By STEVE LEIGH
Seattle has had over three months of unrest over police brutality and racism. Thousands upon thousands have hit the streets. Protesters took over a six-block area called the Capitol Hill Organized Protest ( CHOP) for over three weeks. The Seattle East Precinct was shut down for this whole period. Police have guarded their union headquarters against demonstrators many nights. National corporations have had to replace storefront windows more than once. Barricades have gone up around police precincts. Over half the population has supported defunding the police.
The mayor and police officials desperately want to end this wave of protests. Early on they attempted to negotiate with self-appointed movement leaders for minor reforms. This fell apart when the movement swept these “leaders” aside and radicalized. It demanded at least a 50% cut in police funding—and just as importantly, the use of the funds for social programs (see: https://decriminalizeseattle.com/).
The city administration has used different tactics. Rather than face nightly confrontations, it allowed CHOP to exist. However, under national political pressure and local business pressure, it shut down CHOP in early July. Ironically, Mayor Jenny Durkan denounced Trump for threatening ederal intervention against CHOP but succumbed to his pressure and used FBI help to clear CHOP (see: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/07/01/seattle-police-shut-down-chop/).
Police attacked some demonstrations viciously and allowed others to self-police with bicycle brigades. The mayor attacked socialist city council member Kshama Sawant and tried to get the city council to investigate and remove her.
When this failed, the capitalists and their agents launched a recall campaign against Sawant. The grounds they used were Sawant’s participation in Black Lives Matter and other free speech advocacy:
- She allowed demonstrators to use City Hall for a rally after hours, supposedly violating the governor’s COVID quarantine rules
- She joined and spoke at a rally at Mayor Durkan’s house, supposedly violating a confidentiality law
- She cooperated too closely with her organizatio , Socialist Alternative, by leaving some hiring and firing decisions to the organization. And, horror of horrors, she took political guidance from that group!
- She used city resources to promote the Tax Amazon initiative.
On Sept. 16, Sawant’s legal team tried to convince the judge that the recall effort did not meet the terms of state and local law. The arguments were detailed and overwhelming. Sawant’s legal defense was funded by the city government after a 7-1 vote by the city council. Most importantly, her lawyers made clear what is well known to movement activists: This is a blatant right-wing political attack. It is an attempt to take out the only socialist on the city council and a leader in Black Lives Matter and in the Tax Amazon movement.
The charges are absurd to anyone who supports free speech and political organizing. Using “people’s city hall” for a political rally? Attending and speaking at another rally? Participating in and taking guidance from a political organization? (That’s especially silly when Sawant ran as an open member of Socialist Alternative.) Promoting an initiative to help the vast majority of people in the city?
The attack on Sawant is also based on the narrow established view of what a political representative should do. Elected officials are not supposed to be movement activists according to this view, what Sawant calls “ respectability politics.”
At an online rally the day of the hearing, hundreds of activists pledged support for Sawant in this fight and rejected the bogus charges. They saw it as an open attempt to overturn the election of Sawant less than a year ago. Unfortunately, in the late afternoon on Sept. 16, the judge let the recall proceed on some of the charges. Unless Sawant is able to overturn this on appeal, there will be a recall election most likely in February 2021.
Immediately after the judge’s ruling, Kshama’s supporters held another online solidarity rally even larger than the one earlier in the day. Kshama spoke about what the stakes in the fight are:
“Police violence is being defended by both parties—not just Trump but the Democratic Party mayors. A section of the Democratic Party establishment has gone to war against the Black Lives Matter movement. Working people need their own political part ! It is no accident that this recall is being financed by developer Martin Selig.
“They are trying to roll back the gains that working people have made over the last six years. They are in court fighting our ban on police use of chemical weapons. They want to come after the Amazon Tax. Don’t get demoralized! The capitalists are afraid of the growing confidence of the working class. We will fight in the courts and build a massive movement on the streets. We need radical change, socialist change!”
Those wishing to support the campaign to defend Sawant can go to http://www.kshamasolidarity.org/.
Besides the attack on Sawant, the city administration has tried another ploy. The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods appointed Andre Taylor as “street czar.” Taylor is a long-time Black activist who leads the organization “Not This Time.”
According to Publicola, the city will pay Taylor and Not This Time $150,000 to provide “expertise and support services in de-escalation, community engagement, and alternatives to policing.” His organization led the campaign for more police accountability in the aftermath of the police murder of his brother Che Taylor in 2016. The initiative removed the requirement of proving malice before a cop could be charged for brutality or murder.
This was a step with progressive aspects that most anti-racist activists supported. But Taylor’s role in the current uprising against the murder of George Floyd has been less positive. For example, although Police Chief Carmen Best actively opposed the effort to defund the police, finally resigning when the city council slightly cut the police budget, Taylor proclaimed, “Chief Best is my friend” (see: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/08/13/after-seattles-police-chief-resigns-the-struggle-continues/).
Taylor’s overall approach is shown by a statement on Not This Time’s website: “We value dialogue because we bring community and decision-makers to the table.” However, the movement in Seattle has made a decisive turn toward confrontation with the police. It has opposed the capitalist policing function wholesale. It is clearly demanding defunding, not dialogue with the institution that regularly brutalizes and murders people of color and poor people generally.
KOMO News reported, “During the summer’s Capitol Hill Occupied Protest demonstrations, Taylor drew fire from many protesters, who accused him of being an agent for city leaders and police. Many of the CHOP protesters said Taylor did not speak for them.”
Taylor’s attitude is clearly out of synch with the majority of activists on the street. His appointment as “street czar” will not succeed in winding down street protests. Taylor, of course, disagrees: “A street czar is a person who has a particular genius in a particular area,” Taylor told KOMO News on Tuesday “This should be a prominent position because it could help quell some of the incidents that are going on between community and cities.”
City leaders are clearly out of touch if they think his appointment will help overcome the clear division between the police and those they occupy and oppress.
The ploys of the mayor and police have not stopped the movement. Small rallies and marches are still going on daily. There will be another large rally focusing opposition on the Seattle Police Foundation on Saturday, Sept. 19. The campaign to defend Kshama Sawant will move into high gear in the next few months. Neither actions of the city administration nor the wild fire smoke will stop the movement!
Photo: Seattle cops clear tents set up as part of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest on July 1. (KOMO News)