November 8, 2012

Kshama Sawant Gets It Right

Kshama Sawant ran as the Socialist Alternative candidate in the recent elections for Position 1 in the 43rd District of the Washington House of Representatives, representing Seattle. She is an Occupy activist and an economics professor at Seattle University and Seattle Central Community College. Her pro-worker campaign was well run and attracted some considerable attention as she moved through the primaries, did a write-in campaign and sued to get her party name on the ballot.

Sawant lost the election, of course, but in running she did better than past contenders in racces against the incumbent Democrat and state House Speaker Frank Chopp. She hit 27 percent of the vote this time. She has been quoted as saying, "We achieved this election result as an openly Socialist campaign that was largely ignored by the corporate media, with no corporate donations, on a shoe string budget. Occupy gave a voice to working people’s rage at Wall Street, and our campaign gave voice to mass anger at the corporate politicians. It shows the potential to build a powerful left electoral challenge to the two corporate parties.”

She had plenty of important issues to run on. Her campaign built well on the work done by Occupy Seattle. She also won support from Seattle's alternative paper and Local 587 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. The following comes from Sawant's campaign:

Since the Great Recession broke out in 2008 Washington State has cut $10.5 billion from essential services such as education, health, and human services, as well as cutting benefits and jobs for state employees.

The state Basic Health program has been decimated with $1.7 billion in funding slashed, cutting 60,000 off its rolls. Other cuts include $2.7 billion in K-12 education and $1.3 billion in higher education.

Washington State is home to some of the nation’s wealthiest corporations, including Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks. Over the last three decades, they have extracted over 500 tax exemptions for big business from the state legislature.

These total an astonishing $6.5 billion per year in lost revenue – enough to reverse all the cuts and improve our state services!

Now Sawant is saying that she plans to run for office in Seattle next year. What I think is most exciting about this is that she is also saying that she is recruiting, or looking to recruit, a full slate of socialist candidates for those elections. If she is successful there will be a serious challenge from the left in the Seattle City Council and mayoral races.

Think about it. Putting together and holding together a principled left front in a major US city would be a remarkable step forward. Done right, such a front would be a force against left sectarianism, liberal vacillations and ultra-right reaction. It would move Occupy forward. It could win some local council positions, or at least move the whole political debate leftwards.

Not everyone in such a front or slate would have to speak with one voice. In fact, some variety in approach and message would be healthy so long as people stayed generally on point and spoke broadly to the issues of concern to working people and our allies. An advance or a victory in one city would show others how to do it and the concept of a left front or slate could then be replicated and fine-tuned, building left unity regionally and nationally.

I'm projecting my best hopes here, and I recognize that what Sawant is trying to do runs so counter to left practice today, but I hope that she succeeds in her work. Even a modest step forward is important.

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