Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/878/21712
USA: Kshama Sawant re-elected
Seattle's political revolution continues
At the time of writing, 55.47% of voters (15,054) in Seattle's District 3 have chosen Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative (US co-thinkers of the Socialist Party) to serve another four years on the City Council. Her Republican backed Democratic challenger, Pamela Banks, received 44.31% - 12,024 votes (the final vote will be certified on 24 November).
Kshama Sawant, photo Kevin Allen
Patrick Ayers, Socialist Alternative, Seattle
Not only can socialists get elected, we can get re-elected. In Seattle's Capitol Hill neighbourhood tonight (3 November), hundreds of campaign supporters are celebrating at our election night party. People arrived confident due to Kshama's outstanding work in the council and our ferocious ground game.
The night before, Socialist Alternative member and Boeing IAM machinist Jeremy Prickett addressed volunteers gathered for the last door knocking effort of the campaign: "Brothers and sisters it's a privilege for us to be here today because for so long politics has been out of the hands of working people. Socialist Alternative and Kshama Sawant are changing that."
Against a powerful establishment opposition, along with their echo chamber of vitriolic anti-Kshama attacks and their exorbitant bank accounts, we knocked on 90,000 doors and made 170,000 phone calls.
We talked to thousands of people about affordable housing, inequality, taxing the rich, and working class politics. It was an unprecedented grassroots effort for local Seattle politics.
As Jeremy's words above suggest, for many people, this campaign was about far more than re-electing Kshama. It was about building a whole new kind of politics that fights unapologetically for working families, and not corporations. It was about showing what is possible if working people get organised.
In the age of unlimited corporate election spending following the 2010 Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and in a year when corporations in Seattle spent five times more than ever before on City Council elections, we shattered fundraising records for a council race and defeated corporate cash.
We raised nearly $500,000 from almost 3,500 individual donors. Our median donation was merely $50 and more people donated to our campaign from Seattle and our district than for any other candidate running for City Council across the city.
Like Bernie Sanders' campaign [a declared socialist seeking nomination as the Democratic Party presidential candidate] - which also refuses corporate money and raised $28 million in three months - Kshama's campaign is a demonstration of the huge potential for independent working class politics in the US.
"The degree to which [Kshama Sawant] blows everyone out of the water in some funding categories, and her ability to rely on many small donors, is this election's clearest sign that the old guard is being shaken" - Crosscut.com
Nobody in Seattle has caused more headaches for the political establishment over the past two years than Kshama Sawant. "I wear the badge of socialist with honour" she declared in her January 2014 inauguration speech after upsetting a 13 year incumbent.
She promised at that time: "There will be no backroom deals with corporations or their political servants. There will be no rotten sell-out of the people I represent."
And Kshama delivered. Her office became a centre for working class resistance, helping tenants, workers, people of colour, LGBTQ people, immigrants and indigenous people. Kshama pushed the political debate in Seattle to the left.
Nevertheless, she was blocked many times by a conservative majority on the council that was tied by a thousand threads to the corporate establishment. But Kshama never relented in her unapologetic fight for the interests of working people, explaining again and again that what could be won inside city hall largely depended on the strength of movements outside - and actively doing everything she could to help build those movements.
This same spirit imbued the election campaign. While we knew we were in a strong position - with a visible sea of red posters and yard signs blanketing the district - we nonetheless took nothing for granted given the way democracy is warped by capitalism, where cash buys votes and the corporate media narrows and distorts the discussion.
Instead, we relied on building up our own independent force that could reach thousands of voters by activating working and young people to talk with thousands of people on their doorsteps.
When $60,000 was dumped into our opponent's campaign by three different corporate PACs [Political Action Committees - fundraising bodies] in the last weeks of the election, our grassroots movement was prepared. Within days, we were able to get a leaflet to thousands of doors across the district alerting voters to the flood of PAC money. And when our opponent sent two negative attack mailers in the last week, we again got another leaflet out to thousands of doors exposing the dishonesty of the attacks.
As the first elected socialist in Seattle in a century, Kshama's re-election campaign took on far more significance than the average local election. Al Jazeera media called it one of seven elections in the whole US to watch this year.
