Mariposa Plaza and Free Speech

In 1910–11, the Industrial Workers of the World held an important Free Speech fight on the streets of Fresno. This historical landmark is a part of Mariposa Plaza. Photo by Mike Rhodes
In 1910–11, the Industrial Workers of the World held an important Free Speech fight on the streets of Fresno. This historical landmark is a part of Mariposa Plaza. Photo by Mike Rhodes

The City of Fresno announced the renovation of Mariposa Plaza (Fulton and Mariposa streets) at a recent press conference. Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias pointed out the historical significance of the Plaza.

“This site in downtown Fresno, Mariposa Plaza, was also the first site of conflict around freedom of speech in the city,” said Arias. He was referring to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW aka Wobblies), which was organizing agricultural workers. An organizer would stand on a soapbox and speak about the benefits of joining a union.

In his presentation at a press conference announcing the renovation of Mariposa Plaza, Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias mentioned the importance of preserving the historical landmark honoring the Industrial Workers of the World. Photo by Mike Rhodes
In his presentation at a press conference announcing the renovation of Mariposa Plaza, Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias mentioned the importance of preserving the historical landmark honoring the Industrial Workers of the World. Photo by Mike Rhodes

Police officers would arrest the speaker and take him to jail. Another IWW organizer would then step onto the soapbox, and as he started to talk to the assembled workers he too would be arrested. Eventually, the jail was full of union organizers. Hundreds of IWW members heard about this and headed to Fresno to join the free speech fight.

The City of Fresno realized that it could not prevail and changed the law that prevented residents from speaking publicly about what was on their minds. That is why we currently have a plaque and Free Speech area at Mariposa Plaza.

“There is a little plaque around the corner here that signifies the struggle for people to speak their minds,” said Arias. “I want to assure our progressive folks that that plaque will remain on the new modern outdoor Mariposa Plaza when it is constructed.”

The infrastructure improvements will also enhance the connection to the future high-speed rail station, according to a press release issued before the March 21 press conference.

Author

  • Mike Rhodes

    Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. www.mikerhodes.us is his website. Contact him at mikerhodes@comcast.net.

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