning events to commemorate the Everett Massacre on Wednesday night and on Saturday at Everett's Anchor Pub, near where the shootings occurred.
"It fits in with the ideas of today," said Dave Ramstad, a member of Historic Everett's board of trustees.
Wednesday's event includes an invitation for union members to share their thoughts at an open microphone. On Saturday, author and spiritual teacher Mary Ellen Flora will talk about "healing the past" as part of the program.
"People died on both sides -- men in Everett who had raised their families and invested their lives here, and young men traveling the country trying to establish better protection for workers," Ramstad said.
Peter Jackson, son of the late Sen. Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson, an Everett native, wrote about the Kimberly-Clark workers' pact and the Everett Massacre on Tuesday in his blog on the Crosscut website. He sees ties between the ways cities are handling Occupy protesters and Everett's past. The northwest corner of Hewitt and Wetmore avenues was known as a "free speech" corner. The Wobblies had been there before the shootings.
Jackson has talked with Everett leaders and historians Dilgard and Jack O'Donnell about erecting a statue at that corner -- a bronze soapbox, perhaps -- to explain its history and commemorate the Everett Massacre.
Now, the only monument to what happened is a marker at Mount Pleasant Cemetery on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill, where three of the Wobblies are buried.
"There is nothing in the city of Everett," Jackson said.
"The whole issue of freedom of speech was part of the ignition system that sparked the Everett Massacre. It resonates clearly today," said Valerie Steel, president of Historic Everett's board of trustees.
Ramstad, 70, grew up in Everett. He remembers when no one talked about the Everett Massacre. "People had strong feelings. It was an incendiary type of event," he said. Ramstad credits Riddle and Dilgard for making the story public.
"They broke it open, started talking about it, and made it into real history," he said.
"I think it continues," Riddle said of today's push to speak out about economic struggle. "It's a whole different world for sure. At the same time, we have some of the same issues."
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;
Story tags » EverettLabor disputeSnohomish County history

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