“The wealthy took their best shot at us, and we beat them. Again” – Kshama Sawant

Below is the text of Kshama Sawant’s speech at the December 10 press conference announcing the Solidarity Campaign’s ballot curing initiative. 

Congratulations to the Starbucks workers for their successful unionization drive. It is a sign of things to come.

Former Starbucks CEO and Seattle District 3 resident, Howard Schultz, had a very bad day today. Between Starbucks’ workers beginning to take off their chains and our apparent victory here in Seattle, it was terrible news all around for the capitalist class.

Yesterday afternoon’s ballot count showed our socialist campaign in Seattle taking a lead of 232 votes. 

It appears we have defeated the combined efforts of big business, the right wing, the corporate media, the courts, and the political establishment – who sought to remove our socialist council office by any means necessary.

In other words, the wealthy and their representatives in politics and the media took their best shot at us, and we beat them. Again.

How did we do this? We won because we did not back down. 

We did not back down in our socialist City Council office. Instead we went on the offensive, and we won some of the most crucial victories for renters’ rights this year.

We did not back down in fighting for workers – we put our resources and our full commitment at the disposal of the courageous rank-and-file leadership of the Pacific Northwest Carpenters’ union. We did this even though their union’s leadership shamefully did not want to fight, and publicly attacked our Council office, falsely accusing us of interference.

If standing with union workers in their efforts to fight the bosses is interference, then I plead guilty. I am an interferer.

There are good and courageous labor leaders also, and we need to work alongside them. Workers have no choice but to rebuild a fighting labor movement, and if some conservative trade union leaders want to stand in the way, we can’t let that stop us. 

We did not back down one inch in our socialist election campaign to defeat the racist, right-wing, big-business-backed recall. We have fought off endless attacks by the corporate media, in particular the Seattle Times.

Again we fought off massive amounts of corporate cash. A million dollars. I’m speaking not only of the corporate PAC money, but also of the huge sums of corporate cash that went directly to the Recall campaign, with more than 500 rich Republicans, 850 millionaires, 100+ CEOs and corporate executives, and a virtual Who’s Who of wealthy real estate interests.

We overcame the shameful actions by the Washington State Supreme Court, who not allowed this unjust recall campaign to proceed, but also delayed their ruling, allowing the recall election to be held in December to disenfranchise working people, renters, and people of color.

And we should be clear, the voter suppression had a real effect. In 2019, we also had a strong get out the vote campaign – though not as strong as this time – and there was 60% turnout in our district. This time, it is only 53%. Had it not been for blatant voter suppression, we would have won by a far larger margin. It would not even have been close.

But even this time, in the pouring rain of December and an unprecedented holiday election, the outcome of this vote was NOT REMOTELY close in terms of the votes of working-class people, people of color, and young people. In all the precincts with clear majorities of working people, we have won by massive margins. Including this precinct. Majorities of 70 percent, 80 percent, and higher.

This has been true in every election. Working people by enormous margins support our socialist politics.

This was reflected not only in the vote, but also in our 1,500 volunteers, and our record-breaking fundraising.

This victory would not have been possible without enormous self-sacrifice by our volunteers, by socialists, by working people. We campaigned for hours in the pouring rain, the cold, high winds, in the rainiest November in Seattle history. And it was not only their self sacrifice, but the political clarity of socialist ideas that guided their every effort to win this historic victory for the working class.

In the end, the voter suppression was not enough. So not surprisingly, the Seattle Times editorial board wants more voter suppression going forward, and is not shy about openly taking this Trumpian position.

Well if the ruling class wants to change the laws in this country allegedly in the interests of democracy, they should start with the state’s recall law. Instead of a system that allows the courts to protect establishment politicians from recall and pave the way for the recall of working class politicians. They should make it so that ALL politicians are subject to democratic recall, instead of this utter mockery of democracy that just took place. 

Progressive Democrats have lost ground on the City Council. Sara Nelson’s election will embolden big business. It will give the excuse that many Democrats on the Council want to try to drag Seattle politics to the right. We can’t let them.

There are undoubtedly huge differences between me as a socialist on the one hand, and the liberal councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda, Tammy Morales, and Lisa Herbold. But I strongly urge that they and our socialist office act in unity as the City Council’s progressive wing, to fight back against big business attacks, and go on the offensive for workers. 

If, in fact, the goal of the liberal Democrats was to fight unambiguously for working people. I would happily join them. I would meet them today and the next day, to strategize for how we can go on the offensive for rent control, affordable housing, to fight against institutional racism in this city.

But the choice is theirs. And any number of sweet words and flowers on our part isn’t going to make them do it. 

Because if history is any guide, the woke progressive Democrats will instead cozy up to the new big-business Mayoral administration of Bruce Harrell, and look to how they can appease big business in the coming months.

It is already happening. Councilmember Mosqueda has shamefully joined Mayor-elect Harrell’s transition team. This says a great deal. The other progressive Democrats are also making all kinds of indications they intend to go down that path.

As working people, we need to draw out the real lessons of this fight.

One of them is that the Democrats on the Seattle City Council are not on your side – they are not on the side of the working class. At best, they are woke progressive liberals who will tell you what you want to hear sometimes when they feel the pressure, but they will talk out of the other side of their mouths to big business.

