In honor of Women’s History Month, I am celebrating Radical Women, a socialist feminist group based in Columbia City, but with branches all over the US and even internationally.
I have been a supporter and friend of RW (as they refer to themselves) for about twenty years. They constantly amaze me with how effectively they get results. They choose an issue, they organize around it, they create attention to it and garner press coverage and next we see mainstream politicians actually responding and even passing new laws or dismissing old ones.
Their current campaign “The Silence Breakers,” was extensively covered in the Seattle Times. The #Me Too movement encouraged individual workers at Seattle City Light to begin speaking up about sexual harassment and bullying. RW reached out to them and gave support to those brave individuals, helping them to organize an effective campaign.
RW has a long history with Seattle City Light. More than a few Radical Women worked for Seattle City Light in pioneering apprenticeship programs in the early 1970s. They were breaking a barrier for the traditionally male trades. One of the founders of Radical Women, Clara Frazier, sued City Light for sexism, racism and discrimination way back in 1980, and won the case after seven long years.
Radical Women’s primary goal is to build working class women’s leadership, training women to speak up and lead on issues. A few years ago they organized “Sisters Organize for Survival” sought to keep Basic Health Plan for low income workers, before the Affordable Care Act came in. They were successful. They also support the farmworkers in the Skagit Valley in their effort to realize better working conditions. I still remember an extraordinary meeting in which the farmworkers, some of them only teenagers, spoke of the grueling work they did in order to realize huge quotas.
All their riveting monthly meetings, accompanied by a delicious meal, educate us about issues barely covered in other sources. And they always pair culture with politics. Visual art, poetry, music and writing are a central part of their work as a direct result of their roots in Trotskyism. Trotsky believed “the opposition of writers and artists is one of the forces which can usefully contribute to the discrediting and overthrow of regimes which are destroying every sentiment of nobility and even human dignity.” (“Towards A Free Revolutionary Art,” 1939)
They even have their own press, The Red Letter Press and a great bookstore “Clara’s Books ” based in their headquarters, New Freeway Hall on Rainier Avenue. They also run Study Groups, such as the one that began on March 26 about “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” by Frederick Engels. Over the years, I have learned a lot from these study groups.
They work in partnership with their sister organization, the Freedom Socialist Party, which includes both men and women, publishing an excellent newspaper, The Freedom Socialist, which has news you cannot find anywhere else. The Freedom Socialists (known as FSP) are even running Steve Hoffman against Maria Cantwell for US Senate! They will get the Socialist perspective into the conversation.
Recently Radical Women celebrated International Women’s Day (the only celebration in Seattle, which is huge all over the world except in the US). The program called “Working Women Rise Up: Many Fronts, One Struggle,” included Anna Bean from the Puyallup Tribe who described tribal resistance to the Liquid Natural Gas Plant in Tacoma, and Anita Brito of the Firs Homeowners Association who spoke eloquently of resisting the landlord trying to evict them from their mobile home park in order to build a high dollar development. Ramona Bennett, Puyallup Tribal elder described how she led a walk out as a teenager against AT and T. And the event concluded with inspiring Kurdish poetry and the famous labor song “Bread and Roses.”
Gina Petry, the organizer of Radical Women introduced the program with some history: “International Women’s day all started with women militants. Women textile workers in New York City organized a massive demonstration on March 8, 1908 against workplace exploitation and for union representation. Then in 1910, Clara Zetkin, a German socialist was inspired by this struggle & proposed an international day of solidarity, March 8, be designated to honor struggles by and for women worldwide. On March 8, 1917, Russian women took to the streets and demanded bread, land & peace. Their leadership was critical to the fall of capitalism in Russia.”
Perhaps that is why IWD is so little celebrated in the US!
Radical Women just celebrated their 50th Anniversary last summer! Hats off to these dedicated women who work every single day to confront the evils of the world, all rooted, as they are quick to tell us, in capitalism. Stop by sometime and be inspired to change the world also.
~Susan Noyes Platt