Emma Goldman is one of the big name names of American anarchists, as well as one of the earlier to contribute to free speech, birth control, and the labor movements. She was an amazing public speaker, something that is lost in this day of television and radio, and her writing still ranks amongst the classics of Anarchist thought for a free and just society. From her involvement in the shooting of Frick (though Alexander Berkman was a lousy shot) to free speech fights to labor struggles in Massachusetts to getting deported by Edgar Hoover, all the way to being amongst the first radicals to denounce the government of the Bolsheviks (which ostracized her amongst the left), and finally working to raise funds for the Spanish Revolutionary cause. She was jailed for fighting against the draft, advocating for birth control, and for "inciting a riot." In a lot of ways, the stuff she said then was visionary for the time period. She remains one of the most amazing people in history, and someone who gave her all so others could be free and live in a just world.
"Dangerous Woman: A Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman" can be best described as a graphic novel version of "Living My Life", and it's a real treat. The artist, Sharon Rudahl, does a great job capturing Goldman's turbulent and unique life, growing from a fiery Jewish peasant girl fleeing Russia to an active Anarchist speaker and organizer hated by the government, to the patron-saint of the American Anarchist movement, though small by the time of her death. She spares no detail, especially the parts about Emma's sex life and her many partners over the years. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when she has been sent by her mentor, Johann Most, on a speaking tour "Against the 8 Hour Day" (it was too little and was too reformist and not revolutionary enough.) She encounters an older man in the Chicago stop of the tour who tells her that while he understands why young people would be impatient with small demands, but "I won't live to see the revolution. Will I never have a little time for reading or to walk openly in the park?" After this encounter, Emma vowed never to let doctrine or ideology get in the way of a good fight that brought real change to real people's lives. That's a lesson that a lot of radicals then and now could learn and take to heart.
Today, the closest we in the United States have to an Emma Goldman is academics in ivory towers, as loud mouth voices in the sea of state and corporate rule. The speaking tours of yesterday is the youtube, internet, music albums and television of today, which is much more controlled than speaking in public used to be, though less prone to violent disruption by people who disagree with the author. It's hard to imagine a story like hers again where someone from such a humble beginning devotes her entire life, to the point where she refused to correct health problems like infertility, to the cause of fighting the existing order, and becoming such an international figure as she did. Maybe a new Emma Goldman of the internet or TV or music like hiphop will arise to become an inspiration to people's movements everywhere, like Subcommader Marcos in Chiapas has, or elsewhere. It's hard to say. Either way, check out Emma's life in graphic novel comic form, because she's a real life superhero in a way that Superman never could be.