Any American interested in the working class should know about Kshama Sawant, an open Socialist (and immigrant), who was recently elected to the Seattle City Council.
Recently, I exchanged emails with her assistant, Anh Tran. Rather than repeat widely-known facts, I’ll include some of our email Q & A, which I was grateful to receive very quickly even though the national media spotlight was on Ms. Sawant.
What is the area she will be representing like?
Washington State is home to some of the largest transnational corporations in the world– Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft, etc. – and Seattle is one of the richest cities in the country. Seattle has been dominated by the Democratic Party for decades and has a reputation for being quite liberal. But at the same time, Washington State has the most regressive tax structure in the country and we are seeing increasingly vicious attacks on social services. Seattle is becoming increasingly unfordable for the ordinary people that live and work here.
Public education has seen annual cuts of more than 15%, and the public transportation system in Seattle is facing a 17% cut right now. A recent New York Times article found that apartment rates in Seattle are growing faster than anywhere in the country. Meanwhile, massive corporations here like Boeing pay little to nothing in taxes and demand tax subsidies despite bringing in record profits.
It is clear that the Democratic Party isn’t fighting for the needs of workers, students or the poor. In Seattle – and all over the country – there is a hunger for an alternative to the two political parties of big business.
What does this mean for Seattle politics?
Our campaign gave voice to the anger at business-as-usual and demonstrated that there is a huge opening to the left of the Democratic Party. Our demands for a $15/hr minimum wage, taxing the super-rich to fund education and transit, and rent control resonate so well in Seattle that we have completely shifted the debate. “The election isn’t for 10 days,” wrote Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, “but we can already declare the big winner in Seattle. It’s the socialist… [W]hat’s most notable about Seattle politics this year is that nearly [Sawant’s] entire agenda has, over the course of the campaign, been embraced by both candidates for mayor.” (Seattle Times, 10/26/20)
The final election results have yet to be certified, yet we are already moving forward on strengthening our coalition in order to bring a $15/hr minimum wage to Seattle in 2014. We will provide a voice that represents working people in Seattle and relentlessly struggle to improve the quality of life for those that live an work here.
… We are working to build more coalitions capable of running independent candidates in 2015 and calling for coalitions all over the country to do the same for the mid-term elections. This campaign in Seattle was successful because we brought together public transit activists, local unions, the Somali community, an anti-foreclosure organization, the Green party, established socialist groups and many more allies and supporters. Building more coalitions like this is the first step towards creating a mass political party that represents ordinary people, not the millionaires.
Will she be a lone voice on the council?
In the past, there have been anti-worker and anti-poor policies passed by a very slim margin on the city council, where having just one more working-class vote would have made the difference. So our presence should help with this…. [However] Long-lasting and fundamental change happens through collective action in the streets, workplaces, and schools, not in the halls of the city council. But it certainly would not hurt to have a working-class advocate on the council, and more socialists should run in the elections in order to fill entire city councils with people who will not sell out the working class to corporate interests.
Were there surprises among folks who supported her?
We knew that an unprecedented opening existed for working class third parties to run in elections, and that we would be able to change the political debate everywhere we went, but still we did not expect to have as huge of an impact as we ended up having. We used to call ourselves a “tiny, rinky-dink campaign,” but it would be absurd to continue saying we were “tiny” with a grassroots volunteer base of 300 people, or that we were “rinky-dink” given our historic victory. Our message has spread to national and international proportions. We have been covered all the major capitalist news outlets and many independent media.
It took an organization cognizant of this opportunity and the willingness to seize the opportunity to run such a campaign, but there were greater factors at work even outside of us that have made socialist ideas riper than we could have ever imagined. People are really fed up with the betrayals of the two-party system, with President Obama’s lack of leadership on the environmental crisis and his continuation/expansion of war and occupation, corporate handouts and subsidies, and mass incarceration, to name a few things. People want an alternative to the prolonged economic and social crises of capitalism, and we stepped in to provide this alternative on a wide scale.
Anything else not widely known?
Some of our volunteers are so dedicated with their time, they slept at our campaign office for weeks!