Video: Relevance of Socialism in Seattle, Kshama Sawant

Presentation by Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative Candidate for Seattle City Council.

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USA: Election breakthrough for a Seattle socialist

kshama sawant

Chris Mobley reports from Seattle where a revolutionary socialist challenger for a seat on the City Council has surged into a narrow lead. Reprinted from SocialistWorker.org

SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE candidate Kshama Sawant had a narrow lead over four-term incumbent Democrat Richard Conlin in an election for a seat on the Seattle City Council, as of November 13–a stunning result for a revolutionary socialist and a powerful symbol of the discontent with the political status quo.

Washington state votes by mail, and a majority of ballots typically come in after Election Day, since votes are accepted as long as they were postmarked by that day. As of the end of Wednesday, Sawant was ahead by 402 votes, with some 13,000 ballots still to be counted, according to the latest announcement from election officials.

The results could still turn against Sawant, but momentum is on her side–she has had the edge in each round of counting in the days since Election Day on November 5, helping her to overcome what appeared to be a narrow defeat based on where the vote count stood on election night.

Even while trailing on election night, however, it was clear that Sawant and Socialist Alternative candidate Ty Moore, who lost by just 229 votes in an election for city council in Minneapolis, have scored breakthroughs. Well before Election Day, Danny Westneat, a columnist for the mainstream Seattle Times daily newspaper, summed up the electrifying impact of these campaigns: “The election isn’t for 10 days, but we can already declare the big winner in Seattle. It’s the socialist.”

Westneat pointed out that Sawant was responsible for Democrats like Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and his victorious challenger in last week’s election, Ed Murray, suddenly declaring their support for left-wing initiatives such as the Fight for 15 organizing drive for low-wage workers. As Westneat concluded:

You can’t look at the stagnant pay, declining benefits and third-world levels of income disparity in recent years and conclude this system is working. For Millennials as a group, it has been a disaster. Out of the wreckage, left-wing or socialist economic ideas, such as the “livable wage” movement in which government would seek to mandate a form of economic security, are flowering.

Sawant’s edge in the late-arriving ballots is another indicator of the grassroots energy that made her campaign stand out, as David Goldstein, writing in The Stranger, an alternative weekly newspaper, explained:

Part of [the reason Sawant is winning in each day of counting after Election Day has] to do with demographics; younger voters tend to vote late and more lefty. Part of it has to do with hard work; Sawant’s impressive grassroots campaign had a couple hundred volunteers calling voters and knocking on doors to get out her vote, while Conlin had little ground game at all. And part of it has to do with momentum; voter preferences shift over time, and her surprisingly strong campaign clearly moved support in Sawant’s favor.

The final vote totals are scheduled to be certified on November 26, but the uncertainty could go on longer with the possibility of a recount if the margin of victory remains closer than 0.5 percent and 2,000 votes.

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THE SUCCESS of the Socialist Alternative campaigns is directly connected to their roots in grassroots struggles.

In Minneapolis, Ty Moore made the Occupy MN Homes movement–with its call for a moratorium on foreclosures and a ban on police carrying out evictions–central to his campaign for a city council seat representing an area under assault by gentrification.

In Seattle, Sawant, an economics professor and respected activist, focused on several key issues to galvanize support from working people and the left. Building on the energy of the national Fight for 15 campaign to organize low-wage workers in restaurant and retail, Sawant positioned herself as the candidate who supported a living wage for all.

The popularity of the Fight for 15 demand was dramatized in SeaTac, a Seattle suburb where the regional airport is located. A union-backed ballot measure–bitterly opposed by business interests–that would mandate a $15-an-hour minimum wage for airport and hotel workers was winning as of November 13, though by only 19 votes at the latest count.

Sawant also focused on proposals for rent control in a city where rents have risen by 6 percent in just the last year alone, on top of increases year after year, according to Reis, which compiles and sells data to the commercial real-estate industry.

She also advocated for a tax on millionaires, in a state with no income tax, to fund mass transit and other infrastructure improvements. This call is especially timely with the local public transit agency, King County Metro, planning to cut bus service by as much as 20 percent next year.

Gaining the endorsements of several unions and social justice organizations, as well support from prominent local activists, the campaign was able to mobilize several hundred volunteers, who covered the city with distinctive “Vote Sawant” posters. Though far outspent by her opponent, Sawant did raise more than $100,000, mainly from small contributions.

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SAWANT AND those who worked for her ran an effective campaign, but her success is the result of tapping into voter discontent with the political status quo, particularly in a liberal city like Seattle.

