Socialist Alternative (our sister organisation in the US) and Seattle Councilmember, Kshama Sawant, is facing a recall campaign by right-wing and big business interests. Kshama was first elected to the Seattle City council in November 2013 and played a crucial in winning $15 an hour for workers in Seattle (the first city to do so), along with other victories for working-class people. Below is an extract of her speech from an online rally attended by over 2,000 people last week.
This recall campaign is a naked attempt by the corporate elite and right wing to undo the democratic decision of Seattle voters. They couldn’t defeat working people and socialists at the ballot, with their millions and their lies, and so now they are attempting to use the courts and their deep pockets to hold a do over. It’s striking that this undemocratic attack is taking place at the same time that extremist Trump supporters are attempting to violently overturn the Presidential election results.
Two of the false charges against me are retaliation for my consistent support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been viciously targeted by both the police and the courts. We saw the police’s non-response to the horrific far-right actions at the US Capitol on Wednesday. They allowed an armed right-wing mob, with the declared intent to overturn a democratic election, to walk unhindered up the steps. Some police even took selfies with these right wing Trump supporters. What a contrast to the utter brutalization of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters by police in cities across the nation last summer.
And we have just heard that at least two Seattle police officers were in DC on Wednesday. And that Mike Solan, the reactionary president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, has disgustingly speculated it might be Black Lives Matter protesters who stormed the Capitol Building. It is notable during her resignation announcement, that former police chief Carmen Best, who had just presided over brutal attacks on the Black Lives Matter protests, said to Seattle Police that ‘you truly are the best police department in the country.’
The recall effort against us is part of a nationwide backlash by the right wing and political establishments of both parties against Black Lives Matter, socialists, and the left. Over twenty million people took part in the historic protests in the US last summer. The ruling class has made heavy use of the courts as well as the police against BLM protesters, resulting in over fourteen thousand arrests last year.
We know what our movements win has everything to do with our own organized strength, and we should have no illusions in the institutions of capitalism. We cannot rely on the courts for justice, just as we cannot rely on the police.
In October, we saw the Washington Supreme Court throw out the grassroots recall campaign against Amazon’s Mayor, Jenny Durkan, for overseeing the violent crackdown on BLM. We should not have an ounce of complacency, however, that they will do anything of the kind with our case.
With Mayor Durkan’s approval, Seattle police viciously unleashed teargas, rubber bullets, mace and other so-called crowd control weapons on peaceful protests again and again. And the ruling class fully supported this. Yet they were horrified when our movement came to City Hall in June for an hour-long peaceful Black Lives Matter general assembly (with protesters wearing masks) to demand justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and to defund the police. The ruling class fully back Jenny Durkan and Seattle police in spite of the department’s killing of twenty-eight Black and Brown people since 2011 without a single conviction. But they condemn the families of those killed by Seattle police for organizing a peaceful protest near Mayor Durkan’s house, along with the Democratic Socialists of America.
I was honored to be invited to speak at that rally. The political establishment and right wing are taking revenge on our movement by using one of the recall charges to attack me for participating in solidarity with these families. On top of that, they falsely claim that I “led” the protest. I will not take credit where it’s not due — I did not lead the march, I did not organize the rally. The reason they lie about this is because it’s easier for them to go after one person than the whole movement. I am not the first to be attacked in this way, and I will not be the last.
Socialist Alternative and I of course support the democratic right of ordinary people to recall elected officials. Corporate politicians routinely betray their promises, and the interests of ordinary people, while using their elected positions to defend the status quo of deep inequality, racism, and violence. They need to be held accountable. Nationally, tens of millions of ordinary Americans are utterly fed up that neither major party represents them.
Washington state’s recall law is undemocratic and unequally applied. It is well-suited for retaliation against working people’s representatives, in part because there is no requirement that the charges even be proven true. I will not be provided an opportunity to defend myself in court against these dishonest claims.
And so Washington courts have enormous leeway to use recall elections as a mechanism to defend the ruling class and capitalist system — greenlighting cases against the left while dismissing charges against establishment politicians, as they just did with Mayor Durkan. It is no accident that Seattle’s last elected socialist, Anna Louise Strong, was driven out of office in 1919 by a recall campaign for her links to the labor movement and opposition to World War I.
