Lucy Parsons: The Anarchist, Intersectional Feminist Labor Activist Who Inspired May Day, The Civil Rights Movement, and Occupy

"Workers shouldn't strike and go out and starve, but strike and remain in, and take possession"

     — Lucy Parsons.

Lucy Parsons was of Mexican American, African American, and Native American descent. Born into slavery, a feminist, anarchist, and a leading labor activist, she was an intersectional thinker a century before the term was coined.

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Transcript:

Laura Flanders: "Workers shouldn't strike and go out and starve, but strike and remain in, and take possession, said Lucy Parsons.

Parsons was of Mexican American, African American, and Native American descent. Born into slavery, a feminist, anarchist, and a leading labor activist, she was an intersectional thinker a century before the term was coined.

Parson's work after emancipation led her directly into conflict with the Ku Klux Klan and into a lifelong partnership with radical typographer and organizer Albert Parsons. She never ceased advocating for racial, gender, and labor justice, all at once -- and she's part of the movement that won us the 8-hour day.

Parson's husband, Albert, was one of the orators in Chicago who attracted thousands to a rally near Haymarket Square in 1886 on behalf of worker rights. After police charged the crowd, and a stick of dynamite was thrown, he was one of those arrested and later hanged.

Lucy, it was, who led the campaign to exonerate the so-called "Haymarket Martyrs", and then she carried on their work. Leading poor women into rich neighborhoods to confront the rich on their doorsteps, challenging politicians at public meetings and marching on picket lines.

She was the only woman of color, and one of only two women delegates - the other being Mother Jones - among the 200 men at the founding convention of the IWW, the militant Industrial Workers of the World.

There, she was the only woman to give a speech. She called women the "slaves of slaves" and urged the IWW to fight for equality and charge underpaid women a lower rate for union fees. She also called for the use of nonviolence and "occupation" of the means of production. You can see her principles in the sit-down strikes of the 1930s in Detroit, the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s, and the Occupy movement of today.

Parsons died in 1942 in a house fire at the age of 89, but in the celebration of May Day her work endures. Long may her intersectional spirit live."


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