Not one of the woke City Council progressives, in fact not one of the eight Democrats, said one word against this right-wing recall, despite the enormous amount that was at stake for the working class in this fight. That should tell you everything you need to know about them.

But it is more than that. Rather than stand with our movements, they have fought us every step of the way. Gonzalez and other Democrats used bureaucratic means in an attempt to shut down our Tax Amazon movement last year. Just two months ago, not one of these woke progressives supported me in even introducing our legislation to make contractor bosses pay for construction worker parking, which was one of the main demands of the carpenters’ strike. On top of that, Gonzalez as Council President threatened to mute me on the Zoom call. These are just a few of many examples.

I wish this wasn’t true, but it is. It is a cold hard fact that we need more socialists on the City Council who will fight for working people. And even more importantly – we need to build our movements. That is how things will change. I know some don’t like to hear this, but it is my political duty to say it.

We need unity, but the unity we need is with the working class, young people, and the oppressed. We need unity with everyone who is willing to fight for housing as a human right, for a socialist Green New Deal, and to end racism and sexism. Unity with the political establishment means only one thing – it means betrayal.

If I were to hold my tongue when the Democratic politicians betray working people, as they did with the utterly shameful repeal of the first Amazon Tax in 2018, I would have myself betrayed the working class. 

Because you see, that’s what it means when you don’t speak up. By choosing what to say and what to leave out, an elected official is choosing a side. If I did not expose the Democrats when they sell out working people, I would myself become part of the problem, part of the betrayal.

These Democrats on the City Council, they could make different choices. I wish they would, and I hope they will, but I am certainly not holding my breath. And you shouldn’t either. In fact, I appeal to you, stop holding your breath. It is time for action. It is time to fight for rent control. It is time to rebuild a fighting labor movement. It is time for Medicare for all. We have work today – we have no time for illusions in the bosses’ politicians, no matter how pretty they speak. What we win or don’t win will be based on the unity we build with the working class – on the strength of our movement. 

But big business had a virtual sweep in Seattle’s November election, as well as big victories nationally. Why?

Because while corporate PACs backed “law and order” candidates, the woke, progressive Democrats overwhelmingly failed to campaign on working-class issues. Why did Democrats like Lorena Gonzalez not offer anything to the working class? Why did they not fight for rent control, for expanding the Amazon Tax to build affordable housing, or any working class demands at all? Why did they allow the election to be defined by the right-wing backlash against Black Lives matter? Why did they not call out the big business backing of their opponents, the $2 million in corporate money being used to buy those elections?

The blowout in Gonzalez’s election was because she never brought up any fighting demands – she campaigned on the defensive throughout – unwilling to point out that her opponent was the favored candidate of big business. And that’s because she herself does not want to antagonize big business.

It is because the Democratic Party is not a party of the working class but rather a party of the Billionaires. Even its progressive wing ultimately wants to make peace with big business, and limit itself to make largely symbolic changes within the status quo.

The Democrats are obviously different from the increasingly outright reactionary billionaire party of the Republicans. But that is not enough.

I am a Marxist. That is to say, I am a scientific socialist. That means I do not engage in the wishful thinking or political impressionism that is the stock-and-trade of the liberals. I base myself – as do all my comrades in Socialist Alternative – on material reality, on historical materialism – which is the study of history through a scientific lens. We cannot afford to not learn from the past mistakes and victories of the working class. There is simply no time for it.

One conclusion Karl Marx drew in his study of class struggle, is that the working class needs its political independence, its own candidates, and its own political party – it cannot share its political party with the capitalists.

And it is high time that we draw up a balance sheet of the Democratic Party – which is a failed, rotten party through and through. It was never the party of the workers. FDR’s New Deal was a product of a militant labor movement, guided by socialists and socialist ideas, which gave him no choice but to act. FDR told the capitalists of his era, I am the best friend of American capitalism.

We vowed to build the biggest get-out-the-vote campaign that Seattle has ever seen, and we have done exactly that. But we are not done. Now there are around 600 votes that have been challenged, due to missing signatures or that were otherwise left inadvertently incomplete. Our grassroots, socialist campaign will be carrying out a systematic, all-out effort to make sure every working person’s vote counts in this election, just as we fought to do in the past weeks. We will begin this voter protection campaign today, right after this press conference.

We now have in front of us a real opportunity to win rent control. This victory speaks to the huge support for rent control in this district, in Seattle, and beyond. We gathered over 15,000 signatures this summer for rent control, at the same time we were fending off this right-wing recall. We need to go on the offensive next year to make this happen. As our 2019 reelection victory created the momentum we needed to win the historic Amazon Tax, defeating this recall is the wind in our wings to pass our Seattle legislation and force the Democrats in Olympia to lift the ban once and for all.

Finally, I have a message to working people. This victory was brought to you by the political ideas and clarity of Socialist Alternative, as were all our past election victories, as were the $15 minimum wage and the Amazon Tax and renters’ rights. Full stop. If you are serious about fighting to win gains for working people, you should seriously consider joining Socialist Alternative. You owe it to yourself, you owe it to the working class.

If a small revolutionary socialist organization can beat the wealthiest corporations in the world here in Seattle, again and again, you can be sure that the organized power of the wider working class can change society.

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