This year Seattle City Council candidates will be voted on by district with two at-large members. While there are an unprecedented number of candidates, only one Seattle City Council candidate, Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative, has a platform and track record that is worthy of working-class voters. One other socialist appears on the ballot and deserves your vote: John Naubert of the Socialist Workers Party, who is running for Port of Seattle, Commissioner Position No. 2. Please read on for our take on the candidates and the issues at stake in this election.
Seattle City Council, Position No. 3 – Vote for Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative
The FSP urges a vote for Socialist Alternative (SA) candidate Kshama Sawant, who is now running for a second term on the city council. Her electoral victory in 2013 came during a wave of momentum as low-wage workers walked off the job and sparked a nation-wide movement demanding a $15/hr minimum wage and SeaTac passed the first $15/hr law. The FSP was the first organization to rally labor endorsements for Sawant’s openly socialist ticket, which sparked wide support from Seattle voters tired of skyrocketing rents, home foreclosures and stagnant wages. The FSP again offers support, although critical, to Socialist Alternative’s campaign to re-elect Sawant.
In her first term, Sawant pulled back the veil on the council’s “Seattle nice” style of catering to big business’ and developer’s interests, while maintaining its liberal veneer on social issues. She scored some victories by opening the doors of city hall to protesters demanding higher wages, an end to police brutality, and an end to astronomical rent increases for Seattle public housing and Section 8 tenants.
Sawant stood alone in opposing the confirmation of Seattle’s new police chief Kathleen O’Toole and challenged City Light’s regressive rate structure. She blew the whistle on behind-the-scenes corporate politicking by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored a retreat for city council members at a ritzy resort to work on the city budget.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Sawant has angered business interests and the Democratic Party machine that run this town. The hydra-headed Vulcan-Amazon-Microsoft-Boeing-Starbucks behemoth – VAMBS, Inc. for short – is ballistic over having an avowed socialist on the council who is campaigning for rent control and who calls for taxing the rich to fund basic services.
Because most Seattle voters agree with Socialist Alternative’s platform on wages, rent control and taxing the rich, VAMBS, Inc. and its buddies aren’t attacking Sawant on the issues. Instead, they’ve mobilized a sexist and redbaiting media campaign attacking her style and affiliation. A Seattle Times editorial tut-tutted about this “socialist firebrand” and her “slash-and-burn style.” The more “edgy” Publicola’s columnist Erica Barnett joined the chorus with an “exposé” about Sawant’s solidarity fund – the portion of her salary that she regularly donates to progressive causes. Barnett smears Sawant’s donations to Socialist Alternative as “an indirect subsidy by city taxpayers” to – gasp! – international socialist causes. Barnett acknowledges that all this information is readily available on Sawant’s website (along with her donations to the Transit Riders Union and Trans Pride march, among others). Barnett then treats us to a review of Sawant’s marital history. Really?
And hitting a new journalistic low is Joel Connelly of SeattlePI.com. He channels the ghost of Joe McCarthy of 1950s anti-communist witch-hunting fame by dissing Sawant’s “comrades” attending her re-election event at Town Hall. Connelly also refers to those in the Democratic Party who support her as “fellow travelers” of “a Trotskyist Party.”
Full disclosure: The FSP, a Trotskyist socialist feminist party, has also been a frequent target of Connelly’s poison pen over the years. Most recently, in a retrospective on City Light, he took pot shots at one of our founders, Clara Fraser, who led a utility-wide worker walkout in the 1970s and later mentored the first women electrical workers hired at the utility. According to Connelly, “The loudest rebel was a megaphone-bearing Trotskyite utility training specialist named Clara Fraser, a precursor to Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant.” Not very Seattle nice!
So Kshama is in good company and we urge her to keep on being an “abrasive” thorn in the side of Seattle’s establishment.
While we unequivocally support Sawant against these attacks and strongly urge Seattle voters to re-elect her, Socialist Alternative’s track record and electoral strategies are not without serious weaknesses that demonstrate a dangerous sectarianism and tendency toward opportunism.