According a recent Gallup poll, Democrats and Republicans have reached an all-time low in public opinion–only 26 percent of Americans believe the two mainstream parties do “an adequate job of representing the American people.” Some 60 percent said there was a need for a third major party.

In Seattle, where the Democrats predominate, this discontent translated into heavy press interest in Sawant. She won an endorsement from The Stranger before her strong showing in the August primary election–the alt-weekly wrote in an article headlined “The Case for Kshama Sawant”: “Sawant offers voters a detailed policy agenda, backed up by a coherent economic critique and a sound strategy for moving the political debate in a leftward direction.”

After coming in a close second in August, Sawant continued to pick up broad support, including a small group of “Democrats for Sawant”–a stark symbol of the bitterness with the incumbent Conlin, who has a long record of pandering to business interests. Sawant won backing from local hip-hop artists and several prominent local activists, notably left-wing journalist Geov Parrish. Sawant also got support from immigrant political organizations, including the Somali American Public Affairs Council. In the final weeks of the campaign, volunteers made a push to hold “100 rallies for Sawant.”

As a socialist challenger in a liberal city against a Democratic opponent, Sawant was able to avoid one of the key difficulties that third party candidates typically face: the so-called “spoiler effect.” Without a Republican in the election, the Democrat Conlin wasn’t able to browbeat his party’s much more liberal base into supporting him as a “lesser evil.”

Now, Sawant stands a good chance of taking a seat for four years on the nine-member City Council. This will open up a new opportunity for the left–both Sawant and Moore pledged that they would use the resources of their offices to assist grassroots struggles involving workers, the oppressed, immigrants and the community.

There will be more days of vote-counting to come, but the Sawant campaign has already accomplished an enormous amount by proving that there is a thirst for an alternative to the status quo–and that socialists can confidently put forward a different vision for society, knowing it will connect with the aspirations of more and more people.

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Chelsea Manning’s gender identity

article by Anne Russell, reprinted from Scoop.co.nz.

The Queer Avengers (Wellington) are holding a solidarity action with Chelsea Manning on 2pm Saturday the 7th of September, at the US Embassy [Facebook event]

For the most part, gender minorities operating in the public sphere are recognised by their gender first and the content of their work second. This is why Rolling Stone articles on“Women Who Rock” kettle together artists as musically and lyrically diverse as Taylor Swift, Missy Elliott and Sleater-Kinney, as though ‘woman’ is a subgenre of music. Even at comparatively progressive activist events, cisgender women and transgender people—particularly trans* women—rarely dominate the overall speaker line-up. Rather, they are given separate sessions to discuss sexism and/or transphobia, implying that these issues are only problems for the oppressed parties in question.

In contrast, issues like mass surveillance and military crimes are framed as issues that everyone should be concerned about, evidenced recently by the scale of controversy around the NSA leaks and the recently-passed GCSB Bill. This is not to say that they are not important or damaging problems, merely that they receive much more cultural attention than the routine struggles of oppressed gender minorities. While the soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning was hitherto widely considered a hero in radical movements, figures like radical activist and trans* woman Sylvia Rivera are not widely known outside the trans* rights movement itself. It is arguable that the activist world, like everywhere else, is still somewhat divided into gendered categories, at least on a surface level: the cis men examine military documents while the cis women and trans* folk talk about unequal access to healthcare, cultural invisibility and sexual harassment.

Private Manning’s recent announcement that she is a transgender woman—to be known as Chelsea Manning from here on—thus represents a stunning collision of different activist factions. Manning released a statement last week announcing that she identifies as female, and wishes to undergo hormone therapy as soon as possible. This is not entirely new or unexpected information, as Manning’s chatlogs with informant Adrian Lamo in May 2010 read: “I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me… plastered all over the world press… as a boy.” Moreover, her lawyers attempted to use gender identity disorder as a defence in her trial. However, many of Manning’s supporters felt uncomfortable referring to her as female without the explicit go-ahead from her.

That time has come, and yet many commentators remain confused orhostile(trigger warning: transphobia) to the announcement. Manning’s requests have been fairly straightforward—“I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun”—but many media outlets, particularly Fox News and CNN, continue to use her historical name and masculine pronouns. Since swathes of information about transgenderism are merely a Google search away, this misgendering demonstrates how heavily entrenched transphobia and the gender binary remain in public discourse. [Read more...]

