Kshama Sawant’s election to the Seattle City Council both increased the mood of workers in and around Seattle and increased the interest in socialism. We supported her campaign, argued in favor of voting for her, and some of us made substantial donations to her campaign. We were elated when she got elected. However, every step forward comes not only with new opportunities, but also new problems and, yes, new potential dangers. In this case, we are worried that Kshama has gotten too close to the union leadership and also is not clearly enough distancing herself from the liberal Democrats on some key issues.
At the 15 Now conference in Seattle last April, the leadership of the hotel workers union appeared on behalf of the hotel owners. They wanted the union hotels exempted from the $15 per hour minimum wage. Their position was that they could not make the hotels pay this increased wage plus keep paying the same amount for health care benefits. Instead of arguing that we have to build a movement that makes the hotel owners and all employers do both, Kshama simply supported the position of the union leadership. We think this was a mistake. We are also told by city officials that it’s possible that union workers will be exempted from the new ordinance. We think Kshama should bring this out in the open and campaign against this. What is the purpose of having a union if it means lower wages?
When a Kathleen O’Toole, former capitalist and, before that police commissioner in Boston, was appointed police commissioner in Seattle, Kshama correctly enough voted “no”. However, her statement on the issue was unclear at best. She implied support for O’Toole’s “tiered” approach for the use of police repression. This is simply unacceptable. And she praised O’Toole for her “openness” in answering questions. We wonder if O’Toole was questioned about the repressive and also racist methods of the Boston police.
Shortly after that, a young Latino man, Oscar Giron, was killed by a sheriff’s deputy in Seattle. For over a week, the Seattle police withheld video of the event as well as refused to turn the body over to Oscar’s family. Meanwhile, there were protests organized by the family. We think Kshama, or at least somebody from her office, should have been at the protest and that she should have made a public statement, at the very least demanding that the video and the body be turned over immediately. Unfortunately, she has been silent on this issue to this very day. When we were writing an article on this for this blog site, we contacted Kshama’s office for a comment. We were told they had been “too busy” to even discuss the issue. This issue of police brutality and police murders as well as the issue of mass incarceration of black and Latino people is the central issue of repression in US society. Socialists – especially one in public office – should be the most outspoken on this question.
Now we have another issue: Israel’s murderous attack on Gaza as well as what has been happening in the West Bank and in Israel itself. Sawant is only a city official, but it is common for political figures at her level to participate in broader campaigns, make statements, etc. This is doubly so for her, since she is the most prominent socialist in the US. There have been two protests against Israel in Seattle recently. Kshama Sawant should have been there and should have spoken there.She should have made a public statement on the issue, introduced a resolution at the city council, etc. (SA has made a statement, but that is a different matter.)
This is extremely disappointing. Domestically, she won’t speak up clearly and unequivocally for the most oppressed layer of society – those who come into contact with our criminal (in)justice system, especially Latino and Black people. Internationally, when this huge crime against humanity is being conducted in Gaza, when little children are being targeted, when even worse is developing – Kshama Sawant is publicly silent. A clear statement on this issue by Sawant would attract attention and might actually influence some people in the US who are confused on the issue. It could also help strengthen a socialist perspective among pro-Palestinian supporters here.
Instead, Kshama Sawant is missing in action. If this continues, there will be major disappointment among many people who originally supported her. This silence will increase the cynicism and confusion that is so widespread already among both workers and young people.
It may sound harsh, but we have to ask: “What kind of socialism is this?”
We hope that members of Socialist Alternative ask within SA and inside the CWI why Kshama Sawant is not speaking out on these issues.