City Superheroes is a regular column by Jacob Uitti, highlighting the powerful figures walking among us with the help of a (usually local) illustrator. This week’s pairing: activist Jessica Spear and visual artist Carina Simmons.
Moniker: The Inquisitor
Given Name: Jessica Spear
Other Aliases: Jess, Berry
Superpowers: Molecule manipulation
First Appearance: Taking on the role of volunteer coordinator for Kshama Sawant’s victory for Seattle City Council in 2013
Local Haunts: The Hopvine, Broadcast Coffee, Cafe Solstice, Saba
Even Heroes Have Heroes: The late astronomer/cosmologist Carl Sagan. “He was someone who really understood that science isn’t something you just do, you apply it–it’s a way of both understanding and changing the world. I grew up in a poor, working class family and reading Carl Sagan I realized I could be a scientist and could work towards a better world.”
Socialist Kshama Sawant. “That might seem quite obvious, but she’s someone who never looked for the limelight; she does what she does because she understands the impact she can have. She can be a spokesperson and a model for what’s possible if we elect people from our own movement. Seeing the impact she had on pushing progressive policies forward, like the minimum wage, was a big reason I ran in 2014.”
Origin Story: Born in Falls Church, VA, Spear comes from a poor working class background. As a young adult, she enrolled in Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, which later went co-ed.
Spear went to graduate school at the College of Marine Science at the University of Southern Florida where she studied marine science with a focus on paleoceanography. As her understanding of the world blossomed—from studying Chomsky to climate change—she became “radicalized” by issues of war, poverty and suffering. “People say, ‘This is the way the world is. Keep your head down and carve out a mini-haven for yourself.’ I never accepted that. If we have all this wealth and resources, why are there all these homeless people?”
She joined Socialist Alternative, the organization that fought to get Sawant elected, in 2011. “Everything I read and did led me to socialism,” she explains. “I wanted to use my understanding to go out there and change the world.”
By gaining an understanding of science and socio-cultural history, Spear’s mind began to understand the workings of the world to such an acute degree she learned how molecules themselves interact and, discovered the ability to manipulate them and their micro-bonds. She can bend metal with her hands, she can fly through the air and she can sense a storm from miles away.
In July 2014, Spear’s path to becoming a well-known environmental activist began after an oil train headed for Seattle derailed. A few tankers came off the track but, luckily, nothing happened. “We dodged a bullet,” she says. “I knew then I wanted to bring attention to the danger that’s happening around us every day.” Participating in a direct, non-violent act of civil disobedience, Spear and two other activists sat down to block oil and coal trains (she could have just lifted them by hand – see above!). Spear was arrested for this act but it brought city officials to the table to discuss a plan for the potential dangers of the fuel trains.
Her Philosophy: “In a word: Socialism. When you consider how society could be better organized, it opens your eyes to the problems of the world and how they can be solved. The misery [of suffering people] can be lessened under capitalism, but it ultimately cannot be solved under the current system.”
What’s Next: Working as a writer and editor with Socialist Alternative publications. Spear will also be volunteering, in her free time, on Sawant’s re-election campaign.
About the Illustrator: Seattle’s Carina Simmons began studying animation in 2006 and later worked in film production. She focuses now on 2-D animation and mixed media illustration.
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