US Election: Four more years of Obama

Byron Clarkobama-2012

This year’s American presidential election saw a victory for incumbent Barack Obama. Obama was elected in 2008 on vague promises of ‘hope’ and ‘change’. While the election of the first African American president was historic, there has been very little change in foreign policy. Disillusionment is what could have cost Obama the election, but American liberals (and many of those further to the left) voted against republican challenger Mitt Romney. Much of the organised labour movement,
under attack in a number of states by right-wing state senates, also came out for Obama and Democrats on Election Day. While keeping in mind the bombs falling around the Middle East, there are some positive victories on reproductive rights, equal marriage and drug law reform. [Read more...]

The story of May Day

In this article originally published by the Socialist Workers Party (USA) Elizabeth Schulte tells the history of May Day, a socialist holiday founded to honor the Haymarket Martyrs and celebrate international workers’ solidarity.

“THERE WILL be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.” Those were the last words of August Spies, one of four innocent men executed for an explosion at Chicago’s Haymarket Square in May 1886.

The real “crime” for which Spies and his comrades were condemned was being labor militants fighting for workers’ rights and the eight-hour day. The national strike for the eight-hour day that they organized was called for May 1, 1886–it was the first May Day.
Their struggle, and the struggle of thousands alongside them, convinced a generation of labor militants and radicals to devote their lives for the fight for workers’ rights and for socialism.

Still, although May Day was founded to honor a U.S. labor struggle, few workers in this country typically know its origin, because the history is largely untold. This has changed, however–since the mass immigrant workers’ May Day marches that began in 2006. [Read more...]

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Reviewed by Mike Kay

 The Help is an ambitious novel set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. It encapsulates a city that was a bastion of Jim Crow racism – a phalanx of state and local laws that were designed to keep black and white people separate from cradle to grave. [Read more...]

The flag is symbolic, imperialism is real

Victoria university members of the Workers Party are facing charges of serious misconduct after burning the New Zealand flag. This leaflet explains the political background to the act.

Why burn the New Zealand flag?

The New Zealand flag is a symbol of imperialism. This is most obvious in its design, a tribute to the British Empire. This design was adopted after the Second Boer War, which devastated South Africa but resulted in a surge of Kiwi patriotism.

Lest we forget

Lest we forget

A simple re-design, while reflecting our emergence from the shadow of the British Empire, would not change the imperialist nature of the flag. It’s a tool of the ruling class, inseparably linked with militarism. From the Boer War through WWI and II, right through to armed involvement in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the flag has marked New Zealand’s presence. Flags mark military conquest, the subjugation of nations.

Flags and borders divide the working majority. ANZAC soldiers had more in common with their Turkish counterparts than with the bureaucrats who sent them to Gallipoli. The working majority has interests in common worldwide, including an end to imperial war. Ruling class nationalism is a barrier to recognising this.

What purpose does ANZAC day serve? [Read more...]

Obama – managing the US war effort

John Edmundson

During the lead-up to the 2008 US election, Barack Obama made much of his plans to end the war in Iraq. His bold declaration – that “on my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war”. Across the world, many people pinned their hopes on this promise.

Obama’s policy was never really about ending America’s imperialist war policy. It was always about managing the US war effort more effectively. [Read more...]

Deer Hunting with Jesus

Dispatches from America's Class War

 Reviewed by Jill Brasell

(The Spark February 2009)

Journalist and blogger Joe Bageant grew up among the working-class people of Winchester, Virginia, and a question has evidently itched him ever since he escaped from (and then returned to) that community. Why do the working class reject liberalism, and instead hold tight to ideas that work against their own interests?

Deer Hunting with Jesus (Three Rivers Press, New York, 2007) is a series of loosely connected essays that attempts to answer that question. Bageant is a sharp observer and the book is a thought-provoking and often entertaining read as he takes a bottom-up look at globalisation, home ownership, healthcare, guns, Abu Ghraib, Christian fundamentalism and what he calls “the American hologram”.

[Read more...]

Barack Obama – another Martin Luther King?

- Don Franks

The son of murdered black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has often been asked: did you think you’d ever live to see a black US president?

“People are surprised when I say yes”, says Martin Luther King III. “But I’m sure my father would have said the same if he was alive today. Without that faith and that sense of possibility he would have had no reason to fight in the first place.”

A spirit of faith and hope has accompanied Obama’s election campaign. A Gallup poll on announcement of Obama’s victory shows that a massive 70% of Americans believe they will be better off by the time the new president finishes his term in four years time.

Seldom has the election of a capitalist politician aroused such euphoric public celebration. Obama’s inaugural speech drew a record crowd of close on two million. In the afterglow of the inauguration ceremonies floods of Obama memorabilia continue to be snapped up at three times the volume of the previous record setter Bill Clinton. [Read more...]

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