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Big Business Goes Up Against Democracy In Seattle


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The terrible miasm of Covid, recession, police violence and attempted coup last year masked some notable advances by local and national left movements. Florida voters rejected the Biden / Harris ticket, but overwhelmingly agreed to a minimum wage of $ 15. Arizona and Oregon approved tax increases for the wealthy to help fund public education. Colorado passed family paid vacations. Voters in Portland, Me., Approved rent control. All six representatives in historic districts that supported Medicare for All won re-election. Ninety-two of the 93 House Democrats – including all four in Swing districts – named as Green New Deal Sponsors won re-election. At least 20 candidates The office approved by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) was won. In a year of historic uprisings against police brutality and economic inequality, support for socialism rose. especially with younger people.

These developments were not welcomed by the Establishment Democrats, who tried to blame the progressive movement for their own poor performance in congressional races. “Defund the Police is killing our party and we have to stop.” explained Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), A week after the election, lashes the majority of the house. “Never say socialism again,” said the representative Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said, as the votes were still being counted in early November. While Joe Biden and the Democratic leaders fought off Trump’s attempted coup from the right, they spent a considerable amount of energy both before and after the election attacks socialized medicine, the Green New Dealand the movement too defund bloated police budgets.

This setback represents a broad effort by democratic leaders at national and local levels to steer political discourse away from more radical demands and impose on the citizens their vision of a “return to normal” – a kinder, gentler neoliberal gold-plated age without the daily White House tweet tantrums .

At the beginning of 2021, the zero point for this aggravation battle will be in Seattle, where an alliance of Democrats, real estate interests and Trump supporters have come together to try to remember socialist city council member Kshama Sawant, who took office in 2013 and was in the Re-elected in 2015 and 2019. Proponents of the recall intend to fire a warning shot for socialists and radicals everywhere. The recall campaign has raised a quarter of a million dollars and is intensifying efforts to qualify for the vote sometime this spring or summer.

Last year, Sawant and her organization Socialist Alternative won a three-year battle Taxing Amazon– Headquartered in Seattle – and other large corporations funding emergency Covid, affordable housing, and local Green New Deal projects. And in the midst of national street protests following the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd, Sawant led the organization to win one First-in-the-nation ban on the use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and other so-called “crowd control” weapons by the police. (Full disclosure: I’ve known and worked with Sawant on themed and election campaigns since 2013, and currently work on their city council as the community organizer.)

These victories met with a swift reaction from the political establishment. The Democratic Mayoress Jenny Durkan – elected in 2017 with the help of a record donation of $ 350,000 from Amazon – aligned with the Trump Justice Department in challenging Sawant’s gun ban in court.

So did the mayor required The city council is investigating and considering removing Sawant from office for her leadership role in the Tax Amazon campaign and participation in protests against Black Lives Matter. The Council discouraged, but Durkan’s indictment was picked up by pro-business forces and turned into a recall petition against Sawant.

The petition is now before the Washington State Supreme Court, which is expected to give it the go-ahead in the coming weeks. This will trigger a six-month deadline for recall advocates to collect 10,700 signatures from Sawant’s central Seattle neighborhood – a quarter the number of voters in the 2019 election – to qualify the recall for the vote.

The petition brings four charges against Sawant, only one of which must be approved by the court for the recall to proceed. Two of the charges, alongside the councilor, are directed against the Black Lives Matter movement: They accuse Sawant of abusing her position on the city council to invite hundreds of protesters (with masks) to a popular assembly at the height of the city council Justice for George Floyd- Protests, and that she revealed the mayor’s confidential home address by speaking at a protest outside the mayor’s villa organized by the DSA and the families of the victims of police violence. A third charge alleges that Sawant illegally used the city’s resources to promote the Amazon tax. The fourth indictment alleges that Sawant violated the city’s hiring rules by including Socialist Alternative in hiring decisions.

The Washington State Recall Act provides effective protection for a political ruling class committed to rooting out radical threats. Over the years state courts have exercised wide discretion on gatekeeping recall requests. Lawyers on both sides of the Sawant recall campaign are expecting the Supreme Court to approve at least one of the charges, and yet that same court last fall rejected a petition against Mayor Durkan for overseeing the repeated, brutal police brutality of hundreds of Black Lives protesters last summer Matter.

To approve a recall, the state courts need only to conclude that recall petition charges, if any, would constitute misconduct or violation of an official’s oath of office. However, the court is expressly prohibited from “the truth of the charge. For example, although Sawant has stated that she has no idea where the mayor lives, her mere participation in the protest outside the manor is being used as a basis for one of the charges. In addition, in today’s Citizens United Independent committees around the world have unlimited resources to support the recall efforts.

