Interview with Will Parry, Part I
Reprinted from Real Change
Editor’s note: In 2010, former Retiree Advocate editor and tireless working class activist Will Parry (1920-2013) gave a 90th birthday interview to Real Change reporter Cydney Gillis. We will reprint that interview in several parts in this and following issues of the Retiree Advocate.
“By the time he was in college,” Gillis writes, “Parry firmly believed in the ideal of communism and, with it, that working people, not bankers, know what’s best for the common welfare.
“In his many years as a journalist, labor activist, lobbyist, labor history teacher and advocate for the retired, it’s an ideal Parry has never stopped working toward and did not renounce back in 1947, when the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act demanded that he and other workers sign an anti-communist oath. Nor did his beliefs waver when, a year later, he was summoned to what is now the Seattle Center House to testify before the state version of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He gave the panel a big, fat Fifth Amendment.”
What was it like living through the Great Depression?
The Depression radicalized my father, who had his own small advertising agency and he, in turn, radicalized me. For example, he took me to hear speakers like William Z. Foster and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, both early-day communist leaders and also activists in the labor movement. Foster organized the first steel strike and Gurly Flynn was involved in the strike of the garment workers that led to the establishment of International Women’s Day. He also took me to hear Woody Guthrie sing and play in the Workers Alliance Hall down in the Skid Road.
What was that worldview?
I became communist. I had gone to [what was then] Washington State College and spent three years over there [in Pullman] and in my final year I hitchhiked over to Seattle and joined the Young Communist League. I had subscribed to the Daily People’s World, which later became the People’s World, a weekly. I was persuaded by its political line that [communists] were on the right track, so I thought I better get into the action.
Why? What was it that drew you to the Communist Party?
It was a period of rapid [labor] organization and major strikes. There was a seething foment among working people at that time in response to the impact of the Depression and unemployment. In Seattle, the Unemployed Citizens League set up a virtual city on the Duwamish tide flats—it was a Hooverville. They had a mayor and an informal city government and a sanitation department and a security detail, the whole thing. And no money—there was lots of barter. It was a vast sea of shanties and shacks made out of materials of all kinds. My dad wrote an article on it called the “The Republic of the Penniless” [that appeared] in the Atlantic Monthly. He got a generous check that tided us over through much of the Depression. Nobody was making any money, including him.
Watch for Part II of this interview in coming issues of the Retiree Advocate.