A Leading Question: Mary Martin and the Working Class

Jul 29, 2013

Editor's note: KPLU has asked all nine candidates in the Seattle mayoral race to tell us about a time when his or her leadership skills were put to the test. One candidate's answer follows.  

Talk to a candidate long enough and she’ll start repeating herself because she's staying on message, or because it's who she really is.

Like when Mary Martin talks about an upcoming trip to Egypt.

"I’m going to stand in solidarity with the working people there who are doing the same things people are here: They’re fighting against the effects of the capitalist system," said Martin.

She's calling from the Bronx by way of Ohio where she attended a Socialist Workers Party Conference as she's done for 30-plus years. She's in the Bronx to campaign for Dan Fein, the New York city mayoral candidate who is also a Socialist Workers Party member.

During an interview that is supposed to be about her, she talks about the longshoremen in Portland, the coal miners in Kentucky, the striking workers at Belshaw Adamatic in Auburn.

When asked about how this all relates to running for mayor of Seattle, says Martin: "The mayor should be a leader of the working class."

Martin, 60, is married to Edwin Fruit, a Seattle City Council candidate. She works at a popcorn factory which she refused to name. She previously worked in a steel mill.

"I’ve worked in sewing factories. I’ve worked in meat-packing plants. All kinds of basic industry. You know, working people make all the wealth in this country, but we don’t get to decide how it’s utilized," she said.

It takes work to get her to open up about something personal, but she finally tells the story about growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, attending college in Georgia and getting caught up in the social protest movements of that time.

"We were looking for ways to change the world, not just accept the conditions we were born into," she said.

In 1972, after two black ministers and a Mormon professor decided to run for local office, she joined a campaign to register African-American voters.

"We would go down to the Statesboro courthouse on Monday. And we’d say, 'We’re here to register to vote.' And they'd close the window on our face, and say, 'We don’t vote. We don’t register on Mondays.' We’d go back Tuesday, they’d say 'We’re short-handed today,'" Martin said.

Similar responses echoed day after day until the number of activists grew (and the press arrived), and authorities finally agreed to let the registration happen.

The slate of candidates didn't win the election, but a fight was won.

"It was an important victory for the working class," said Martin.

The event taught her about the power of speaking out, and the importance of mobilizing in order to effect change. She hasn’t stopped agitating since.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just focus on her?

She laughs.  

"Well, but what's the point of that?" she said.