Lumpkin votes

Bea Lumpkin votes by mail in Kenwood, Oct. 1

Longtime labor activist, socialist and retired teacher Bea Lumpkin cast her vote by mail for former Vice President Joe Biden (D), calling it an action against fascism in the United States and the election by far the most serious of her 102 years.

"I think democracy is on the line, and if we ever want to have another election, we sure have to deliver a big vote behind Joe Biden, who stands for a continuation of our democratic rights," she said the day after dropping her ballot off at a Postal Service box.

Lumpkin was born amid the 1918 flu pandemic to General Jewish Labour Bund members who fled Tsarist Russia. She grew up in New York, where she joined the Young Communist League and took part in student strikes against the raising of university fees, fascism and militarism, hunger strikes for unemployment relief and the protests against the framing of the Scottsboro Nine.

She worked in the defense industry during World War II and moved to Chicago in 1949 with her husband, Frank, where she led protests against housing discrimination, for clean drinking water and for fair industrial labor practices. She started working for Chicago Public Schools in 1965 and has been active with the Chicago Teachers Union for decades. She was an associate of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton, Mayor Harold Washington and Barack Obama during his Hyde Park years.

Lumpkin readily admitted that Biden is no socialist. "That is not the issue," she said. "The issue is basic law, and I suspect that 80% of the population does not want to see fascism in the USA."

A vote for the Biden, she said, is a vote to save labor, women's and First Amendment rights. "It's something so serious — whatever it takes, I'm going to make sure that my ballot is counted."

Contemporary popular discourse is fraught with a number of apocalyptic references, befitting a year marked by the worst pandemic in a century, the worst recession in seven decades and the worst civil unrest since 1968. Proletarians dusting off little red songbooks can find within them heady references to ends and beginnings inspired by Karl Marx's visions of working class revolutions.

As the penultimate line of the union song "Solidarity Forever" goes, "We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old!"

"I don't want to find out. I don't want us in ashes, because out of ashes, sometimes nothing comes out. You know, it's dead," Lumpkin cautioned. 

At any rate, Lumpkin said fascism is a sign of capitalism in crisis, not capitalism in strength, and she said she believes "that even a majority of capitalists don't want fascism, just because everything's in crisis."

Fascism "comes about in the most militaristic, parasitic sectors of finance, capital — people who make their money gambling on Wall Street, who've never done construction work a day in their lives, who want the power to dominate the whole world, to skim it off the top, and are willing to use whatever violence and terror to achieve their ends," she said. "I'm optimistic that that will never happen here, although it's a terrible danger that we're in. If I thought it were impossible, I wouldn't be so upset."

What leaves her with hope is the long, hard work on so many people's parts to bring out the vote this year. "Did you ever see long, long lines outside of the first day of early voting?" she asked. "I think that's a very hopeful sign."

And on a final note before the end of the interview, Lumpkin — who was never herself denied the right to vote because of her gender but is one of the last living Americans born before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920 — brought up that women have so much at stake 100 years later.

"Everybody needs to come out and vote, but I would make a special appeal to women," she said. "When I was born, women didn't have the right to vote. Now, not only our right to vote is threatened, but so is every other right important to us. Let's come out and vote in proportion to our numbers, and I feel that women will respond."

(1) comment


And also the mother of the eminent John Lumpkin, MD, physician extraordinaire and first African-American director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. A family of great talent and activism.

(Edited by staff.)

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