“I come from a family whose day-by-day diet included important social issues of the day, and from this I early learned to question things as they are and to seek improvements. Thus, my mother advocated Women’s Suffrage, and my father and mother discussed with their children the campaigns of Debs, the Socialist candidate for President.
My father read aloud to me and to my brother and sisters such books as the Communist Manifesto and other writings of Marx and Engels, which the Government will use as evidence in this trial. I was a serious child, due probably to these childish impressions which are background to my affiliation in my extreme youth with the Socialist movement and in my mature years with the Communist Party.
Times were hard. We were poor. My first experience with discrimination was in Manchester, New Hampshire, when my father ran for city engineer about 1895. I heard it said he was defeated because he was Irish. He was very bitter on this subject and told us of signs on factories when he was a boy, “No Irish need apply.”
Our parents opposed all forms of national, religious or color discrimination, which we will prove is identical with the position of the Communist Party today and form the basis of the position I take today in the Communist Party.
My first knowledge of the meaning of imperialism, which will be an issue in this case, was a vivid recollection of my father’s opposition to the Spanish-American War and his insistence on the right of the Cuban and Philippine peoples to their independence. He joined an anti-imperialist league to protest against our country embarking on the evil path of imperialism, which we will prove began at that time.
The conditions in the textile towns of New Hampshire and Massachusetts contributed to my later joining the Communist Party, which, as Mr. Lane says, concentrates on the recruiting of workers in industry: huge gray mills, like prisons, barrack-like company boarding houses, long hours, low wages, long periods of slack; the prosperous owner lived in the center of Adams, Massachusetts, and rode around in his fine carriage with its beautiful horses. I saw lard instead of butter on neighbors’ tables, children without underwear in cold New England winters, a girl scalped by an unguarded machine in a mill across the street from our school. I saw an old man weeping as they put him in the lockup as a tramp.
Then we came to live in the drab South Bronx, near the New Haven Railroad’s roundhouse, in a cold water, unheated, gas lit flat. Casualties and accidents were high among the railroad workers. Children were maimed as they gathered coal in the yards in bad times. My mother helped women in the neighborhood who could not afford a doctor when a baby came.
Yes, I was greatly troubled by all this. Why did good hard-working people suffer so? Why were men who were willing, able, and anxious to work, denied jobs? Why was there so much unemployment? Why were there rich people who apparently did little but enjoyed life? I hated poverty. I saw my mother humiliated when unpaid grocery bills could not be met and the landlord stood at the door demanding his rent.”
An excerpt from her speech to the jury at her trial for sedition during the McCarthy era. It is considered one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century.
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn dedicated her life to the struggles of the working class through its highest and lowest points. She breathed class struggle and spoke of revolution for nearly 60 years, a firebrand of the American labor movement in the first half of the 20th century.
Born to poor Irish immigrants in 1890 in New Hampshire, she could claim proudly, that “There had been an uprising in each generation in Ireland [against British rule], and forefathers of mine were reputed to be in every one of them.”
A lifelong advocate for birth control access and a fighter for women’s rights, she wrote in her autobiography Rebel Girl:;
“Fathers and husbands collected women’s wages, sometimes right at the company door. Women did not have a legal right to their own earnings…Equal opportunity, equal pay and the right to be organized were the crying needs of women wage-earners then and unfortunately still now.”
Flynn began to speak across the country on behalf of the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, often referred to as the “Wobblies”). She joined the IWW’s Mixed Local No. 179 in 1906, a year after the IWW’s founding.
During her long train trips to labor struggles and speaking engagements, she said she “fell in love with [this] country, its rivers, prairies, forests, mountains…”I felt then, as I do now, it’s a rich and fertile land, capable of satisfying all the needs of its people. It could be a paradise on earth if it belonged to the people, not to a small owning class.”
She worked organizing agricultural workers in the West and lumber workers in the Pacific Northwest, and at countless freedom of speech fights all over the country. She was part of the 1913 silk strike in Paterson, N.J.; massive textile strikes in Lowell and New Bedford, Mass., and the great “Bread and Roses” strike of 1912 in Lawrence, Mass.
Flynn was arrested for one trumped-up charge or another at just about all of these occasions.
With the entry of the U.S. into the First World War, a wave of government-backed mob violence spread across the country. Pacifists, certain Christian sects, German immigrants, socialists and especially Wobblies were attacked, brutalized, tarred and feathered, and sometimes lynched. Many were rounded up in the Palmer Raids, named after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, and deported under the auspices of the Espionage and Sedition Acts.
Flynn took it upon herself to work for the freedom of these “political prisoners” and became a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and sat on its board. Flynn helped win the r) elease of those who participated in the Green Corn Rebellion, (The Green Corn Revolution | toritto (wordpress.com) a revolt of poor Oklahoma farmers against the draft, fought for the freedom of many imprisoned Wobblies and antiwar activists, and was heavily involved in the campaign to save Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti from execution.
With the demise of the Wobblies, she joined the Communist Party and was arrested for sedition during the McCarthy years. At her trial she represented herself and gave one of the great speeches of the 20th n to the jury.
She was convicted for what she believed rather than what se did and served two years in prison.
She died in 1964 while touring the Soviet Union and was given a state funeral before her ashes were flown back to the USA and buried in Chicago.