Ward Room
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How Chicago Got Its Radical Roots

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How Chicago Got Its Radical Roots

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Chicago has as long and deep a history of left-wing radicalism as any city in the United States. You can trace it all the way back to 1871, when Mary Harris Jones lost everything she owned in the Great Chicago Fire. Suddenly destitute, she joined the Knights of Labor, beginning a legendary organizing career that would earn her the nickname “Mother” Jones.

A decade-and-a-half later, a strike for an eight-hour day led to a riot resulting in the deaths of seven police officers and four civilians, after someone threw a bomb in Haymarket Square. Four anarchists were hanged as a result.
 
The 1919 steel strike, which was crushed when steel companies plotted native-born workers against immigrants, was planned here in Chicago.
 
And, of course, the most famous demonstration of the anti-war movement took place in Grant Park, during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. This was followed, the next year, by the Days of Rage, when members of the Weather Underground rampaged through the Gold Coast, smashing windows.
 
The Haymarket Martyrs, as the four hanged anarchists came to be known, inspired a monument in Forest Park’s Waldheim/Forest Home Cemetery, which is the resting home of so many political dissidents it will be the site of a “Radical History Walking Tour” on June 2, from noon to 2 p.m.
 
Besides the Martyrs, the tour will visit the graves of: 
  • Lucy Parsons, a black seamstress who joined the International Workers of the World and the Communist Party after her white husband, Albert, was hanged for the Haymarket affair. 
  • Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a chairwoman of the Communist Party USA, who died in the Soviet Union, where she was given a state funeral. 
  • William L. Patterson, head of International Labor Defense, which represented radicals and African-Americans it believed faced persecution. 
  • William Z. Foster, who attempted organize Chicago’s packinghouse workers during World War I, and plotted the failed steel strike of 1919, which began in South Chicago and Gary, and spread to Pennsylvania’s Monongahela Valley.
 
The tour is a fundraiser for the Socialism 2013 Conference, which takes place that weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel & Conference Center - O’Hare. The suggested donation is $10 to $20, but the organizers are socialists, so if you don’t have the money, you can still take the tour.
 

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