The state of Washington made frequent national headlines in 2013, due to notable progressive gains with marriage equality, legalizing recreational marijuana, and the vote bringing a $15 per hour minimum wage for Sea-Tac Airport workers.
Then there was the surprising grassroots election of Kshama Sawant, who was sworn in this past Monday as the first Socialist member of the Seattle City Council in modern times. Sawant defied the city’s liberal establishment and their pundit mouthpieces by running a campaign that defiantly championed workers’ rights, especially the festering problem of widening income inequality.
Seattle is a city with a long and storied labor history. The city’s general strike of 1919 ran against the conservative grain of the times, and pro-labor demonstrators stood their ground against aggressive police tactics during the 1999 WTO Conference. Sawant fits perfectly into this colorful tradition, becoming the first Socialist elected to city-wide office since Anna Louise Strong won a seat on the School Board in 1916. She is the first Socialist Seattle City Council member since A.W. Piper in 1877.
Sawant’s election was no sure thing. She ran against 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin, who enjoyed the stalwart support of the political establishment. Although council positions are officially non-partisan, Sawant made no effort to conceal her membership with the Socialist Alternative Party, and in fact, proudly used it as a blunt weapon in defense of fair wages and a more democratic vision of the city.
Seattle’s newest council member brings to public service a background studying computer science and economics, earning degrees in both fields, including a doctorate in the latter. Her childhood in India influenced her views of poverty, social divisions, and economic injustice — views which she refined further after emigrating to the United States.
Teaching college and becoming more involved as an activist fed her first political ambitions, leading to a failed run for the Washington State House of Representatives. ‘All politics is local’, so the saying goes, and Sawant fared better with her first City Council campaign, winning by roughly 1% of the vote.
After her swearing-in, Sawant delivered a rousing speech to her supporters, reiterating the same platform on which she ran:
[box type=”shadow”]”I will do my utmost to represent the disenfranchised and the excluded, the poor and the oppressed, by fighting for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, affordable housing, and taxing the super-rich for a massive expansion of public transit and education.”[/box]
Not to be overshadowed by Sawant’s rising star, Seattle’s new mayor Ed Murray called for raising the city workers’ minimum wage to $15 per hour. Sawant was quick to point out that “pressure from below” prompted this move, causing the mayor to go on the defensive from his Facebook page. Early on, she is making her presence known.
“I wear the badge of socialist with honor,” she proclaimed, heralding a new era in Seattle.
h/t: The Contributor