Agora: Socialism In Seattle Unsettling

The election of a Socialist to the Seattle City Council has TNH's Executive Editor Constantinos Scaros and his ideological rival, noted anarchist-historian-poet Dan Georgakas at it again.

The election of a Socialist to the Seattle City Council has TNH’s Executive Editor Constantinos Scaros and his ideological rival, noted anarchist-historian-poet Dan Georgakas at it again, debating whether it’s a boon or a bane and a portent for progressive pan-national progress.

GEORGAKAS:

Dino, one of the nationally under-reported news stories about the recent elections involves Kshama Sawant, a 40-year-old immigrant from India. As a candidate of the Socialist Alternative Party, she was elected to the Seattle City Council. One of her first actions was to announce she would accept only $40,000 of her $117,500 salary.

Sawant is an active supporter of trade unions and gender equality while opposing environmental pollution and the economic gap between America’s super-rich 1% and the rest of the nation. She took part in the Occupy Seattle movement.

In her electioneering, Sawant emphasized rather than retreated from her views as a libertarian socialist. The work that activists had seen her do was so impressive that she won the support of unions that rarely break with the Democratic Party.

These included Seattle locals representing postal workers, electrical workers, teachers, and state employees. Additional support came from activists associated with the Green Party, feminist organizations, environmentalists, and Occupy Seattle.

Local newspapers noted Sawant had a pleasing electoral style, complete with a sense of humor. Even more impressive was that when she debated opponents, she offered logical arguments rather than relying on emotional rhetoric. She advocated for an increase in light rail and other mass transit projects.

She argued that it made sense to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Seattle. The waters around the city had to be protected and the wage gap between men and women closed. Seattle voters liked what they heard and she became the first elected Socialist in Seattle since 1916 when Anna Louise Strong won a seat on the school board.

Sawant’s decision to only accept a salary that was the average of all Seattle taxpayers is rooted in the practices of her supporters in the United Electrical Workers union. The UEW does not allow union leaders to make more per hour than that earned by the highest paid worker the union represents.

Critics have stated that determining pay of politicians in that manner would discourage those who could find far more lucrative salaries in private industry, but Sawant believes elected officials need to live under the same economic circumstances as their constituents or they will lose touch with what a new tax or a cut in services means to the average person.

She has allocated $77,500 of her salary to her newly-formed Solidarity fund. Returning it to the public is a service, not charity, she says. That her fund would provide financial aid for what she endorsed when campaigning was only logical. Her first donation has gone to the Puget Sound trust, an environmental group that focuses on fighting water pollution.

Whatever the long-term political future of Sawant (and Socialist Alternative), she has demonstrated that a progressive agenda can prevail in one of America’s largest and most prosperous cities.

Her actions on what she considers an excessive salary raises the question of whom politicians represent. That mass media has kept the public eye off Seattle raises the question of who and what they represent.

SCAROS:

Dan, I am far readier to congratulate Seattle on its first Super Bowl championship than on its first Socialist city councilperson in a century. This is not a personal attack on Sawant or Socialists in general – I don’t think leftists are bad people – but more often their not, their well-intentioned policies are untenable.

Rather than a turn leftward, I think that if anything, as evidenced by a recent Gallup Poll about which I wrote two weeks ago (Startling New Gallup Poll Shows Why Hillary Can Be Beaten in 2016,” Feb. 8), the country is turning back to the Republicans.

I am not necessarily jumping for joy about that, by the way, because as I often write, I’m not sure the post-2006 Republicans are worthy of the support. If we define the political “center” somewhere between Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan, the country has remained somewhat right of center virtually since its founding.

From what you right about Sawant, I am wondering whether her victory is primarily based on her populism – i.e., railing against the 1%, which is not necessarily a socialist position (the Tea Party rails against the very rich, too) and her personal qualities (likability, logical arguments).

You also mentioned liberal Bill de Blasio’s win in New York. Actually, that’s not much of a surprise – the real surprise was how in the world uber-liberal Manhattan actually put up with the likes of Mayors Rudy Giuliani and then Mike Bloomberg for 20 years.

Probably because a great mayor like Giuliani comes along once in a lifetime, and that Bloomberg was borderline exceptional, too. (On that note, I hope I’m wrong, but if the City turns back into the pre-Giuliani crack den it was in the Dinkins 1980s and a playground for rampant gang violence in the Beame/Koch 1970s, New Yorkers will wish their biggest problem was a mayor who banned extra-large soda servings.)

In fact, the Giuliani/Bloomberg days in the liberal Big Apple are similar to a Socialist winning in … anywhere really … in the United States, insofar as it can be chalked up to: anything is possible.

No doubt, there is certainly a growing resentment of politicians, as well as of bankers, oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, and other perceived “fat-cats.” To that end, populists of all political stripes can win fringe elections here and there.

Granted, there are some issues – most notably, same sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana – that have been a boost to the progressive movement as of late. We should not forget, however, that young liberals disillusioned with the Affordable Care Act are starting to sour on big government programs.

President Obama’s drone policies, a continuation and augmentation of the Bush Administration’s war on terror, have cemented drones as the weapon of choice well into the foreseeable future. Finally, if nothing else evidences the conservatives’ political influence, it is that the debate on gun control has changed from “does an individual have the right to own a gun or is gun ownership only for the military, the police, and militias,” to “is it Constitutionally permissible to ban semi-automatic weapons and require individuals to own and shoot only those guns that need to be reloaded more frequently.”

As for the media ignoring Sawant’s victory, if in fact they did so intentionally, I think it has less to do with Sawant being too far to the left for most of them than that she is a third-party candidate, and therefore just as much a threat to the liberal wing of the establishment as to the conservative one.

In that regard, I’m glad Sawant won. I am not a fan of much of the Socialist agenda, but I like when a third view is represented. In fact, I hope that dozens of third parties unite to create one large, temporary third party to generate sweeping ballot access reform.

2 Comments

  1. Wow! My eyes nearly popped from joy reading about a politician (regardless of party affiliation) taking a near 65% pay cut. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my vision quickly refocused as I continued reading Dan Georgaka’s entire socialist puff piece emanating from Washington State (pun intended). Based on my admittedly cursory research; Ms. Sawant claims to a “Democratic Socialist”. Gee, maybe I’m being equally naïve; but, wouldn’t it be “democratic”, “socialist”, and certainly more honorable, to first return (or at least offer) the $77,500 to its rightful owners (i.e. the taxpayers) and then allow them to CHOOSE whether to keep it OR vote directly for their choice of several different environment and/or any other cause? Not surprisingly, Ms. Sawant’s bio, and her “untenable” and hypocritical rhetoric, reads like most hubris-filled leftists, socialists, Trotskyites and Marxist-Leninists. In typical “fascist-lite” manner, Ms. Sawant intends to fight for justice, income equality and her own personal pet environmental causes (possible political donor?),….with OTHER people’s money.

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