Kshama Sawant Speaks: Seattle's Re-elected Socialist City Councilmember On Progressive Social Change And Reinventing American Politics

"If you look at the viewpoint of ordinary working people in Seattle, it's always been a left-leaning city."
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Are you hopeful about making bigger changes in moving Seattle politics ahead?

There is a tremendous hunger in Seattle for social change and progressive nationwide. I'm talking about ordinary, working people, and young people who are angry at the status quo, and fed up with corporate politics and fed up with big banks and big developers and corporations, who essentially have taken over and are the ones always benefiting from the economy. The rest of us have had to put up with stagnant incomes, low wage jobs, college debt, and skyrocketing rents.

Change only happens when people channel their desire for change into organized movements. That's why we won 15 dollars an hour, and why we made the progress we've made on the issues of housing and homelessness in Seattle. What I would say about 2016, is that same calculus is going to apply. It's true, no matter which year we're talking about. As long as people are willing to get organized and fight around concrete political demands, absolutely we can see a change.

With Bernie Sanders, we had a Democratic Socialist make a run for the presidency. How do you view this?

It's a harbinger of things to come. When you look at the tremendous electricity that's been generated by Bernie Sanders' campaign. He tapped into a growing political revolution against the billionaire corporate class. People everywhere, especially young people and women, who have been marginalized for so long are hungry for a sweeping social change. Not all of that will be translated into a reality this year, but you can see there's a historic shift. And that's not going to go away, regardless of the outcome in the presidential election.

Is Seattle becoming a more liberal city?

If you look at the viewpoint of ordinary working people in Seattle, it's always been a left-leaning city. Let's not even limit ourselves to Seattle, even though it's tempting for us to think Seattle is unique. It would be inaccurate and simplistic to say every place is the same, and of course there are differences, whether it's Seattle, or Atlanta, or Mobile. I look at nationwide polls, more than just Seattle, since they are a more powerful indicator of mass consciousness in the United States.

When you read opinion polls nationwide on a whole range of social issues, whether asking if the military budget should be cut, should the wars be ended, should there be more of a safety net of low income and working poor people, should there be finding for child care, more public health care, should college be affordable. Most importantly, should the wealthy be taxed? Should there be public financing in politics?

Have both the Democratic and Republic parties reached a crisis point?

Looking at the whole spectrum of issues, you'll see that America is extremely progressive. The gap that exists isn't between a progressive agenda and working people's voting, it's from the political agenda that exists in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Especially when you consider the dynamics of political primaries this year, it's been so revealing of the chasm between what people want and what's being offered to them from both parties.

It is much more clearly evident in the crisis of the Republican party. Even at this stage, past the Republican convention, many Republicans are still livid about their front runner. The actual polarization has not come to the forefront. It would incorrect to paint all Trump supporters with the broad strokes of being racist. Of course there are these reactionary tendencies that he's both tapping into and fomenting. But fundamentally, when you ask what the main feature of this election season is, one can see that it's people on both sides of the political spectrum just being fed up with corporate politics and searching for an alternative.

The Democratic party's crisis is less evolved, less acute, but at the same time you can see that someone who was completely marginal in the summer of 2015, who seemed like he had no shot, has now made phenomenal history gains from ordinary working people voting on the issues, such as foreign policy, and black and white working people voting in anger against the de-industrialization of our nation from NAFTA. All progressives and working people are looking for a change. In reality, all this points is the urgent need for the Left. For the Labor Movement to build back up its own forces. As a member of Socialist Alternative, I've been calling for and independent party for the 99 percent.

Is it possible to get big money out of politics?

I think we should absolutely make every at legal challenges, say against Citizens United, and even at the local and state, county or city level, but I think the most impactful punch we can deliver to get corporate money out of politics, is in the way political candidates, such as Bernie Sanders is handling donations for his campaign. He ran an internationally electrified campaign, without taking a single penny from big business. He raised historic amounts of money, with an average donation of around 20 dollars.

I would also point to my own election and re-election campaign, on the city level. This was not a national or international campaign, and we weren't as well known as Bernie Sanders, but at the same time, what was really significant about our campaign is that we won. In a major city, against corporate money. We won 15 dollars an hours after that, and we won phenomenal gains for homeless people, and other marginalized people within just a twp-year term. So, we won the re-election again, running as an open socialist, taking no donations from corporations, and we raised over half a million dollars, in a city council campaign. This is tremendously significant. What this shows is, there's a huge opening for the Left, and the biggest failure we could make at this moment is not tapping into that opening. And I think running bold, unapologetic anti-corporate campaigns is the largest challenge we can deliver to corporate politics.

What's next?

The potential that we saw from Bernie Sanders' ascendancy should not be painted as 'If he doesn't win this year, then all hope is lost,' but instead look at it from the standpoint of how huge this has been in terms of opening up space for the Left. Making sure the conversation continues about helping the 99 Percent, and more importantly ensuring that we can elect and re-elect working class candidates under the banner of this party. At every level. In cities, and counties, for state legislature. We don't have to agree on whether or not we even call ourselves Socialists. Socialist Alternative will be part of this movement. What this party should do is call for a rejection of corporate money in politics. Overall, what we need are more candidates running on the basis of working class, grassroots funding.

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