By STEVE LEIGH
— SEATTLE, April 1 — Kshama Sawant, a member of Socialist Alternative, the first socialist Seattle City Council member in nearly 100 years, is under attack by big business. A coalition of ruling-class figures is trying to recall her from the city council. Yesterday, March 31, the Washington State Supreme Court gave them the go ahead. They can now collect signatures for the recall effort.
What did Kshama do to warrant this recall? There are many things corporate leaders oppose. She led a movement for the nation’s first major city $15 per hour minimum wage ordinance in 2014. She pushed for a “people’s budget.” She helped rally forces against the police “bunker” that would have cost over $200 million. The bunker was stopped. Kshama pushed for and won greater protections for tenants. Finally, perhaps most galling the wealthy, she led a successful movement for higher taxation on big business to fund public housing.
Sawant has made mistakes as well, including voting for the police chief because the chief had the support of middle-class Black community leaders. In spite of that, her overall record has been extremely helpful to the poor and working class
None of this would make for a legally plausible recall. Instead, her opponents focus on her support of the solidarity with George Floyd movement. Last summer, she had the gall to allow protesters to use the city’s Municipal Building for a Black Lives Matter rally. She also spoke at a rally against police brutality in front of the mayor’s house. Finally, she was accused of using her office to promote the Amazon Tax.
The real big business criticism of Sawant is that she uses her office to back movements for positive change. She doesn’t act like the usual capitalist politician. She pushes back against the liberal consensus that leaves ordinary people out. For this she is called “strident” and not a team player.
The Court showed its bias by refusing a recall effort against the mayor but validating the recall of Sawant. Instead of Sawant’s “crime” of free speech, the mayor was accused of overseeing a brutal police response to last summer’s protest. The Court basically said that police brutality is no recall offense, but organizing against it is!
Sawant and her supporters are taking this challenge seriously. This is good because the attack is well funded. According to Kshama: “The Recall Campaign is backed by a host of corporate executives and developers, including billionaire landlord and Trump donor Martin Selig; Jeannie Nordstrom of the billionaire union-busting, retail giant Nordstrom dynasty; Airbnb Chief Financial Officer and former Amazon Vice President Dave Stephenson; Merrill Lynch Senior Vice President Matt Westphal; wealthy Trump donors like Dennis Weibling, Vidur Luthra and Greg Eneil; and plethora of major real-estate players, such as John Stephanus, whose asset management company, Epic, has ranked amongst Seattle’s top 10 landlords for evictions.”
It is in the interest of everyone who supports progressive social change to make sure that Sawant retains her position! Even if there are criticisms of some stands she has taken, her position is very helpful to movement organizing.
Activists and working class people in general should actively oppose the recall campaign. The battle is between big business and movements for positive change for the working class. Big business tried to defeat Sawant in the last election by raising massive amounts of money. They lost. Now they are trying it again with this recall.
Sawant gave the following statement: “This ruling is completely unjust, but we are not surprised. Working people and oppressed communities cannot rely on the capitalist courts for justice anymore than they can on the police. Last summer, all across the country, ordinary people who peacefully protested in multi-racial solidarity against racism and police brutality themselves faced brutal police violence. The police and the political establishment have yet to be held accountable, while in stark contrast, more than 14,000 protestors were arrested.
“In October, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously threw out the grassroots recall campaign launched in response to Amazon-backed Mayor Jenny Durkan’s overseeing a violent police crackdown against Seattle protests. Now, this same Supreme Court has unanimously approved the recall against an elected socialist, working-class representative who has unambiguously stood with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The recall law in Washington State is inherently undemocratic and well-suited for politicized use against working people’s representatives, because there is no requirement that the charges even be proven true. In effect, the courts have enormous leeway to use recall elections as a mechanism to defend the ruling class and capitalist system. It is no accident that Seattle’s last elected socialist, Anna Louise Strong, was driven out of office by a recall campaign for her links to the labor movement and opposition to World War I.”
The Kshama Solidarity Campaign states: “We need your support to massively expand our Decline-to-Sign campaign and defeat this attack on all working people. The Recall Campaign has already raised $300,000. Can you make a contribution to the Kshama Solidarity Campaign today so that we have the necessary resources to fight back?”
Those in the Seattle area can get actively involved by joining the planned April 3 solidarity rally: “All Out to Defend Kshama” , this Saturday at 11 am PST at Cal Anderson Park!
Steve Leigh is a member of the Seattle Revolutionary Socialists and of the Revolutionary Socialist Network.
Photo: Kshama Sawant (Jason Redmond / Reuters)