S.awant is one of Dozens of socialists elected to office in recent years but removing them would be a particularly valuable trophy for the business elite. She has never meddled in the culture of closed political dealmaking but has focused on building movements outside of the town hall to define, shape and drive legislative requirements. After Sawant and the Allies upset a four-year city council in 2013, they enforced a minimum wage law of $ 15 an hour in early 2014. This made Seattle the first major city to achieve the legendary basic wage.

Hoping 2013 was a fluke, the big company spent hundreds of thousands in 2015 to defeat Sawant, an immigrant and a simple union member for teachers. But they lagged when tenants, students and union members emerged in large numbers, mobilized by hundreds of volunteer door knockers. Following the 2015 elections, Sawant ran successful campaigns to cap move-in fees on rents, increase rents on bars in shoddy housing, and raise tens of millions of dollars for affordable housing and social services. Sawant and the movement also won signatures organizing battles outside of town hall, organizing tenants to repel rent increases in public and private housing, and helping workers who organized themselves into unions and fought for contracts.

The legislative struggles in particular have put the democratic political establishment on their heels. Sawant and Socialist Alternative routinely mobilized hundreds of activists – students, low-wage workers, homeless people, union members, young blacks and others – to grab the town hall chambers. Sawant organized himself from her city council, holding town hall meetings, leading marches calling for action from the city, and sponsoring petitions and mass campaigns to write letters to elected officials. Sawant legislative initiatives that began with little support among other council members – such as blocking the construction of a new militarized police station in 2016 –was eventually adopted by the city council after these ongoing public demonstrations.

In 2017, the local chamber of commerce was determined to fight back against the influence of socialist politics and recruited Jenny Durkan as mayor. A former US attorney and close confidante For business-promoting democratic power plants like the former governor Chris Gregoire, the Chamber of Commerce relied on Durkan to bring political order into the town hall. At its most basic level, Durkan’s candidacy was an offer from business and the political establishment to convince Seattle liberal voters to abandon Sawant’s left-wing activism and return to more centrist political discourse that they could control.

Strengthened by nearly $ 900,000 When it comes to spending largely business-related, including Amazon’s record donation, Durkan struck Handy a crowded candidate field to win the mayor’s office. The following year, in 2018, Sawant and housing activists pushed through a modest tax on Amazon and other top companies, but with Durkan’s encouragement, the local Chamber of Commerce launched a scorched earth political counterattack that reversed the tax within weeks.

Later that year, Mayor Durkan negotiated and pushed for the city council’s approval of a new police contract, which withdrew key police accountability measures. Two dozen civil and immigrant rights groups protested, but was put under pressure by the combined forces of the new mayor, local union leaders, police and companies. In the council, only Sawant and the eight other members – all Democrats – voted no.Approval of the contract.

For Durkan and her political base, the experience of police contracts raised hopes of defeating Sawant and the popular movement. The local Chamber President Marilyn Strickland, explained 2019 would be a “choice for change” in Seattle. She promised to replace local officials with business-friendly candidates, starting with Sawant’s ousting. The anti-Sawant coalition attracted conservative construction union leaders and others who could claim to be former supporters of the socialist who were deterred by their recent tactics. To fund the Anti-Sawant campaign, the Strickland Group led efforts to raise $ 4.1 million in company funds for the city council elections – including a staggering $ 1.45 million from Amazon – and flooded Races in which candidates had previously won with one-twentieth of that amount of money.

The gambit failed, however, when Sawant’s campaign – with the support of other candidates and progressive union forces – successfully transformed the 2019 elections a referendum on Amazon and corporate power. Five of the seven business-oriented office seekers had failed.

In early 2020, Sawant, their Socialist Alternative Organization, and tenant groups used the election momentum to win one First-in-the-nation ban on winter evictionsand to start a new claim from Tax Amazon.

The arrival of the pandemic changed the terrain for the resurgent tax movement by initially banning political tactics like door knocking and tabulation. However, the economic crisis for the working people underscored the urgent need to finance services, and rampant profiting from Amazon and other large companies made it difficult for most pro-business politicians to defend continued corporate tax immunity.

In particular, the uprising of the Black Lives Matter has strengthened the tax battle. Street protesters and local clergy made the link between police violence and brutal gentrification and economic displacement The core black community in Seattle shrank by three quarters in the last few decades. “If Black Lives is Matter, affordable housing should matter to black families in the Central District,” said Rev. Carey Anderson, senior pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Seattle. Media tells at the a pro-Amazon tax press conference organized with Sawant and other faith leaders.