On the Seattle City Council, Sawant has rightly railed against the city and state regressive tax structures. Yet time after time, she has in practice upheld Seattle’s regressive system by supporting measures that add additional property taxes, car tab fees and sales taxes to the heavy load carried by the poor and working class. Sure, these taxes are to fund much-needed public parks and transit, but SA is playing by the establishment’s rules in supporting these initiatives, which only accelerate the migration of Seattle’s low-wage workers and seniors, and in particular Seattle’s once-vibrant Black community, to the poorer suburbs.
An example of SA’s increasing adaptation to Seattle’s liberal NGO/non-profits milieu is the position they took on gun control initiatives on the state ballot last year. Socialists have historically supported the right of workers to bear arms, be it in self-defense against racist vigilantes or anti-union goons. Yet SA joined the chorus of liberals promoting gun control as a solution to the increasing violence bred by an escalating militarization and alienation in society.
Then there’s SA’s rejection of genuine, principled Left electoral collaboration in favor of an illusive search for viable “leftish” candidates. Instead of building a united front on the basis of a working-class program, SA thinks they can skip over the dynamics of the class struggle by endorsing any liberal politician who can draw a crowd. Before the 2013 campaign, FSP proposed a joint Left electoral slate effort, but SA rejected that offer in favor of campaigning with Greens and the Justice Party. Now SA has hit a new low with their defacto endorsement of Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – despite his repeated votes in Congress to renew U.S. military funding and his support for the right-wing Israeli state.
It confounds us that SA never learned the lessons of their own electoral experience with Sawant’s city council victory in 2013. Kshama won over the voters as an open socialist, showing that working people in this country are eager for systemic change. And the FSP is proud of the earlier Seattle City Council campaigns our candidates Yolanda Alaniz and Linda Averill ran that helped lay the basis for that victory – and of our support for Kshama back when she was not yet a “viable” candidate.
Any Left party in the U.S. that thinks it can go it alone against the power of the capitalist state is doomed to irrelevance, as history has shown. Only if the Left can work together and help unify the working class across barriers of race, gender, age and nationality, can we win a socialist world. United Left electoral slates would be a place to start.
Port of Seattle, Commissioner Position No. 2 – Vote for John Naubert, Socialist Workers Party
This Socialist Workers Party campaign has a solidly working class program and John Naubert deserves your vote. In contrast to his opponent, Courtney Gregoire, Naubert actually talks about the workers under the Port’s jurisdiction – port truck drivers fighting for dignity and airport workers fighting for the $15 an hour wage that SeaTac voters approved – an increase the Port Commissioners have effectively blocked.
The FSP can only offer critical support to this campaign, however, because of the gaping hole in the SWP’s platform on the question of the Shell Oil rigs. Naubert does talk about the need for a worker’s perspective on the Shell controversy, but never spells out what that is. Despite the SWP’s promise to send us their position on this issue, it never materialized. But then, incumbent Gregoire has nothing to say about Shell Oil either.
A vote for Naubert remains a vote for workers’ rights and against the systemic corruption that has characterized the Port of Seattle.
A note about Seattle City Council, District 2 candidate Josh Farris:
Josh Farris, who is running as an independent, asked the FSP for our endorsement and we met with him to discuss his campaign. While we appreciate many of the issues he is raising in the District 2 race in Southeast Seattle, particularly his strong stand in support of reinstating affirmative action, his platform is not clearly anti-capitalist, and we cannot endorse it. Without an explicit anti-capitalist program, the much-needed reforms he advocates for ultimately fall short of changing the system in a meaningful way. We look forward to continued collaboration with Farris on housing justice issues, in which he has been highly involved, but his campaign is a missed opportunity.
If you would like to discuss any of our positions, please feel free to drop us a line, give us a call at (206) 722-2453, or drop by our community center.
Annaliza Torres and Su Docekal
Seattle FSP Organizers