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