That same year, the great American socialist, Eugene Debs, was sentenced to a decade in prison for a speech he made against the World War – a sentence that was upheld by the US Supreme Court.
The laws under capitalism are written by and for the elite, not for us.
The genocide of native peoples and theft of their land was legally sactioned. The bloody instituion of American slavery was once the law of the land, as was Jim Crow segregation. The lynchings that enforced segregation were not technically legal, yet no court would convict the lynchers.
In what is now Washington State, the Coast Salish people were granted fishing and hunting rights, to motivate the treaties they signed virtually at gunpoint, which were subsequently and wholesale denied. Often they were rejected by the legal mechanism that they couldn’t get fishing rights without citizenship. But they were also denied citizenship rights in the land they had lived on for millenia.
During the Civil Rights era, those who fought for black freedom were jailed again and again, while KKK leaders, killer cops, and the agents of the state who murdered the Black Panthers walked free. State violence against, and brutal killings of, union organizers and socialists was once commonplace.
None of this is distant history, this is American capitalism.
Today in Seattle, big business and the right wing are furious about the impact of socialist politics and social movements. They especially hate the inspiring example it has set for working people around the nation. They are searching for a do over not only of our 2019 re-election, but also the historic victories spearheaded by our office: the Amazon Tax to fund housing and a Green New Deal, the $15 minimum wage, the first-in-nation ban on chemical weapons, and landmark renters rights laws like the ban on winter evictions.
As we speak, City Council Democrats – self-described progressives – are attempting to overturn the chemical weapons ban we won during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, and Democrats in the State Legislature are trying again to dismantle our Amazon Tax through a statewide ban on municipal big business taxes.
We are calling for a new Tax Amazon Action Conference later this month, on Jan 28th, at 6pm. Our movement must go all out to defend against this attack.
Who’s behind the recall? It is the same political and corporate establishment that tried to buy City Hall in 2019. While many of the recall donors are still lurking in the shadows, and the corporate PACs have not yet been filed, we can expect more of the same. Already, we see a host of corporate executives and wealthy developers lining up behind the recall, including billionaire landlord and Trump donor Martin Selig, Airbnb Chief Financial Officer David Stephenson, Merrill Lynch Senior Vice President Matt Westphal, and CEO of Broadmark Realty Capital Jeffrey Pyatt.
Behind the scenes, corporate Democrats are helping to lead the charge – the recall petition itself is copy pasted from Jenny Durkan’s statement during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, demanding that the City Council expel me. But Democrats, big business, and the right wing have drawn lessons from the 2019 elections – they saw how their brazen efforts, led openly by Amazon and the Chamber, backfired on them. This time they’re attempting to falsely portray their campaign as a grassroots effort led by ordinary people in Seattle’s District 3.
This is a lie, and one that will be exposed by the corporate and right-wing forces themselves as they unleash an all-out assault of dirty money. Seattle has its own version of right populist forces, such as anti-homeless group SAFE Seattle who back the recall. It has Sinclair Broadcasting and KOMO with their right-wing message of hate, vividly shown in documentaries like “Fight for the Soul of Seattle,” the sequel to the deeply bigoted “Seattle is Dying” film from 2019. These right-wing propaganda pieces seek to portray themselves as reasonable and even progressive, as right populists so often do.
We know the corporate media will back this recall to the hilt. During my seven years on the Council, the Seattle Times has penned one hit piece after another, along with vicious, red-baiting, and racist cartoons. They have allowed me to reply exactly once in those seven years.
This is no surprise, this is part of the role of the corporate media under capitalism, to defend the system. As Noam Chomsky, who has endorsed our Solidarity Campaign, has said, quote: “It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.” end quote
This recall attack is part of a larger attempt to push Seattle politics to the right and to roll back our movement’s progressive gains. The ruling class needs to rely on such attacks at a time when they are determined to make working people pay for the crisis of their system. At a time when there is massive disillusionment in the establishment and capitalism.
