Equi had few opportunities at the ballot box. She lived in Oregon where woman suffrage was defeated five times before final passage in 1912. She was unable to vote in the momentous 1912 presidential election that ushered in Woodrow Wilson. But she registered as a Progressive and probably first voted in a 1913 municipal election.
Mostly Equi voted on her feet and in the streets with rallies, protests, pickets, and soapbox talks. Just over a hundred years ago, in 1913-1914, the nation slid into a recession. Business activity plummeted 26 percent. Laid-off workers slept in doorways, huddled in breadlines, and begged food for their children. In Oregon and Washington the timber industry closed 40 percent of its mills and laid off a third of its labor force. In the autumn of 1913, several thousand jobless men migrated to Portland, hoping to fend off the cold and wet of the rainy season. Portland leaders feared the city might become a magnet from the jobless throughout the West so they reserved jobs for local married men.
Equi Demanded Shelter for Homeless Men
Marie Equi urged unemployed men and women to demand the jobs, food, lodging, and services they needed. When the jobless paraded through Portland’s streets, Equi noted, “The sight of thousands of hungry, desperate men is not an inspiring one to the police.” As cold weather approached, she urged the city to open a public hall as free lodging for the homeless. After much delay, the Portland did just that, providing shelter for 900 men.
During a trip to Boston that winter, Equi was featured in the Boston Globe for her work with the jobless. The headline read: “Predicts Revolution Unless Aid Is Given to 5,000,000 Unemployed.” When a reporter remarked that she was noted for her work across the nation, Equi replied, “Noted in the country, perhaps, but notorious in Oregon.”
Equi mixed her direct action with strategies for immediate results. In December 1914, she organized a committee of women to rent a forty-seven unit rooming house in the North End of Portland to provide lodging for jobless men. Even after Marie Equi became radicalized by a police beating, she sometimes returned to the ballot box, often voting for the lesser of two evils. She continued until the federal government threw her into San Quentin prison in 1920.