The campaign took place against the national background of surging support for Bernie Sanders' campaign and his call for "a political revolution against the billionaire class".
Undoubtedly, the experience of the last two years in Seattle has provided a wealth of lessons for socialists and working people everywhere. Kshama would be the first to say that what has made the key difference in Seattle has been the existence of an organised socialist movement and Socialist Alternative in particular.
We have provided key political support to Kshama to help navigate the pressures of elected office and movement building. Together, we were able to give a successful lead and turn the growing anger at inequality, skyrocketing rent, and out-of-touch establishment politicians into a movement that relies on its own strength, its own organisations, and its own resources.
The opportunities to build the socialist movement across the US are only getting bigger. Capitalism has completely failed working families. People are fed up with the corporate establishment and there is a growing interest in socialist ideas reflected in the intense interest when Bernie Sanders explained why he considers himself a democratic socialist in the debate with Hillary Clinton.
The movement for a $15 an hour minimum wage has won a number of key victories around the country, students are beginning to fight back against student debt, and a whole new generation of young activists has been activated by Black Lives Matter. The world is changing and there has never been a better time to join the socialists.
'Socialist politics are here to stay'
Kshama sent the following message of solidarity to the main rally at the Socialist Party's Socialism 2015 event (reports pages 8&9)
Sisters, brothers, comrades...
It gives me great pleasure to bring you all warm, comradely greetings from Socialist Alternative in the United States.
Earlier this week in Seattle, we succeeded in winning my re-election as a Socialist Alternative city council member. This is an historic achievement for workers in Seattle and throughout America. A veritable army of 600 working class volunteers and 30 unions defeated the combined forces of big business and the political establishment that cravenly serves corporate interests.
My opponent was financially backed by millionaire executives of corporations like Microsoft, Amazon.com, Alaska Airlines; by every business that fought against our historic $15 an hour movement last year; by every anti-union business entity, such as the Washington Restaurant Association and the Hotel Association; and by giant city developers who are making profits hand over fist as working people get pushed out of the city due to skyrocketing rents. My opponent's campaign was fully backed by Republicans and 'big money' Democrats.
In contrast, we ran an unapologetically anti-corporate, pro-working class campaign that did not take a dime from corporate interests, but was funded only by ordinary working people and by the labour movement.
The monumental scale of our grassroots campaign is a testament to the hunger of the American working class for a bold and clear alternative to the bankrupt politics of both the Democratic and Republican Party establishments.
It also reflects how Socialist Alternative has earned the confidence of Seattle's working people, by using our position on the City Council to relentlessly push for their interests and everyone who is marginalised by the system.
In our two years on the Council, we not only won the $15 wage, we also successfully fought against public housing rent hikes, won millions for human services in the city budget, actively assisted the recent historic and successful teachers' strike, and replaced Columbus Day with a citywide Indigenous People's Day.
We have shown that the election of a socialist in a major US city was not a flash in the pan, but that socialist politics are here to stay in Seattle. We have given a genuine socialist expression to the deep discontent and anger of working people at income, racial and gender inequality. We are doing this by campaigning for rent control, fighting the slumlords, and demanding that big developers and the rich are taxed to pay for affordable housing and mass transit.
Our success comes at the same time that there is a growing enthusiasm at the campaign of Bernie Sanders standing as a socialist for the presidency of the United States. His call for a political revolution against the billionaire class, while also refusing any corporate cash, has opened up a new space for a discussion about socialist ideas, albeit unfortunately within the context of a race in the corporate-dominated Democratic Party.
The remarkable victory of Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the Labour Party shows that the dissatisfaction with corporate-sponsored capitalist politicians is a global phenomenon and provides new opportunities for socialists everywhere to provide a real alternative to capitalism and its attacks on working people.
The Committee for a Workers' International is uniquely placed to provide a clear analysis and programme. Socialist Alternative in the United States looks forward with you in the UK to the victories of our comrades in the Irish elections as they defy state repression fighting the hated water tax.
I wish you every success with Socialism 2015 and with the wider struggle against Tory austerity and pro-capitalist Blairism.
In The Socialist 11 November 2015:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party comments and reviews
Socialist Party reports and campaigns