Once upon a time, there was a huge financial crash. Banks panicked and threatened the world economy. Desperate to save capitalism and the monetary system, the U.S. government opted not to punish the bankers. Instead they partnered with them to enact new, disastrous economic policies that raised interest rates. Anxiety rose with inflation. The uncontainable crisis spread. It threatened the financial health of anyone who held debts. The economic prospects of average Americans tanked, pulled down by the arrogance of the bankers who’d conspired with the titans of the new tech boom. Until it all went bust.
Eventually, the engines of industry roared back. Business moguls regained the reins. The few Americans who still possessed fabulous, scandalous, outrageous wealth became famous for their good fortune. They were born at the perfect moment to enjoy a rising tide of newfound international wealth and power, generated by the tech-based economic revolution.
But for the People, it must’ve seemed like every industry was in revolution. The old ways, the old days, the old bosses, the old country — they were all being replaced or disrupted. Despite the return of prosperity to the stock market, any benefits seemed to defy economic gravity. They only trickled up to the wealthy. Much like the strike plate of an overused anvil, the vast majority of working people felt beat down. Used as a crucible for someone else’s wealth creation, they struggled to survive. Many Americans still brought home paychecks as life-sustaining as thin soup. People had no expectation of having a better life than their parents had. They just hoped it wouldn’t be much worse.
As the top one percent conspired to grab tighter control over the business and politics spheres of the day, profits were prioritized over people. Legislation was passed by store-bought politicians. Gross inequality made the country’s other problems fester like a neglected wound. To complicate matters, tensions were heightened on the ground level by a growing backlash against the waves of immigrants arriving on the nation’s shores. Xenophobia and bigotry were on the rise. This happens when people feel financially insecure. It’s one of the surest indicators that hearts will turn cold, prejudiced. It reliably divides people.
Onto this anxious scene burst a young, wildly charismatic woman of color, equally intelligent and beautiful. She proclaimed economic inequality morally wrong. An avowed socialist, she crisscrossed the country making her case for a better, more equitable United States. Of course the rich and powerful despised this moralistic young woman who seemingly came out of nowhere, gifted with a devastating magnetism that she wielded like a weapon in her fight to advocate for a better country. They tried to dismiss her. That failed. They tried to make her look foolish in the press. That, too, failed. She would not be denied. She had a moral fire that burned within, radiating from the inside out. This radical brilliance paired well with her flair for publicity.
The year was 1886. The woman was Lucy Parsons.
When Lucy Parsons openly advocated for socialism in the United States, newspapers across the country hyped her in bold type as “the most notorious woman in America.” She was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 130 years ago. In her fearlessness, in her commitment to solidarity with disadvantaged people, we can still discover old truths and vital lessons, some power moves for how to overcome.
Listen carefully, you can almost hear Lucy Parsons as she whispers across time, “We’ve been here before.”