Kshama Sawant at a rally
Councilmember Kshama Sawant stands with seniors before her committee to demand Mayor Jenny Durkan protect the Central Area Senior Center and Byrd Barr Place for public use. (Photo: Seattle City Council)

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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