Saturday, November 16, 2013

Socialist Alternative candidate wins Seattle City Council seat

Seattle City Council candidate Kshama Sawant, a “Socialist Alternative” insurgent, has unseated four-term incumbent Richard Conlin, with the latest batch of mail-in ballots nearly tripling Sawant’s lead to 1,148 votes.

A year ago, Sawant was running against the Legislature’s most powerful Democrat, House Speaker Frank Chopp, charging that the “Democratic Party-majority government” had slashed billions from education programs while bestowing tax exemptions on “rich corporations.”

On Thursday evening, however, the victorious “working class activist” Sawant was headed for a 36th District Democratic fundraiser sponsored by State Sen. Jeanne Kohn-Welles. Sawant’s tireless journalist booster, Stranger news editor Dominic Holden, is appearing on a post-election panel at the event.

The Sawant victory comes exactly 97 years after Seattle voters put their first outspoken radical into office, Seattle School Board member Anna Louise Strong. Strong would write about the Wobblies, oppose U.S. entry into World War I and eventually end her days in China, where she was on friendly terms with Mao Zedong.

While the Occupy Seattle organizer is about to occupy an office in the council chambers, ballots are still being counted in several close races. One big ballot measure is still hanging, while other contests appear narrowly decided.

That was one bit of news that caught my attention earlier this week. Marxist-oriented activists of various stripes need to do more of this whenever and wherever possible. Although I harbor no illusions of the electoral process as the be-all and end-all of achieving meaningful change, it does have a place and it does need to be a part of a broader Leftist strategy for turning the tide here in the US. It should also go without saying that Sawant has quite an opportunity here, but that she will no doubt be limited in terms of what she can accomplish. To have a record to run on for re-election, she will have to cooperate with other city council members who obviously don't share her disdain for capitalism. Cooperation, unfortunately, will run the risk of opening her up to charges of being a sell-out by at least one subset of her base of support. I would advise those who supported her candidacy to give her the space she needs to influence the direction of the city, and to be in a position to win her next election (again, remember, she will need to have a list of tangible accomplishments to her name come then), as well as create a space for her comrades to enter and win elections in her city. Obviously, politicians like Sawant should be subject to critical scrutiny - both self-criticism as well as from the rest of us, and their failures and successes should be analyzed carefully.

Many of us who make up the working class (broadly speaking what our friends from Occupy dubbed the 99%) have felt largely abandoned and betrayed by our various political institutions, and that has led to a form of cynicism that has invited a form of rugged individualism to take hold among the very people we need the most - not exactly the sort of thing that bodes well for rebuilding a vibrant Leftist front. If people like Sawant can get elected to offices and prove themselves to be effective in their efforts to better the lot of us working stiffs, the prospects for organizing us as a potent collective set of agents of change over the next decade become that much better.

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