United States: Socialist local candidate wins 35% of vote, enters run-off

By the Kshama Sawant Campaign for Seattle City Council

August 8, 2013 -- Votesawant.org -- Seattle voters sent a clear message to an out-of-touch political establishment on August 6 that they are fed up with business as usual, and are looking for an alternative to corporate-pandering politicians like Richard Conlin. Kshama Sawant, who was recently written off by The Seattle Times as “too hard left for Seattle”, won a stunning 35% of the vote, a number that will likely rise as late ballots are counted.

[Sawant is a member Socialist Alternative, the United States affiliate of the small international Committee for a Workers International (CWI).]

A majority of primary voters voted against 16-year Seattle City Council incumbent, Democrat Richard Conlin, who despite a massive fund-raising advantage and name recognition, received only 49%. Sawant and a second challenger to Conlin, Brian Carver, won the majority of the vote in the City Council Position 2 race.

[Sawant will now participate in the two-candidate run-off election with Conlin to determine who takes the contested position.]

“Working people in Seattle have a clear political choice for a change. If you want to fight for an alternative to the status quo, join us in the struggle for a citywide $15/hour minimum wage, a major expansion of public transit by taxing Seattle’s millionaires, increased investment in affordable housing, and implementing rent control”, said Sawant.

Sawant has earned the endorsements of The Stranger newspaper, four trade unions and prominent community activists such as Real Change founder Tim Harris.

Unlike Conlin, Sawant refuses to accept corporate donations. Her grassroots campaign has raised $25,000, predominantly in the form of small donations of $25 or less, and has mobilised over 125 volunteers. “We will make history by raising a grassroots army of over 300 volunteers, and run one of the biggest door knocking campaigns this city has seen to defeat Richard Conlin”, Sawant declared.

“Conlin has made clear where he stands, with corporations and the elite. By not representing the majority of struggling working people in this city, he has made himself obsolete.”

Sawants's campaign Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/VoteSawant.

Meet Kshama

“At a time of budget cuts, the Seattle City Council pays themselves nearly $120,000/year, more than any other council in the US except Los Angeles! If elected, I will only take the average worker’s wage and donate the rest to building social movements.” – Kshama Sawant

Sawant is challenging 16-year incumbent Democrat Richard Conlin for Seattle City Council. Sawant is an economics teacher at Seattle Central Community College and a member of the American Federation of Teachers Local 1789. She was an activist in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and is a fighter for workers, women, LGBTQ people, and immigrants.

In 2012 Sawant won a historic 29% with over 20,000 votes as a Socialist Alternative candidate against the Democrat's Washington State House speaker Frank Chopp – the strongest vote for an independent left-wing candidate in the US in 2012, and the highest vote for a socialist in decades.

About the Kshama Sawant Campaign for City Council

While big business posted record profits last year, working people in Seattle face unaffordable housing, low wages, slashed social services and high taxes.

The Democratic Party has run this city for decades. The mayor and all the city council members are Democrats and are representing only a tiny spectrum of political opinion and the interests of the people of Seattle, namely Paul Allen and the richest 1%, along with Amazon, Starbucks, big property developers and downtown business interests. The 99% have no political representation.

As a city councillor, Kshama Sawant will use her position to help build, unite and give political voice to the struggles of low-paid workers, youth, people of colour, and all those who are shut out by the political machine that runs this city on behalf of the wealthy elite.

The Sawant campaign does not accept any corporate funding. Our financing relies solely on the support and sacrifice of ordinary people and activists.

While the Democratic Party pays lip service to working people, in reality both the Democrats and Republicans serve the interests of a tiny financial aristocracy. The Sawant campaign is an opportunity to break out from the prison of corporate politics.

We need to build a mass workers’ party drawing together ordinary people, youth and activists from Occupy, unions, environmental, civil rights and women’s rights campaigns to provide a movement-based opposition to the corporate political parties.

We live in one of the richest cities in the richest nation on Earth. There is no shortage of resources. Capitalism has failed the 99%. Another world is both possible and necessary – a socialist world based on the needs of humanity and the environment. Please support our campaign and join the struggle for democratic socialism!

[You can read more about socialists' experiences in municipal council elections HERE.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 08/13/2013 - 12:17


Kshama Sawant is the first socialist candidate in 22 years to advance to the general-election ballot for Seattle City Council.

By Lewis Kamb, Seattle Times staff reporter

August 11, 2013


When was the last time a Seattle City Council candidate argued there was nothing extraordinary about herself? Or volunteered details about her recent arrest? Or freely admitted she expects her opponent to raise more money — by tens of thousands of dollars?

It’s been awhile, if ever, is the safe bet, which is also the answer to yet another question about the curious campaign of Kshama Sawant: When was the last time a socialist advanced to the city’s general-election ballot?

