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How Socialist Alternative calls the shots in Sawant’s City Hall office

Critics have long accused Kshama Sawant of putting party before district in her work on the Seattle City Council. Documents published Monday by the Seattle City Council Insight news site seem to show that not only is the District 3 representative beholden to the tenets and causes of Socialist Alternative but that the Trotskyist political organization is also calling the shots in Sawant’s Seattle City Hall office. You can read the full report here — all the documents gathered by SCCI are posted here. SCCI provided copies of the documents to CHS in advance of publication for review and so we could begin our own reporting.

“The IEC agrees that the running and staffing of KS’s office in Seattle be agreed by the national EC of the organisation in consultation with KS,” conclusion number four of a resolution adopted by the worldwide Committee for a Workers’ International and Socialist Alternative’s National Executive Committee in December 2017 reads.

The alphabet soup directive — International Executive Committee, Executive Committee, and, yes, KS for Kshama Sawant — came last winter after a round of infighting over concerns that the Seattle City Council member’s office had been “unaccountable” to national leadership.

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SA isn’t officially a political party or organization by federal IRS tax standards. Unlike parties — including Democrats and the GOP — the organization does not have to disclose its leadership or make regular financial disclosures the feds require of political organizations. Its larger socialist rival the Democratic Socialists of America is also not a party but does have political nonprofit status.

According to the resolution and other internal Socialist Alternative documents reviewed by CHS, the Sawant directive appears to be part of a framework for setting her policies right down to how the veteran council member votes, what she will say about her decision in the council chambers, and who works on her city payrolled staff.

The new revelations come as Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office is also facing harsh criticism for its relationships with consultants and lobbyists, putting two of the major players in Seattle politics in new, harsher light around City Hall decisions.

According to a Seattle City Council spokesperson, Sawant was traveling and unavailable for media interviews this week. Socialist Alternative representatives have not responded to our inquiry about the resolution and the influence of the organization in Seattle City Council legislation.

Sawant’s vote this summer to confirm Seattle Police veteran Carmen Best as the city’s new chief is one recent example of the Socialist Alternative system in action.

In a decision controversial enough to require a committee to later compose a letter justifying “our vote,” Sawant got the go ahead to join her fellow council members in a rare moment of agreement and added her “yes” to Best’s approval. It was a decision apparently made, in part, well outside City Hall:

The August 13th “Understanding Our Vote on Carmen Best” letter — prefaced with a statement stressing the write-up as an “internal document” that could “complicate” Socialist Alternative’s “work in Seattle” if it were to be made public — laid out the process that apparently included prescription for what Sawant should say during her time with the mic before the vote:

That Monday, August 13th afternoon, Sawant followed the outline, joining the 8-0 vote to approve Best — but not before adding a “skillful” speech. “What my vote does represent,” Sawant said that day, “is a vote of solidarity with my black and brown fellow community members who overwhelmingly have urged me to not stand in the way of Best’s appointment.”

The committee approach to managing Sawant’s office may help explain some of the council member’s more surprising positions including last year’s campaign and rally to “save the Showbox.”

According to other internal Socialist Alternative documents, decisions about who is — and is not — on Sawant’s city office staff are also made at an organizational level.

In a letter from winter 2018 outlining staffing decisions for Socialist Alternative’s political activities in Seattle, the committee memorandum also includes direction related to a staffer working in Sawant’s City Hall office:

“The Seattle City Committee is meeting over the coming weekend of January 27th,” the Socialist Alternative letter continues. “This meeting will discuss an NC report and also Seattle structures. EC members from outside of Seattle will be participating as well.”

The revelations about Socialist Alternative control and management of Sawant’s office come as the group’s brightest political star is set to face another challenge for her seat on the city council. Already, three opponents have come forward to oppose the incumbent including a Beacon Hill neighborhood activist and a pot shop entrepreneur. Beto Yarce, a member of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Small Business Advisory Council and director of a nonprofit dedicated to economic mobility for Latino small business owners, is currently positioned to give Sawant her greatest challenge.

Though her potential future opponents say they expect her to join the race, Leschi resident Sawant has not announced plans for a 2019 campaign and her representatives have not responded to our inquiries about her plans. Born in Mumbai, Sawant’s political career in Seattle was formed out of the Occupy movement when the economist was still teaching at Seattle Central and Seattle University. Sawant’s leadership, the council member has said herself, has been focused on larger, sometimes global issues.

Like many of Sawant’s political causes, the Socialist Alternative management structure also has global implications as the memorandum from the Committee for a Workers’ International — the international umbrella for Socialist Alternative-related parties — lays out.

