It is has been two years since we launched the Dissent NewsWire to expose repression, report resistance, and empower dissent. While each day sadly further proves the necessity of this publication, 2016 saw a number of particularly noteworthy articles published by the Dissent NewsWire.
Our biggest highlight came when we brought to the world’s attention the story of Steve Woolfolk, the library worker, who was brutally arrested while trying to defend the free speech rights of a patron, Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, who was himself arrested after asking a question at a public forum. This story came to our attention after two separate individuals contacted our office and our staff about it. We decided to investigate the matter and after interviewing several of the participants involved, we decided it was the perfect story for the Dissent NewsWire to cover.
While we felt like Woolfolk’s actions were heroic, we could not have anticipated the response. It is by far our most read, shared, and circulated story ever. The public interest in it crashed our website. Twice! We also started getting another series of inquiries we hadn’t expected, people wanted to know why they hadn’t heard about it elsewhere. We can’t explain the actions of other outlets, but we know that thanks to our breaking the story a number of other media outlets, including international ones, finally picked up the story. This isn’t the first time the corporate media has followed the lead of the Dissent NewsWire and we doubt it will be the last. Nonetheless, we were glad that we were able to bring Woolfolk’s story to the world and help it get the attention it deserved.
Another interesting story we published this year was a response to Sen. John McCain’s moving obituary to Delmer Berg. Berg was the last known surviving member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of American volunteers who travelled to Spain to fight the fascist onslaught against the democratic government. McCain’s obituary was quite interesting, because McCain fully acknowledged Berg’s dissident views, that he was a Communist, while simultaneously acknowledging that he nonetheless found him to be heroic. McCain’s tribute was notable not just because several decades ago such an acknowledgement would have been unthinkable for a major American politician to make, but because the Abraham Lincoln brigade was actively hounded by the FBI and HUAC (the House Un-Americans Activity Committee). We published an article highlighting these facts.
This article led to the Dissent NewsWire to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI. While we are still waiting for all the findings, we made a breathtaking discovery when we received the FBI files on “Robert Wells.” When we got them, we had no idea who Robert Wells was. It turned out neither did the FBI. Robert Wells was the attributed author of an article about farmworkers in a Communist Party journal. Having never heard of this person before, the FBI opened an investigation into him in order to determine if he should be added to a list of individuals to be detained in the event of a national emergency. It turns out Wells did not exist, and was a nom de plume used for an article written by Berg and another Communist Party member. Although it was several decades old, this was another shocking FBI abuse of power brought to light by the Dissent NewsWire.
This was not the only instance of reporting on the Dissent NewsWire that was supplemented by information we discovered via FOIA. We also were relentless in filing public information act requests relating to police plans for convention protesters, including in response to an underreported admission by the Philadelphia Police that they were monitoring protesters.
The past year was an important one for the Dissent NewsWire. As the threats to civil liberties increase, along with the resistance from below to them, we expect the Dissent NewsWire to remain as essential, as ever, in 2017
Our Top Picks of 2016