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The Months of Labor—July | “More dangerous than a thousand rioters”

Reader, I am Lucy Gonzalez Parsons. I was born to an enslaved woman in Virginia, in 1851, although I fashioned another origin story when freed. I claimed I was the daughter of Mexican and Native American parents. It has been said of me that personal history, or ethnic identity meant nothing when I presented myself as the champion of the laboring classes. That was all I believed people needed to know about me.

A activist partnership in pursuit of justice

I awoke when I met and married newspaper editor Albert Parsons in Texas,in 1871 . We moved from Texas to Chicago due to Texas’ intolerance of interracial marriage, and because Chicago was ground zero for organizing workers. Once in Chicago, we worked on Albert’s newspaper, The Alarm, and entered the labor movement cadre. Albert and I also founded the International Working People’s Association in 1883 as we pursued justice for workers and the poor. I am wholly dedicated to working class liberation. We became very effective as anarchist organizers on behalf of the working class movement of our times.

A city racked with turmoil and strife

At that stage of my life, I saw the rise of industrial capitalism with its powerfully privileged elites who dominated government agencies and discouraged workers, sometimes violently, from organizing. Political speech and action were criminalized.  My husband Albert was arrested, tried and executed along with 3 others  in November 1887 on trumped-up charges that he was involved in the Haymarket Tragedy of 1886. Over 300,000 people had attended the Haymarket Square rally in support of people who had been attacked by the police while promoting the eight-hour day and supporting McCormick Reaper workers on strike.

Riling up the crowds, dodging police

A few years later, I participated in founding the Industrial Workers of the World along with Eugene Debs, Mary Harris Jones, Bill Haywood and Thomas Hagerty.  I thrilled at speaking before large crowds. My words and beliefs were considered very radical in those times. Yet workers cheered my speeches. I knew that undercover detectives were in those audiences, but I would continue condemning employers, the capitalist machine and corrupt two-party system. I was happiest riling-up crowds and dodging the police. In the 1920s, I was described by the Chicago Police Department as more dangerous than a thousand rioters!

By the ‘20s, I was a household name in America, though little is known about me today. I spent my life primarily involved in labor organizing and revolutionary activism for political prisoners, people of color, the homeless and women.

Writer, editor, organizer, intellect, speechmaker: woman

Jacqueline Jones said of me in a NY Times review of her book, Goddess of Anarchy, that I was famous and infamous. And that I was prescient about what people are facing today: the growing gap between rich and poor, the effect of technological innovation in the workplace, the inability of Democrats and Republicans to address gross injustice. I continued to organize, publish, speak publicly in Chicago’s Bughouse Square, and  distribute anarchist literature into my 80s. I can also tell you that you would find the contradictions and ironies in my life quite fascinating—but you will have to pursue those on your own.

Our labor months channeler found Lucy in a NY Times interview of Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical by Jacqueline Jones, and other internet sources.

 

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