Something important is happening on the upper-left coast. On August 6, socialist Kshama Sawant garnered 35% of the vote in a “top two” primary for Seattle City Council. This allows Sawant to advance to the general election on November 5where she will face Democratic incumbent Richard Conlin who received 48% of the vote.
Considering that working people from coast to coast have been beaten and battered both economically and politically for more than a generation, and that we have been playing a losing game of defense for as long as most of us can remember; considering that one of the chief reasons for labor’s losses has been a tragic reliance on and obsequious deference to so-called “friends of labor” in the form of representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties, it is highly significant when an avowedly working-class campaign makes headlines.
And the Sawant campaign has not been the least bit shy about stating the case for the millions of folks who live from paycheck to paycheck, if they’re lucky enough to have a paycheck; the millions who, as it happens, don’t work on Wall Street and don’t own any banks or mines or factories. Or, in the vernacular of Occupy: the 99 percent. The campaign boldly proclaims, “Fund Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed.”
They advocate raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour; taxing millionaires to fund the construction of mass transit, the creation of union wage jobs for all, and an expansion of needed social services; ending corporate welfare, and shifting the tax burden from home owners and working people onto big business. They also call for environmental sanity, affordable housing, and for fighting against racism, sexism, gender discrimination and police brutality. The campaign champions union rights and well-funded public schools, supporting input and control by teachers, students and parents instead of overreliance on ineffectual standardized tests. There is no question that this campaign sees society in “us vs. them” terms, and unhesitatingly proclaims which side they’re on.
When it comes to assessing the two corporate parties, again the Sawant campaign pulls no punches:
The Democratic Party has run this city for decades. The mayor and all the city council members are Democrats and are representing only a tiny spectrum of political opinion and the interests of the people of Seattle, namely Paul Allen and the richest 1%, along with Amazon, Starbucks, big property developers, and downtown business interests. …While the Democratic Party pays lip service to working people, in reality both the Democrats and Republicans serve the interests of a tiny financial aristocracy. The Sawant campaign is an opportunity to break out from the prison of corporate politics.
Since a small boy blithely proclaimed that the emperor had no clothes, such a clear statement of the truth has rarely been heard, let alone openly embraced by a healthy percentage of the voters.
On September 1, more than 50 people attended a campaign volunteer kickoff meeting. A range of ages, races and city neighborhoods were represented. Campaign coordinators project quadrupling the number of volunteers before the general election. Plans for postering, leafleting, phone banking, tabling and door-to-door canvassing were discussed.
The Sawant campaign was conceived and launched by a group called Socialist Alternative. But the campaign is drawing support from a wide range of individuals, not all of whom agree with every nuance of every statement ever put out by the sponsoring party. It is the general tenor and thrust of the campaign that has people excited. The campaign is providing a rallying point for labor activists, fighters for racial, social and economic justice, environmental advocates, anti-war organizers, and others. In a nation divided into opposing classes, some are seeing this campaign as a way to proclaim, loudly and clearly, which side they’re on.
Sure, the Sawant campaign isn’t the first or only working-class campaign ever to make the scene. But it’s highly significant because 1) It demonstrates a complete break from the dead-end practice of supporting the “lesser evil” of the Democrats and Republicans, 2) It offers a clear message and a distinct, fighting alternative for working people that points a way forward which could, if embraced and extended, actually turn things around for our class. 3) And most importantly, the Sawant campaign stands out from the many others like it now and in the past because has caught fire; because it has attracted people’s attention; because folks are listening and taking notice!
At present, one could hold forth with radical ideas in a town hall in Allentown or on a street corner in San Antonio and people may or may not pay you any mind. But right now people are watching and listening to the Sawant campaign. As such, it remains relevant for anyone who works for a living (or wishes that they could), be they from New York City, Memphis, San Francisco or Seattle.
Bruce Lesnick is a long-time political activist who lives and writes in Washington State. He blogs at open.salon.com and is an occasional contributor to Counterpunch. He can be reached at email@example.com.