Edie Fishman, Communist fighter for equality, peace, social justice

BY:Special to cpusa.org| February 27, 2024
Edie Fishman, Communist fighter for equality, peace, social justice


Edyth (“Edie”) Bartman Fishman was born on July 22, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of immigrants from Odessa in Czarist Russia. Growing up in the years of the Great Depression shaped her worldview. Thousands were hungry and without work. While in high school, both parents fell ill, but had no health care. Edie and her sister Lillian took turns going to high school every other day so they could care for their parents.

At age 14, Edie attended a large May Day rally of thousands for workers’ rights outside Philadelphia City Hall. It had been organized by the Communist Party. Police on horses used billy clubs to attack the peaceful protest. Edie was enraged and decided that she must be part of this movement. She joined the Young Communist League, and later, the Communist Party, where she became a leader and remained active throughout her life. “I love the struggle,” she said.

Edie was involved in countless struggles for workers’ rights, economic and racial equality, and for peace. She marched to Washington, D.C. for Social Security and Unemployment Compensation with her schoolmates. She participated in defying the sheriffs and putting furniture back into the homes of evicted families.

Edie and George Fishman met in the YCL and married in 1941. They were married for 67 years until George’s death in 2009, staunch partners in the struggle for a better world.

During World War II and the fight against fascism, George interrupted his WPA teaching job and served in the Navy, while Edie worked in the New York Shipyard in Camden, New Jersey. A “Rosie the Riveter,” she wrote up her story which is part of the collection at the Rosie the Riveter National Park in Riverside, California.

One day at the shipyard, the workers found out that Woody Guthrie was coming to sing in solidarity as they went into work. He arrived the night before and slept outside the gates in his broken down car. Edie was assigned to wake him up in time. He was sound asleep, but finally he heard her knocks on the window, jumped up, grabbed his guitar, hopped onto the roof of the car, and began singing at the top of his lungs.

After the war, Edie and George settled in Camden, New Jersey where their daughter Joelle was born in 1946. Edie and all the other women were dismissed from their shipyard jobs when the men came home, without so much as a thank you. Edie worked different clerk, typist, and retail sales jobs. When the repressive McCarthy years set in, she was hounded by the FBI and was continually looking for work.

Edie and George moved to Highland Park, N.J. so Joelle could attend Douglass College at Rutgers. During these years, they were active in their tenants’ organization protecting renters’ rights, and helped found a local organization against racism and other prejudices (CROP). They also helped organize buses to Washington, D.C. for the Mayor’s March on Washington demanding spending priorities that put cities’ needs before military spending.

When Joelle and husband Art Perlo were organizing solidarity for clerical and technical workers at Yale on strike for their first contract, Edie organized a bus from Rutgers to travel to New Haven and walk the picket line.

In 1968, Edie had enrolled in night school to get her high school degree, went on to college, and graduated at age 60. She worked as a high school art teacher until retirement, and was active in her union. Edie and George were beloved in their community and received numerous awards, including from the NAACP and from U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone. As an independent candidate for Freeholder, she received 5,000 votes.

In 1995, Edie and George moved to New Haven to be near Joelle. Living in the Wooster Square neighborhood, they immediately became involved in peace and social justice issues. Edie was a member of NHFT 933-R (The New Haven Federation of Teachers), the Connecticut Alliance for Retired Americans, New Haven Rising, the New Haven People’s Center, and many other peace, environment, and civil rights coalitions. They quickly became known for their wisdom, commitment and courage. They stood side by side with workers at Winchester and Yale, and were welcomed by younger activists. Edie participated in the events of her local Fair Haven neighborhood and served on the State Committee of the Connecticut Communist Party. She also served for many years on the National Committee of the CPUSA.

After 2009, Edie enjoyed classes at Gateway Community College and participated in the Downtown Management Team until her health no longer made that possible. She was an avid walker and had walking partners around Wooster Square Park every day.

Edie’s testimony in the 2020 fight to save and expand Medicare was published by the Alliance for Retired Americans. She said, “Without Medicare, I wouldn’t be able to continue living a decent life or live as long as I can. It would be a disgrace to our country to not ensure that seniors are well taken care of.”

There was no task too large or too small for Edie. She loved going door-to-door. Later, she enthusiastically made phone calls and did mailings to reach people, urging them to engage — most recently, to join together and get out the vote to stop a MAGA fascist takeover of government.

Edie’s long and beautiful life touched many thousands of people. Her fighting spirit and love of life and people leaves a powerful legacy.

On her 100th birthday, a diverse crowd of 100 people celebrated in Wooster Square Park. A certificate of commendation from Unite Here Local 34 presented by Secretary-Treasurer Ken Suzuki said Edie’s “leadership and lifelong dedication to the fight for democracy for all people and to advance the rights and conditions of working people at Yale and across our region is a beacon to us all.”

Edie’s lifelong commitment and contribution to equality, peace, and social justice will be celebrated in Wooster Square Park on Sunday, July 21, the day before her 103rd birthday.

Contributions in tribute to Edie Fishman can be made to the People’s World 100th anniversary fund drive.

Images: Edie Fishman (photo courtesy of Joelle Fishman); A Communist Party-sponsored march outside Philadelphia City Hall, May Day 1935 (People’s World Archives); Edie Bartman Fishman, circa 1941 (photo courtesy Joelle Fishman); George and Edie Fishman (photo courtesy of Joelle Fishman); Edie Fishman, Hartford, Connecticut, 2009 by Art Perlo (People’s World); Edie Fishman and Joelle Fishman in 2011 (photo courtesy of Joelle Fishman)


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