Lucy Parsons was a radical anarchist, feminist and labor organizer. A woman of mixed racial heritage who grew up during the Civil War in Texas and then the tumultuous industrialization of Chicago, Lucy Parsons fought tirelessly her entire life to end all forms of oppression. She is remarkable- not only in her intelligence but in her fearlessness. She spoke publicly about the abuse of labor and capitalism, how women uniquely suffered under these symptoms and how it was only through worker solidarity–across gender, race, class and immigration could solve these problems. Even after the murder of her husband Albert Parsons and subsequent arrests, Lucy Parsons continued to be advocate for the most marginalized in society until her death in 1942.
I am inspired by Lucy Parsons because of her undying passion to justice for all people and her absolute bravery in fighting for these ideals. I read her speeches and essays on days when I am feeling fatigued or jaded; the fire with which she speaks re-invigorates my passion for justice and equality. She clearly understood what oppression looked like- from lynching to unsafe working conditions- and tirelessly continued to rail against all of those things. In other words, Lucy Parsons was an unequivocal, unapologetic badass for human rights and justice.
In addition to bringing to attention and strength to the Chicago socialist and union scene– resulting in long-standing workplace and government reforms, Lucy Parsons embedded herself in many different organizations that were committed to social justice work: unions, syndicalist leagues, suffrage organizations, and anti-lynching groups to name a few. Her work in these groups validated the struggle of the different segments of society as well as contributing her voice and notoriety to the important work that they did, and continue to do. However, Lucy’s contributions are not historically limited. In the words of Gale Ahrens in the Introduction to her speeches, “Oppression was something she knew a lot about. Her long and often traumatic experience of the capitalist injustice system–made her not just another ‘victim’ but an extraordinarily articulate witness to, and vehement crusader against, all injustice. That kind of direct experience gave her a credibility, and an actuality, that those who lack experience just don’t have. And that credibility and actuality continue to resound in her writings” (24).