Seattle, the home of massive protests against the World Trade Organization and other neoliberal atrocities, this year offers a rare opportunity: voters can elect a genuine representative of working people to its City Council. Feminist and unionist Linda Averill, a city bus driver and former organizer of Seattle Radical Women, is running as a Freedom Socialist Party candidate against Jan Drago, a friend of real estate developers and business interests. Seattle is a city of high rents, homelessness, rampant office tower development, Democratic Party machine politics, endless traffic jams, and vanishing basic services. It needs a social program responsive to people’s everyday problems, and Averill has it: a practical, down-to-earth, anti-capitalist platform for voters to discuss, debate, and choose. And, recognizing that women are under special assault, Averill has made their needs a key part of this platform.
Thinking outside the city government box. Averill makes the point that “All the issues are city issues and women’s issues.” Take, for example, U.S. aggression against Iraq. The cost of the war cuts the amount that government, including local government, can spend on healthcare, welfare, childcare, and education, with disastrous results all around, but especially for women and children. Averill notes that cities have been successful in the past in affecting the Big Questions. Cities passed resolutions against the war in Vietnam and have backed boycotts such as those that helped to topple apartheid in South Africa. Today, many have taken stands against the Iraq war or the Patriot Act.
Averill sees local office as, in part, a platform from which to challenge public policy at the highest level. Her aim is to indict “the hypocrisy of a system that accepts women and children existing in dire poverty, refuses to guarantee housing or healthcare as a right, launches wars for profit and lays waste to nations — while those in power are preaching to women about the sanctity of life!”
Women’s woes: a clear argument for radical change. One of the central battlegrounds of the war on women is reproductive rights, Averill says. “Without the freedom to control our own bodies, women have no freedom at all.” She calls for free, safe contraceptives and abortion on demand, along with paid maternity leave, 24-hour childcare, and a free, nationalized system of comprehensive healthcare for all.
These are issues Averill organizes for in the union movement and raises as she campaigns. She says, “There is no reason why Seattle should not offer free abortion on demand at community health clinics and free employer-provided childcare. And a complete range of contraceptives should be as available to all women as toilet paper and tampons.”
Radical Women in Seattle is among the feminist endorsers of Averill’s candidacy. An international socialist feminist organization, RW was instrumental in winning the right to abortion in Washington state before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it nationally.
RW has defended family planning clinics across the United States, and Averill has been integral to that battle. Averill underscores the deafening silence of government officials to the long wave of terrorism against family planning facilities providing abortions. Since 1977, over 80,000 acts of violence have included murders, bombings, arsons, and anthrax threats. Not surprisingly, access to what should be a routine procedure has fallen off by 66 percent. Asks Averill, “Have you ever seen a president, Republican or Democrat, go on the air live to condemn the murder of a doctor by an anti-abortionist?”
“Our most fundamental right to be in charge of our own reproduction should not be up for discussion,” Averill says. “Women have abortions because birth control is limited under capitalism. The U.S. can send a man to the moon and make weapons of mass destruction, but can’t create contraception that doesn’t cause blood clots, infections or even death.” Unsafe methods like Depo Provera and Norplant are pushed on young women and women of color, who are also still subjected to forced or coerced sterilization. “Instead of safe birth control,” she says, “we get lessons in morality.” More than $500 million in taxpayers’ money has been spent promoting marriage (heterosexual, of course) and sexual abstinence.
Averill condemns the attacks on women’s equality by the Bush regime but insists that simply electing Democrats is not the answer. As a radical, she explains that her strategy is to demand what human beings need rather than what we think the major parties will give us. “When we try to compromise and make peace with rightwing religious fundamentalists, like the leadership of the Democratic Party is now doing, we salvage nothing. In fact, we lose ground rapidly.”
An irrepressible voice for labor and civil rights. This is Averill’s second run for City Council. In 2003, she won 11 percent of the primary vote in a six-person contest, even though she was hindered by strict city laws mandating public disclosure of information about supporters. The Seattle elections commission initially ruled that she must comply with the standard regulations, which would mean disclosing the names, addresses and employers of anyone who donated over $25 to her campaign. Their decision broke with past practice in granting exemptions for socialist candidates, who have repeatedly shown that making information like this public would open their supporters up to harassment and reprisals.
While she ran a shoestring “$24.99” fundraising campaign, Averill took the city to federal court. With just three weeks left in the race, the judge issued a decision agreeing with U.S. Supreme Court rulings that the public deserves the right to vote for minor party candidates and have their privacy protected in doing so. This time around, the city granted Averill’s exemption request without a fuss.
Averill’s 2003 candidacy reinforced an important legal precedent, while her strong demands enlivened the debate and gave voters the opportunity to hear where candidates stood on a host of real issues such as the homelessness that business development, stratospheric rents, and gentrification are creating all over the city.
Her campaign this year will do the same. A representative from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 to the King County Labor Council, Averill strongly advocates for both union and non-union workers, especially those who are lowest-paid and worst-treated: not only women, but people of color, immigrants, queers, people with disabilities, and the youngest and oldest workers. One of her most controversial demands is for raising the minimum wage to $17 an hour so that workers can keep up with tremendous increases in the cost of living.
Averill’s campaign is again drawing support from the communities of color. She calls for strengthening anti-discrimination laws and civil liberties, reinstating affirmative action, and banning military recruiters, who particularly prey on youth of color and poor youth, from the schools. Strong applause at an early fundraising event came when she addressed the issue of cop brutality, advocating for the election of an independent civilian review board over the police and a ban on police use of stun guns.
Above all, she believes that freeloading corporations must be taxed in order to fund job training, schools, expanded public transit, and social services. She insists on “No more handouts!” for millionaires and billionaires like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen.
Out campaigning, Averill says she is struck by “how open people are to serious change and how excited to hear positive, practical solutions to the problems all around them.” She hopes to do well in the election, of course. But even more, this bus driver hopes to help inspire “a flourishing new trend where teachers, carpenters, single moms, and seniors on fixed incomes start to run for office. Working and poor people aren’t going to be rescued by the parties and politicians in control now. We have to fight for our own interests, and I hope my candidacy helps to show people that we can.”