Many a man was grumbling, ignoring the warning calls;
Their protests hung in the air, in hopes that justice would soon be there.
For no matter the eve of the Nativity,
One of their own was held in captivity
What was Marie Equi doing in jail on Christmas Eve? She felt she had no other choice with a blatant injustice inflicted upon those whose cause she championed. Here’s what went down:
“While many Portlanders spent the day before Christmas in 1913 preparing for the holiday, Equi learned that unemployed men arrested for demanding food and lodging were being relegated to the rock pile. She rushed to the courthouse, where she found the judge mumbling the sentences. When she asked him three times to speak louder, he gave her a five-day fine for contempt of court. She tried to shame him with the news that the old man he had sentenced the day before had died after only a few hours’ busting rocks. For her impertinence, the judge increased her jail time. She refused to post the bail offered by her supporters.
“Equi spent a few hours in jail before the judge offered to release her if she apologized. She declined. The Christmas Eve standoff was resolved only when hundreds of men – “her army,” the newspapers reported – packed the courtroom and hallways with a low, grumbling protest over the holding of the woman who had stood up for them. The judge relented and freed Equi. Although the dailies reported that Equi had apologized first, Helen Lawrence Walters, a Bohemian artist and socialist familiar with the incident, advised in her journal, “Don’t believe it.”
Excerpted from Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions
by Michael Helquist, OSU Press, 2015.
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