Sawant — who last week did just that by winning more than a third of the vote in a three-candidate primary field for the Position 2 council seat — is not your conventional candidate. And that’s exactly what she’s aiming for.

“There are some things that really set us apart from your-business-as-usual, corporate election campaigns,” said the 40-year-old Seattle Central Community College economics instructor and latest challenger to four-term incumbent Richard Conlin.

“Those campaigns revolve around the single-minded goal of advancing the political career of an individual. Everything else — including the needs of the people — is sacrificed.”

In a recent interview, Sawant largely deflected questions about herself, the individual, to instead focus squarely on the collective — or what she describes as her party’s primary goals: “fighting for social and economic justice.”

“There’s nothing unique about me,” she added. “I don’t want the main ideas of what we’re fighting for to be distracted by my stuff.”

What Sawant did offer, begrudgingly, about her own background were some generalities from an immigrant’s life that helped shape her into the activist she is today.

Born in Pune, India, Sawant largely grew up in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, India’s most populous city now with some 20 million residents.

“I grew up in an apolitical family full of doctors and engineers and mathematicians,” she said. “I wasn’t exposed to any particular ideology.”

She earned a graduate degree in computer science. But rather than seeking a well-paid career, Sawant sought answers to deeper social questions that resonated during her formative years, and became more pronounced after she came to America.

“Coming from India, what was striking is that you expect that in the wealthiest country in the history of humanity, there shouldn’t be any poverty; there shouldn’t be any homelessness,” Sawant said. “ ... But when I came here, I found it was exactly the opposite.”

Growing divide

The gap between rich and poor — and the social and political constructs that created it — fascinated and appalled her, Sawant said. After obtaining a Ph.D. in economics from North Carolina State University, in 2006 she moved to Seattle, where the social divide became even more stark.

“The vast majority of Seattle people are facing a city that is becoming increasingly unaffordable for them,” she said.

Sawant became active in immigrant-rights causes and with other progressive movements, before finding what would become her political party in 2008.

Formed in Europe in the mid-1980s, Social Alternative is an independent political organization that came to America with the working-class immigrants who supported it. In the 1990s, the group took root in cities with strong labor unions, including New York, Philadelphia and Seattle.

Now active in at least 15 major U.S. cities, the group denounces Republicans and Democrats as the puppets of big business. Its website declares it’s “fighting in our workplaces, communities, and campuses against the exploitation and injustices people face every day.”

In 2011, Socialist Alternative caught fire behind the “Occupy” movement, which articulated the frustrations among the politically and economically disenfranchised who blame corporate America for society’s failures.

Sawant became a key political organizer in Occupy Seattle.

“Our decision to run a candidate in 2012 came out of that experience and the prominence that Kshama played in the whole Occupy movement,” said Philip Locker, Sawant’s political director.

Sawant’s first campaign challenged Democrat state Rep. Jamie Pedersen in the 2012 primary. But she moved on as a write-in candidate to the general election in a different 43rd Legislative District race, against House Speaker Frank Chopp. She lost, taking 29 percent of the vote.

Now, in her second bid for office, Sawant advanced from last week’s primary as the runner-up in the Position 2 council race. She’ll face Conlin, who failed to crack 50 percent against two challengers.

Two decades ago

It has been 22 years since the last socialist advanced to the general election in a Seattle council race, city archivist Scott Cline said. In 1991, Yolanda Alaniz, a Freedom Socialist Party member, faced incumbent Sue Donaldson and lost badly.

Beyond Seattle, Socialist Alternative candidates are running this year in Boston and Minneapolis. But Sawant’s campaigns are hailed by her party as its most successful to date.

Although she touts her campaign results as signs of political momentum, Sawant still lost each race by double-digits.

Sawant has vowed she won’t take money from corporate executives or political-action committees but insists she can mount a legitimate grass-roots campaign against the well-financed Conlin.

Sawant’s campaigning so far has largely taken her to worker-rights rallies and other protests. In late July, deputies arrested her among a group peacefully protesting the eviction of a South Park man from his foreclosed home.

“If I’m elected, I would make my first order of business introducing an ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour,” she said. “Others may talk about it, but I’m the only candidate who’s committed to doing it.”

Sawant also said she’d seek to reform the city’s tax system to impose a fee on millionaires that would pay for public transit and would implement rent control.

She vows to “take only the average worker’s salary” — what she estimates at $40,000 — from a council member’s $120,000 of annual pay. The rest would go to social-justice causes, she said.

“It’s a scandal the City Council is paid that much,” she said.

Among her supporters, University Temple United Methodist Pastor Rich Lang said Sawant offers a true alternative that’s good for democracy in Seattle.

“If every City Council person was a socialist, I’d be for Conlin,” Lang said. “But given our culture, I think our option for socialism is almost necessary because there’s really no difference between Republicans and Democrats anymore. And, in this city it’s a moot point. Everyone’s a Democrat.”