“This meeting of the IEC recognises the tremendous steps forward taken by the US organisation,” the document reads. “This is reflected in the outstanding victories we have conquered in Seattle and more recently the marvellous election campaign in Minneapolis. We also recognise the rapid growth of the organisation which brings with it new challenges to consolidate the new members on a solidly Marxist basis.”

“The opportunities which exist in the US to build a strong Marxist party are of international importance for the CWI and the working class,” it concludes.

But the trove of internal documents makes one thing clear about any international implications of Socialist Alternative’s strategy and accomplishments — the relatively small, 1,000 or so member organization has its hands full right now running a City Council office in Seattle.

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36 thoughts on “How Socialist Alternative calls the shots in Sawant’s City Hall office” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. Sawant and Socialist Alternative do not believe in anything like a progressive Scandinavian socialist state. They are full blown Marxist/Trotskyist and believe the only way of achieving that goals is the in the wholesale dismantling of capitalism, private property, police, and on and on and to replace them with a Marxist adherent structures. Gee, that sounds fun.

    Don’t take my word for it, take Sawant’s and Socialist Alternative’s. Quite a read

    This would make a great Netfix series… but unfortunately it is reality to us in district 3.

  2. I’m glad to see people waking up to this women’s agenda. it’s time for her to go. I live in district 3 and have called her office twice with concerns and both times received no response back.

  3. Oh boy. Well, it’s up to the voters. I prefer someone who’s accountable to district residents but I wasn’t going to vote for Sawant this time anyway.

    Letting this outside political committee hire and fire City staff seems like a huge ethical violation to me.

    It’s really sad to me that the $15 minimum wage has gotten mixed up with all this crazy. Perfectly reasonable moderate policy, as is AOC’s 70% marginal tax rate on 10 million or more in income.

  4. This is hardly a surprise……Sawant has been acting like a tool of the socialist agenda for quite some time.

    A couple of days ago, I received a flyer from her in my mail (probably paid for by taxpayers) which pretends to be concerned about District 3 issues. Ha! She is obviously preparing for the election next fall. Don’t be deceived….she’s a real fake!

  5. I’m 55 years old, so not exactly “Get off my lawn”-old, but definitely old enough to have been raised in an environment where Marxism was seen as a clear threat to our way of life. Now, we could argue all day (and I might even agree with a lot of it) that that “way of life” was not equitable to all and change is good…but damned if all that “comrade” stuff and weird lingo and lockstep thinking stuff didn’t creep me the f*** out and make me see her as a toxic weasel versus just an over-extending extremist politician. She’s gotta go.

    • You are not the only one creeped out by this. It’s got the strong smell of a Manchurian Candidate or a trojan horse!
      Let’s kick her and her Marxist cadre out of city government.

  6. Hilarious chirrupings from “jseattle”!

    Kshama Sawant is a genuine socialist.

    Kshama is a proud member of Socialist Alternative.

    So Kshama proudly implements, defends, fights for — the policy and programme of Socialist Alternative.

    Regarding “jseattle”’s amusing prattle about the CWI:
    The CWI, Committee for a Workers’ International, is the international organization with which Socialist Alternative is in complete political solidarity.
    The CWI has a presence on every inhabited continent, in nearly 50 countries today.

    So the CWI is no more sinister, threatening, menacing — than the nose on “jseattle”’s face!

    We’re going all out to fight and re-win Kshama’s Seattle city council position — a terrific battle, given the deluge of corporate cash bearing down upon us!

    Please vote for Kshama Sawant, please donate to us, and please consider joining us.
    Together we have a world to win!

    • You missed the point of the article. It doesn’t criticize Sawant’s policies but rather your party’s control over what she does as a city council member.

    • You are on the wrong side of history, camrade!
      In fact, your ideology has been relegated to to dustbin of history.

    • As a long-timer resident of and non-profit worker in District 3, I will be donating both my time and money to see her re-election bid go down in flames. I cannot wait until she and her braying crowds are booted from City Hall, and will be working to elect someone that actually cares about Seattle and the district.

  7. I am a bit disappointed by the tone of this article. It writes as if this were a bad thing, but it isn’t. What I don’t think people understand that if you are going to dismantle and destroy white supremacy, the patriarchy, and capitalism, you cannot play by the rules that the oppressors want you to play by. This means that we have to work together and operate under the values and direct the motives of the Party as one, and not allow executive function fall onto one individual, but the group. Democracy, as the West knows it, is a trope put on by the Capitalist classes to further oppress those who are already marginalized by what they deem as a normative society.

