On this day 100 years ago – June 3, 1916 – Portland, Oregon staged its largest ever parade with 15,000 to 20,000 people organized into one long enthusiastic column that marched through the city’s downtown streets. They massed together in support of War Preparedness in a time when the hostilities in Europe threatened to draw the US into what would become World War I. It was a time of unity with the thrill of shared purpose and resolve. But not for one Portlander.
Dr. Marie Equi, a physician and radical activist, was known by many to be a “lesbian” although the term was not in common use. She believed preparedness was a ploy to rack up profits for capitalists and oligarchs, ready to reap rewards from the US entering the war. Other Portlanders objected to the national fervor for war readiness, but none took their protests into the streets.
In the early evening Equi steered her automobile into the parade route. She had mounted an American flag at the front of the vehicle but strapped on its sides were banners that warned, “Prepare to Die, Workingman – JP Morgan & Co. Want Preparedness for Profit – Thou Shall Not Kill.” She rolled into the march behind the local bar association, a group known for its preparedness fervor. The mix was combustible.
Quick and fierce, the marchers attacked. The attorneys struck first, yanking the banner from Equi and striking her with it. “I was scratched and bruised, and my hand bled,” she said. “They tore the banner to shreds and stomped on it.” At one point, a mob of fifty angry men surrounded and taunted her, yelling, “That’s what we do to your banner, now here’s ours.” The men thrust the American flag into her hands, daring her to rip it. Equi countered, “Your flag is no protection to me.” She put up a fight until the police intervened and arrested her and two of the men. They were later released.
Not for several more months did the US become a war combatant. Americans first re-elected President Woodrow Wilson in November 1916. Many, including Marie Equi, believed Wilson’s promise to keep the nation out of the war. He kept it until April 1917.
“Preparedness Is Cry of Thousands,” Morning Oregonian, June 3, 1916, 1.
Article based on excerpt from Marie Equi, Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions by Michael Helquist, published by Oregon State University Press, 2015.
“Prepare to Die, Workingman”: Activist Lesbian Marie Equi Disrupts Monster War Preparedness Parade in Portland, Oregon
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