102-year-old Bea Lumpkin calls her mail-in ballot a ‘vote against fascism’
102-year-old Bea Lumpkin, in full PPE, casts her mail-in ballot for the 2020 election at a mailbox outside her home in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago on Oct. 1. | Chicago Teachers Union

CHICAGO—Longtime labor activist, socialist, and retired teacher Bea Lumpkin cast her vote by mail for former Vice President Joe Biden, calling it an action against fascism in the United States and said this election is by far the most serious of her 102 years.

“I think democracy is on the line, and if we ever want to have another election, we sure have to deliver a big vote behind Joe Biden, who stands for a continuation of our democratic rights,” she said the day after dropping her ballot off at a Postal Service box.

Lumpkin was born amid the 1918 flu pandemic to General Jewish Labor Bund members who fled Tsarist Russia. She grew up in New York, where she joined the Young Communist League and took part in student strikes against the raising of university fees, fascism and militarism, hunger strikes for unemployment relief, and the protests against the framing of the Scottsboro Nine.

Bea Lumpkin has been a lifelong reader and contributor to People’s World and its predecessor publications. Her exploits first appeared in the pages of this publication in June 1935, when Hunter College student Beatrice Shapiro was fired from her job after protesting against the visiting ambassador of Nazi Germany. | Daily Worker / People’s World Archives

She worked in the defense industry during World War II and moved to Chicago in 1949 with her husband, Frank, where she led protests against housing discrimination, for clean drinking water, and for fair industrial labor practices. She started working for Chicago Public Schools in 1965 and has been active with the Chicago Teachers Union for decades. She was an associate of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton, Mayor Harold Washington, and Barack Obama during his Hyde Park years.

Lumpkin readily admitted that Biden is no socialist. “That is not the issue,” she said. “The issue is basic law, and I suspect that 80% of the population does not want to see fascism in the USA.”

A vote for the Biden, she said, is a vote to save labor, women’s, and First Amendment rights. “It’s something so serious—whatever it takes, I’m going to make sure that my ballot is counted.”

> Recent articles by or about Bea Lumpkin in People’s World:

Labor Day celebration of struggle: Bea Lumpkin’s 100th Birthday!

99-year-old activist to Southwest Airlines: Stop age discrimination

WOMENS HISTORY MONTH: I helped organize the CIO

and more.

Contemporary popular discourse is fraught with a number of apocalyptic references, befitting a year marked by the worst pandemic in a century, the worst recession in seven decades, and the worst civil unrest since 1968. Proletarians dusting off little red songbooks can find within them heady references to ends and beginnings inspired by Karl Marx’s visions of working-class revolutions.

As the penultimate line of the union song “Solidarity Forever” goes, “We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old!”

Lumpkin cautioned, though, “I don’t want to find out. I don’t want us in ashes, because out of ashes, sometimes nothing comes out. You know, it’s dead.”

At any rate, Lumpkin said fascism is a sign of capitalism in crisis, not capitalism in strength, and she said she believes “that even a majority of capitalists don’t want fascism, just because everything’s in crisis.”

Fascism “comes about in the most militaristic, parasitic sectors of finance capital—people who make their money gambling on Wall Street, who’ve never done constructive work a day in their lives, who want the power to dominate the whole world, to skim it off the top, and are willing to use whatever violence and terror to achieve their ends,” she said. “I’m optimistic that that will never happen here, although it’s a terrible danger that we’re in. If I thought it were impossible, I wouldn’t be so upset.”

> Books by Bea Lumpkin are available from International Publishers.

What leaves her with hope is the long, hard work on so many people’s parts to bring out the vote this year. “Did you ever see long, long lines outside of the first day of early voting?” she asked. “I think that’s a very hopeful sign.”

Bea Lumpkin at her 100th birthday celebration at the Chicago Teachers Union Center in 2018. | Photo courtesy of Gokhan Cukurova

And on a final note before the end of the interview, Lumpkin—who was never herself denied the right to vote because of her gender but is one of the last living Americans born before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920—brought up that women have so much at stake 100 years later.

“Everybody needs to come out and vote, but I would make a special appeal to women,” she said. “When I was born, women didn’t have the right to vote. Now, not only our right to vote is threatened, but so is every other right important to us. Let’s come out and vote in proportion to our numbers, and I feel that women will respond.”

This article originally appeared in the Hyde Park Herald. It is reprinted here with permission.

ELECTION 2020: Everything you need to know to vote in your state

Like free stuff? So do we. Here at People’s World, we believe strongly in the mission of keeping the labor and democratic movements informed so they are prepared for the struggle. But we need your help. While our content is free for readers (something we are proud of) it takes money — a lot of it — to produce and cover the stories you see in our pages. Only you, our readers and supporters, can keep us going. Only you can make sure we keep the news that matters free of paywalls and advertisements. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, support our work by becoming a $5 monthly sustainer today.


Aaron Gettinger
Aaron Gettinger

Aaron Gettinger, a third-generation newspaperman, studied sociology at Stanford University and the University of Chicago. He is a staff reporter for Chicago's Hyde Park Herald.