    @socialistworld is on the right track and the Socialist Alternative will be here to protect the worker as we rise against our oppressors and drive the revolution in the streets. Seattle will be draped in red banners celebrating the work of the laborer. Seattle will promote restorative justice and elevate and celebrate the cause the voices who are of color, womxn, nonbianary, and who have been oppressed by thousands of years of Eurocentric nonsense. Seattle will rise, and it will rise with the force of the worker.

    So ask yourself, when the revolution comes, will you be on the side that elevated the rights the worker through Sawant, or will you be with the Capitalists.

    • Call me a cynic, but honestly I don’t think the larger part of humanity is motivated enough to want to achieve merely for the sake of achievement. Take away all financial incentives and the great bulk of society bogs down into intellectual and innovative apathy. There will always be a few outliers who have brilliant, active minds that are not suppressed by lack of reward, but most people are terribly Pavlovian – don’t dangle a better living out to them as an incentive to do difficult or noxious jobs and very few will be ‘salivating’ over taking them… forcing people into those positions will result in nearly universal mediocrity and societal dysfunction.

      Not to mention that there will always be those ready, willing and able to completely take advantage of those very earnest folks who really think that they can create a truly and flatly equal society to amass their very own personal fortunes that rival and even perhaps top (we will likely never know… they hide it well) the most wealthy of capitalist entrepreneurs…

      I don’t know about you but I have zero desire to have lived in the old USSR or the present Russia. The experiment played out in front of our eyes and was not a success.

      • I don’t know anyone who is interested in returning to a stalinist bureaucratic clique. Certainly no Trotskyist would.
        Marx never insinuated that the working class would have absolute equality, but only that the working class itself would defeat capitalism to assume absolute democratic control and power over their own worldwide Commonwealth.
        Workers who, as the actual producers of all wealth and prosperity in our world, are the one’s that best know who is most productive or valuable in any field, shop or factory, and as such are most able to determine what is the appropriate level of compensation (or perks once capital itself is no longer in existence.)

  8. I have always wonder who was pulling her strings. She never seemed smart enough to manage her campaign or develop her own positions.

  9. Numerous ethical concerns here — she has never disclosed that she effectively has ceded her vote to Socialist Alternative, a national organization that she has a financial relationship with, and is not therefore representing her D3 constituency.

    The broader point here: Socialism itself — specifically the government owning the means of production — is not a good direction for the city or the nation. Has the rapid decline in the number of people experiencing extreme poverty in the world been more due to movements toward socialism (e.g., Venezuela, et al) or capitalism (China, et al)?

  10. This would be one thing if she represented Seattle then the Socialists, but this article makes it pretty clear it’s the other way around. There’s absolutely no subtlety here. KS has virtually no control over her own agenda.

    If you are clueless enough to think this won’t be a problem for her reelection… well, you’re part of the reason socialists have never made any serious inroads in this country. Keep up the shitty work, guys.

  11. And to those people trying to advance this idea that this is how things should work… why the secrecy? Why didn’t KS let us know that she would be punting the decision making process to an unelected group of people?

  12. Everyone acts so shocked. She’s a socialist! Par for course. We should stop acting as if suddenly the socialists have found morality.

    • It has got nothing to do with morality and in my mind it has nothing to do with influence. Everyone has people and organizations and ideologies that influence how they act.
      This is about control- the control that Socialist Alternative exercises over Sawant.

      In the words of SA-
      ” Sawant and her City Council office must be wholly accountable to Socialist Alternative.”

  13. Oh. Please. I’m not exactly a hug Sawant fan here. But she was elected by her district by GIANT margins twice. So enough of the butthurt, okay.

    You don’t like her? Beat her at the polls.

    Sawant never hid that she represented Socialist Alternative. The sin’t anything new. Most of the rest of the council has been in the pocket of Amazon or Microsoft or Boeing for god damned decades. And none of you trolls had a problem with any of that shit.

    All this trolling and Dory Monson/KIRO right wing panty twisting is just god damned laughable.

  14. I think we need to demand from Sawant that she tell us who funds Socialist Alternative.

    We have a law in Washington State that demands transparency in political ads. Socialist Alternative is not transparent, so while it may comply with the letter of the law it does not comply with the intent.

    So, now we know that Socialist Alternative is calling the shots here – can we find out who is calling theirs?

    Amazing that Sawant likes to trash ‘corporate interests’ while not revealing hers.

    Thank you for the great reporting, also to Seattle City Council Insight.