From The Guardian
Sawant, a Socialist Alternative party member of the Seattle city council who drew national attention last year by driving resistant fellow councillors to pass a $15-an-hour minimum wage law, was re-elected this week after an unusually nasty campaign which saw corporate money swing behind her Democratic opponent.
Sawant credited her victory in part to Sanders, for creating “enormous momentum” for change that has helped engage young people and alienated workers in politics.
“When was the last time you heard a presidential candidate say we need a political revolution against the billionaire class?” said Sawant. “That is not Hillary Clinton. That is not Barack Obama. That is clearly somebody who is fundamentally different.
“It’s absolutely true that Bernie Sanders putting these questions on the national agenda has really created, and will continue to create, enormous momentum.
“There were so many people who said: ‘I wasn’t paying that much attention to Seattle politics but I’ve been listening to Bernie Sanders’ politics. I’ve been so excited by his call for a political revolution against the millionaire class and I’m looking around me and thinking I need to get involved at a local level.’”
That led Sawant to the question of whether it is enough to propel Sanders into the White House – a prospect few political pundits would put money on. Sawant agrees that it is unlikely but said the problem is not the Vermont senator’s policies or even the once toxic label of “socialist”. She said Sanders’ mistake was to run for the nomination of a capitalist party whose leadership will do all it can to stop him becoming its candidate.
“The question is not so much whether he’s electable but is he electable as a Democratic party candidate?” she asked. “That brings up the question of which candidate it is the Democratic party establishment going to back. An establishment that is completely bathed in Wall Street cash is not about to turn its back on that.”
Socialist Alternative has called on Sanders to run as an independent.
Although Sanders’ candidacy played a role, Sawant’s re-election was also in good part attributable to her following through on a campaign promise on which many doubted she could make good. She won her first election two years ago with a commitment to make Seattle the first major city to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, in the process going from rank outsider to defeating a Democratic incumbent.
Business, big and small, was against the increase. So was the mayor and most of the council. But after her election, Sawant kept the pressure up inside the council chamber with a vigorous and strident campaign outside it, alongside low-paid workers, unions and activists. It pushed the issue to the front of the council agenda and pressured a majority of its members to back the measure, even if the final legislation came with more caveats and a longer time frame for implementation than she wanted.
The law raised Sawant’s standing in a city where a third of residents earn less than $15 an hour. A University of Washington study showed the increase would benefit 100,000 people, reduce poverty by more than a quarter and raise the pay of full-time workers on today’s minimum wage by about $11,000 a year.
It also drew Sawant an unusual degree of national attention for a city councillor, giving her a profile on the left in cities across the country which helped bring in campaign contributions for her re-election.
But her style of very public confrontation was thrown back at her during a campaign in which she promised that in her next term she would introduce laws on rent control and affordable housing, and pass a “millionaires tax” to fund better public transport.
Traditionally, Seattle city councillors run as independents and tend not to side with or stand against candidates in other races. They made an exception for Sawant – several came out against her. Her opponents attacked Socialist Alternative as a cult and pointed to its Trotskyist connections.
“I am a polarising figure, I know that,” Sawant said. “But that is with intention, because we represent working people who are fed up with nothing working for them. It’s no surprise that until we came on to the scene, there was no polarisation – because there weren’t two poles.
“All we had was Seattle establishment politics, which people often refer to as ‘Seattle nice’, meaning we have a council entirely full of corporate politicians who give a little bit of progressive lip service here and there but more or less maintain the status quo of big developers and big corporations, like Amazon, taking away the lion’s share of the wealth.
“It’s a nice cosy club that chugs along and nobody’s disagreeing with anybody because they’re all the same type.”
Sawant said Sanders’ campaign had prompted Americans to learn more about socialism beyond the vilification of the cold war – and many have liked what they have discovered. Asked if that prompted some of them to observe that her policies were more social democratic than socialist, she laughed.
“Some people, yes, they talk about that. But the majority of people, what is the question that is paramount on people’s minds at this moment? It is that we’re disgusted with corporate politics. We’re fed up of living in a society that continually rewards the people at the very top while the rest of us languish in various states of poverty in the richest country in the history of humanity.
“Primarily, what people are looking for is a strategy of fight back against that status quo. As we go along, we will need to continue clarifying those questions about what is actually socialism, what is social democracy under capitalism and all of that.”
Sawant thought about this a bit more and then added that there was one campaign commitment she was pushing that was winning a lot of support and carried a socialist air – council-run broadband as an alternative to the high-priced and much-resented near-monopolies of a couple private conglomerates.
“People are uniting around the question of municipal broadband,” she said. “It’s almost a unifying factor among the working class and middle class. People are just angry at Comcast and Century Link. They want municipal broadband.
“Seattle is so ready for this. How [are] we going to do this? Municipal broadband is really taking telecommunications into public control.”