From Kraig Schwartz, Ph.D.
In 2013, I welcomed Kshama Sawant’s victorious election and her politics to the city. Six years later I have the same view, as do thousands of other Seattleites. Sawant has opened the political space in this city, and while doing this she has brought forward innovative change. We should continue to support her. Without her and her politics, it will be more difficult to meet the challenges facing this city.
Like Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party leader of the early 20th century, who denounced the pitfalls of capitalism, Sawant is now following in his path. She was instrumental in bringing the $15 minimum wage to this city, which subsequently has become a beacon of hope for millions of workers across America. Moreover, she has been a key leader in the national discussion about income inequality, where she, like Bernie Sanders and others activists, have given us the language of the 1% vs. the 99% . And, as part of that discussion, she has helped us understand that our wealthiest citizens, the 1%, have “cooked the books” in their favor. One only need look at Trump’s tax cuts to validate that understanding, tax cuts that have overwhelmingly gone to the rich, many of whom are now donating to Sawant’s opponent.
Currently, she is working to bring the city rent control, eviction assistance and city-owned housing to renters in this city, a cohort that is nearly 50% of the city’s population. If these recent housing-related proposals are enacted they will give relief to thousands of individuals and families. Recently, along with other local and national leaders, she has promoted a “Green New Deal,” which if enacted nationally, will address climate change and job creation simultaneously. And, very close to home, she is the only council member to have had the courage to vote against the new police union contract, a contract that federal Judge Robart has indicated violates the federally mandated consent decree that requires police reform, a decree that the judge is monitoring.
To no one’s surprise, some people and institutions, including Amazon, the Seattle Times, Richard Hedreen, Martin Selig and other very rich people in Seattle, are working very hard to unseat her. But, why? She has been called “divisive” and “difficult.” She is definitely “in your face,” not always easy to get along with, and frequently shows up at city council meetings with her pesky supporters, and lots of them at that. But, these are not good reasons to oppose this courageous woman. Politics is not about being nice. Politics is about delivering the goods and services that people want and need. Her opponent and his supporters are not after her because of her personality or style, they are after her because of the substance of her politics, politics which mandate a more equitable division of the American pie.
She will not let us off the hook. Rain or shine, with a mass movement behind her, she will be heard. She has opened the political space. Progressive change is dependent on keeping the space open. Her opponent, and his wealthy backers, many of whom are Trump supporters, are working to defeat her, and restore politics to the familiar old boundaries, including the politics of exclusion. And, these wealthy opponents have found and groomed a candidate to do their bidding. If these opponents get their way, rent control, wealth taxes, and other proposed solutions to our myriad problems will be pushed back or eliminated.. If that happens, our unofficial mayor, Jeff the “bull dozer Bezos” will rule the day, keep wages down, let the police escape scrutiny, drive working people out of the city and preserve Seattle as a great place for the rich.
Dr. Schwartz teaches history at Seattle Central College.