By ANN MONTAGUE
Kshama Sawant’s re-election campaign is in full swing. The Seattle Socialist Alternative candidate, who won a seat on the Seattle City Council two years ago, is mobilizing her supporters to win again.
Since her election in 2013, Sawant fulfilled her campaign promise to make Seattle the first major city to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage. And she has taken on a number of other issues that are important to working people. In the city with the fastest rising rents in the country, she has championed the fight for rent control, a Tenant’s Bill of Rights, and the demand that the city build thousands of quality apartments to be rented at below-market rates.
Her last campaign was centered on the grassroots $15-wage movement, which complemented the ongoing organizing of fast-food workers by SEIU. Although Sawant received endorsements from a lot of unions, however, SEIU stuck with the incumbent. But this time, all the SEIU locals in Washington (SEIU 775, 1199NW, 925, 6), representing 86,000 workers statewide and 12,000 in Seattle, have endorsed her campaign—along with some two dozen other labor organizations.
On May 12, Sawant submitted more than 3000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. “It’s exciting to be able to run yet another grassroots independent working-class campaign,” Sawant said.
This election will be the first in Seattle that moves to elect candidates by district. And this is the first time that prominent elected Democrats have announced their support for the socialist Sawant. These officials include King County Council member Larry Gossett and state Senator Pramila Jayapal—as well as recently retired state Senator Adam Kline. According to the website of the Sawant campaign, Jayapal has praised Sawant as a “powerful and unwavering progressive voice in City Hall.”
Seattle Democratic Party activist Jeanne Legault argues, “I think we need to open our tent a little bit, and include other minor party organizations, like the Green Party or the Socialist Party or whatever, because we are all on the same side and we are stronger working together.”
Are socialists and Democrats really on the same side? Apparently, these officials and party workers believe they can gain political advantage by offering support to the highly popular Sawant—despite her socialist program. But working-class activists can never achieve success by campaigning for elected office under the same “tent” as the Democratic Party, which offers nothing to working people but austerity and oppression.
The Democratic Party is one of the two main parties of the capitalist class—unyielding in its policies favoring the billionaire 1%. It is an obstacle to building the mass movement for social change. Unfortunately, by listing Democratic Party officials in its campaign literature, the Sawant campaign needlessly fosters illusions that there are some “good Democrats,” an error that we hope will be corrected as the campaign unfolds.
To be sure, Seattle’s Democratic Party machine has not looked kindly on the effort to give two more years in city council to Sawant—and they are fighting back.
The Seattle blog Publicola reported that rich donors held a breakfast fundraiser to set plans in motion for an anti-Sawant campaign. The article reports that “hefty out of state donations are going to be coming in from top-tier donor counterparts from around the country” to defeat Sawant’s reelection.
Last month, 37th District Democrats were planning on co-sponsoring a candidates’ forum with the 43rd District, where Sawant had been invited to speak. David Corrado, chair of the 37th District Democrats in Southeast Seattle seemed shocked: “Philosophically it’s a problem that we’ve never dealt with before. There has never before been an incumbent who is not a Democrat and who sits so far to the left of the Democratic Party.”
There were strong objections when some Democrats realized that they would have to share the stage with a socialist. The Executive Committee of the 37th District pulled out and decided to hold its own forum—without Sawant. They also declined to invite independent Josh Farris, a housing activist who is running against incumbent Bruce Harrell.
Jeanne Legault stated, “I felt outraged.” She drafted a petition to have Sawant included in the forum. It was signed by 76 Democrats in the district. After receiving the petition, the Executive Committee of the 37th District Democrats decided to cancel its candidates’ forum entirely.
There have been veiled attacks on Sawant coming from the mayor and city council, who are considering a restrictive bill on electoral campaigning. Goldy, a popular Seattle blogger, wrote a piece about the legislation entitled, “Politicians with Zero Grassroots Support Aim to Curb Activities of Grassroots Supporters.”
Mayor Ed Murray claims his proposed ordinance is not aimed at Sawant but merely to clarify whether or not political activity related to official events organized by city staff is currently prohibited. The proposed legislation would state: “No elected official, or the official’s agent, shall engage in campaign activities at, or adjacent to, any official city public event that is organized by that public official or any employee of the official’s office. The campaign activities may not occur during the event or at any time that attendees of the public event are present.”
It does not define “official’s agent” or “campaign activities.” Goldy questions: “If a Sawant supporter, on her own initiative were to pass out a Sawant campaign flyer on the steps of City Hall at a Sawant organized public forum, would that make Sawant legally liable for her actions?
“This ordinance would bar Sawant from organizing any official city public event by making her legally liable for any action taken by any of her ‘agents’—whatever that means. This pretty much only applies to Sawant because she is the only elected official who can claim any meaningful grassroots support—a base that is sometimes unruly, undisciplined, and not under anyone’s control.”
If passed, this ordinance could just be an irritant to the Sawant campaign or it could prompt a legal challenge from Democrats wanting to overturn Sawant’s reelection under section 2.04.500: “If the court finds that the violation of any provision of this chapter by any candidate or political committee probably affected the outcome of any election, the result of the election may be held void and a special election held within 60 days of such finding.”
On June 3, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission rejected the proposed bill but said that they might be open to approving a revised and less restrictive version. The mayor’s office said that they would take another look at the bill.
If the Democrats try to overturn her reelection they might really find out what the unruly, undisciplined grassroots will do!
Photo: Kshama Sawant