Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant has decided not to seek reelection this year, joining colleagues Lisa Herbold, Debora Juarez, and Alex Pedersen in announcing plans to step down at the end of 2023. Sawant’s decision means at least four of the city’s seven district-based council positions will be open seats this year, with no incumbent contending for another term.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis of the 7th District has said he’ll be running again, while Dan Strauss and Tammy Morales have yet to announce their plans.
At-large Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Sara Nelson aren’t up this year.
In a guest editorial for The Stranger, Sawant said she will be focusing on launching a national political entity, “Workers Strike Back.”
“We need a new party for the working class — one that holds elected officials accountable, that bases itself on social movements, that organizes alongside workers on the streets and in workplaces,” Sawant said.
Of course, there is already the Working Families Party, the Green Party, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and numerous minor parties lacking ballot access like Socialist Alternative, but hey, freedom of assembly is a great thing and anyone who wants to can start their own brand new political party if they’d like.
“Elections are not the only, much less the primary, path to political change, because the political system is rotten from top to bottom under capitalism,” Sawant went on to say in her guest editorial.
“Now, as the global crisis worsens, the rot spreads deeper and deeper, and the threat of further corruption by the far right hangs over us all. In India, the country I was born in, the far right is in power and rapidly consolidating it. In the US, the midterms were but a temporary reprieve, unless we get organized.”
“Capitalism needs to be overthrown. We need a socialist world. And that is only possible by mobilizing many millions of working people around genuine socialist ideas and fighting relentlessly for our interests as a class. But the task of rebuilding the class struggle in America will go nowhere if young people and the rank and file of the labor movement are not clear about the role of the Democratic Party and the need for a new party that serves us, not the rich.”
“Working people want to fight back, but we need to get better organized,” Sawant contended. “We need a nationwide movement — an independent, rank-and-file campaign organizing in workplaces and on the streets.”
“It should be progressive labor unions using their resources to launch such a movement, as unions have in the UK with the Enough Is Enough campaign. But that has not happened. Unfortunately, much of the union leadership in this country is closely tied to the Democratic establishment, afraid to call out the Democrats, afraid to run independent candidates and build strong strike actions based on bold demands — afraid to rock the boat.”
“That is why, along with Socialist Alternative and others, I am announcing the launch of such a national movement, Workers Strike Back, instead of myself running for re-election again in Seattle’s District 3. We have no illusions that a mass movement can be built overnight, but we urgently need to get started.”
Workers Strike Back is intended to be a national effort, but it won’t include some of the most recognizable pro-worker progressive leaders in the United States because Sawant and her team feel they are sellouts.
Sawant explicitly castigated Representatives Pramila Jayapal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Squad as such again today along with labor leaders and activists who have chosen to continue working within the Democratic Party for progressive change. She also criticized the Democratic Socialists of America (to which she reminded readers she belongs to) for not holding them accountable.
Sawant’s guest editorial notably did not name and shame Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who identifies as an independent but who caucuses with Democrats in the U.S. Senate and has a leadership position in the caucus. Nevertheless, the piece had a very strong everyone is a sellout but me and my crew vibe.
The effectiveness of the politics of confrontation — Sawant’s preferred response to the issues of the day — has long been debated, and no doubt will continue to be in the months and years ahead. It is an age-old debate, after all.
It is true that progress in the face of grave challenges like income inequality, access to housing, and climate damage has been frustratingly elusive.
But if you ask our team, big and difficult problems don’t become any easier to solve when one is more focused on criticizing potential allies than people who are resolutely opposed to any and all progressive policy directions.
There is a reason that entrenched institutions and interests are entrenched; history has shown removing them or changing them from the outside is tough. Plenty of people have tried over the years and discovered just that.
Given Sawant’s interest in creating Workers Strike Back — a name that certainly evokes Sawant’s belief in the usefulness and power of confrontation — stepping down from the Council this year seems like a logical move for her.
Joy Hollingsworth, Alex Hudson, and others are interested in bringing fresh representation to the 3rd District on the Seattle City Council, so we can expect to see a lively and interesting race for this position over the next ten months.