Kshama Sawant joins Seattle City Council exodus; won’t seek reelection this year

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.

Andrew Villeneuve

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