Undoubtedly, the armed attack on the US Capitol by the far right will be used as an excuse to go after peaceful protestors on the left. We have seen this many times in US history, as with the Smith Act of 1940. Already, false parallels are being drawn between our peaceful BLM rally in Seattle City Hall and the violent right-wing Capitol attack against a democratic election, an attack that cost four people’s lives. This is a dishonest and dangerous comparison. The working class has always used peaceful occupations to fight for our rights. This included GM factory occupations in the 1930s which were vital in the struggle for union rights and central to the launch of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, one of the most important and progressive events in American history. A peaceful occupation of the Capitol building in Madison was central to the Wisconsin public-sector uprising in 2011, which helped lay the ground for Occupy Wall Street later that year and the reemergence of social movements.
We must firmly stand up against all these attacks on the left, on workers, and on our civil rights. We must reject these false equivalencies.
Jenny Durkan has loyally served the billionaires in her time in office. She will be well-rewarded by the corporate Democratic establishment, perhaps even through an appointment by the Biden administration – we will see.
Big business will now need a new loyal servant at the helm, and there will be a huge battle over the election of Seattle’s next Mayor in the coming months.
There are also two seats in the City Council up for reelection this year – Amazon will want thoroughly-corporate representatives in those positions as well, to help steer the ship of state to the right.
You see, what the 2019 elections, and this recall campaign are really about, is that big business cannot tolerate having even one elected socialist who unambiguously fights for working people in Seattle. They don’t want our example to spread further, especially at a time of massive crisis, with tens of millions protesting and a new generation looking again to socialist ideas. I have always argued we need a new party for working people, independent of corporate cash, corporate America, and its two parties. Attacks like these show why.
That’s why the Kshama Solidarity Campaign began organizing a mass grassroots effort immediately after the King County superior court ruling in September. More than 200 working people have volunteered and 2,200 people have donated. If you haven’t gotten involved yet, we need you.
We are fighting for COVID relief, paid for by increasing the Amazon Tax we won last year. We need a guaranteed jobs program for all who are unemployed and underemployed. To cancel rent and mortgages for those who’ve lost jobs or significant income and for struggling small businesses. We need to make the banks and corporate landlords pay, NOT renters, homeowners, or small landlords!
We urgently need a democratically-elected Community Oversight Board with full powers to hold the police accountable, including the right to set policy and hire and fire officers.
We need to fully fund a socialist Green New Deal in Seattle to end all fossil fuel emissions by 2030, build green affordable homes, massively expand public transit, and create thousands of clean energy jobs, paid for by taxing the rich.
My office is also fighting to extend the eviction moratorium through the end of this year, to prevent a tsunami of evictions.
Our fight to defeat the recall is tied to the nationwide urgency to defeat the right wing. Wednesday’s far right mob in DC should be understood as a wakeup call for the left. The right will continue to grow as long as there is no alternative to the status quo of corporate politics, where despite their differences, the two parties serve the interests of big business and put the burden of the COVID crisis and brutal recession on ordinary people.
The best and only way to STOP the far right is to build the left and social movements. This is how we are going to pull millions of ordinary people away from the right wing’s influence – by building a powerful fightback for the interests of the working class. Where actual fascists are in the street, they should be met by a massive show of force led by the unions and the left.
This week we heard the inspiring announcement of employees at Google forming the Alphabet Workers’ Union. This is a step in the direction of what is urgently needed – the rebuilding of a militant American labor movement.
We can’t expect Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi to provide any alternatives. That is why, I have endorsed the #ForceTheVote campaign, demanding that the Squad and other left Democrats use a floor vote on Medicare for All as part of an overall strategy to build a fighting movement for socialized medicine. Representatives of working people shouldn’t support a corporate tool like Nancy Pelosi continuing as Speaker of the House while millions face misery, as Squad members have unfortunately done. While I agree Trump should be impeached, as the Squad is now saying, this cannot be our main focus. The left has the responsibility to address the urgent needs of the working class – and that means, as a starting point, fighting tooth and nail for Medicare for All, comprehensive COVID relief, a socialist Green New Deal, and preparing the ground to launch a new party. This is a critical juncture in history, and we cannot accept a false unity with the corrupt Democratic establishment. We instead need to build the powerful unity of millions of working people and the oppressed to fight for a different kind of society.