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Louise Ellis Merrill

fighter for social justice

By Liza Green

A long-time fighter for social justice, Louise Ellis Merrill, died on Dec. 15 in Oakland, Calif., after complications from cardiac surgery.

She lived her life consistently and tenaciously as a socialist feminist for almost half a century.

Louise had been part of a group of socialist internationalists in Buffalo, N.Y., who went on to found Workers World Party in 1959. A low-paid restaurant worker, she was close to Sam Marcy and Dorothy Ballan and shared their commitment to build a revolutionary working-class party. She was particularly interested in the political development of women workers and found ways to bring her politics to her co-workers and friends, even in the McCarthyite atmosphere of the 1950s.

Louise later helped organize to free Mae Mallory, a Black woman framed for advocating self-defense against Klan terror in North Carolina.

After moving to California in the late 1960s, she introduced friends and activists to WWP, helping to lay the groundwork for the development of a party branch in that state in 1980.

In the mid-1970s, she edited and published "The Feminist," a newspaper devoted to educating and giving voice to women. She also organized militant support for Berkeley's feminist and anti-racist workers who were fighting to enforce the city's dormant affirmative-action program.

Louise helped lead the Inez Garcia Defense Committee in the mid-1970s. Inez Garcia, a woman of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent, courageously--and eventually successfully--fought murder charges after she shot and killed one of two men who raped her. The man she killed was from a powerful and influential family that owned the migrant labor camp and the house in which she lived.

Louise, a lesbian activist, was arrested with 31 other lesbians and straight women and six gay men in 1975 for occupying San Francisco's State Building in support of Garcia and other political prisoners.

Shane Hoff, drawn into the vortex of this struggle, recalled, "We were angry young women moved into activism by our rage against women's oppression, but it was Louise who helped us see its class basis."

Louise defended women's reproductive rights and lesbian and gay rights. She organized against the U.S.-backed apartheid government in South Africa.

Louise was also a long-time anti-Pentagon-war activist. She was an early organizer of GIs into the American Servicemen's Union during the Vietnam War.

More recently she continued to be a friend and supporter of WWP and the International ANSWER coalition--Act Now to Stop War & End Racism--both organizations that fight against U.S. imperialist wars all over the globe.

Louise was a fighter to the end. Just days after she had suffered a stroke, she went to one of the major demonstrations against a U.S. war in Iraq.

Louise died in her hospital room surrounded by her daughter, Jody Rivera, and other women who dearly loved her--many of them lesbians, young and old, African American, Latina and white. They brought her messages of love from friends and comrades across the country.

Louise's life of persistent and principled struggle reminds us all to follow labor leader Joe Hill's courageous call as he faced the bosses' gallows: "Don't mourn, organize!"

Reprinted from the Dec. 26, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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