Sawant and Tax Amazon volunteers collected more than 30,000 signatures – many from street protests – and threatened to put the tax measure on the ballot if the city council did not act. Tax Amazon’s appeal became a major demand in protests against Black Lives Matter.

Mayor Durkan openly fought the Amazon tax, derisively at one point tell a television reporter“Yes, that will never happen, and I think it is irresponsible for someone to say that it is even possible.”

But in July – two weeks after winning the Law on Prohibiting Police Weapons – Sawant and the movement saw it proved the mayor was wrongwhen the city council passed a corporate tax more than four times the size of the 2018 repealed measure. A late amendment introduced by Sawant dedicates a portion of the tax each year to building affordable housing in the historically black central district, a major tangible one Victory for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Victories like this are the reason the ruling class wants a do-over, not just from me [2019] Re-election, but also all these victories for the working class and the oppressed communities. ” Said Sawant.

ONs for Durkan, the mayor’s fortune fell after Tax Amazon won and Black Lives Matter street protests that summer. Tens of thousands of members of the Seattle community have joined millions across the country to protest racist police violence, including eight murders by Seattle police on Mayor Durkan’s watch. Durkan initially made public statements of solidarity with the movement, but then did steadfastly defended multiple brutal police raids against demonstrators.

Faithful and parishioners attacked the mayor’s defense of police violence. Important organizations, including the local United Food and Commercial Workers Union, called for their resignation. The Seattle Human Rights Commission, along with the LGBTQ commission, urged them to stop. Activists launched a recall petition against Durkan (which was quickly dismissed by the state Supreme Court). Politically shattered, Durkan announced in December that she would not stand for re-election in 2021, paving the way for the recall against Sawant, the political marquee competition that year.

The big corporate money has yet to appear against Sawant – independent spending mega-donations are usually shown shortly before the voting votes. For now, the early donors of the recall reveal the contours of the upcoming battle. These include billionaire Martin Selig, a major Trump donor, and executives at Goodman Real Estate, a huge $ 2.5 billion real estate landlord in the United States and Canada. Broadmark Realty Capital; National Health Investors, a Tennessee-based real estate investment trust that controls 242 nursing homes and senior centers in the United States; Meridian Capital, a global investment bank based in Seattle; Merrill Lynch and Noble House Hotels, a North American hotel and restaurant chain that fought a major battle with members of the Seattle Unitehere in 2018 Sawant actively supported. In particular, aside from Selig, many of these leaders have routinely donated to Democratic candidates like Joe Biden. according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Gathering the required signatures may be a challenge for a grassroots campaign, but it’s hardly impossible to get recalls with unlimited money on mailings and promotions backed by the local Sinclair-owned television station, right-wing talk radio and a Seattle Times Editorial staff that seldom misses the opportunity to attack the socialist. Once the recall campaign’s signatures have been submitted and verified, election officials would schedule the recall after 45 to 90 days.

No doubt the recall forces will continue to scrutinize allegations that Sawant violated the law. They are also likely to try to split the progressives in Sawant’s left wing by winning over liberal community leaders who argue that Sawant is too confrontational and polarizing and that the city needs elected officials to play “Seattle nice”.

Sawant and her supporters readily admit that they have no intention of bowing to this culture.

“She doesn’t say,” Oh, well, we all have to get along. ” said Kathy Yasi, a childcare worker and Vice President of SEIU 925. “Well, I don’t want her to get along. I want her to say,“ What the hell is happening? Why is this? ”And I can trust her to do that does. ”

Last summer, when protests against Black Lives Matter began across the country, seven of the nine Seattle city council members publicly pledged to cut Seattle’s bloated $ 409 million police budget in half. But when the budget votes came this fall only sawant supported the 50 percent cut by the police. The other members agreed to cut about 8 percent of the police force and pledge to do more at some point in the future, arguing that more community discussion and political reflection was needed. Their rejection coincided with other communal retreats –especially in Minneapolis– the pledges to disappoint the police. At the same time, Seattle City Council approved the mayor’s proposal to save $ 200 million on affordable housing, bus times, parks and libraries.

Sawant was ruthless In her public response, she made a statement that “the budget approved by Democratic Party councilors today is a budget that is profoundly failing working people and marginalized communities, including the working class and poor color communities.”

Sawant and her allies will seek to fuel the movement against the recall with their own general demands on the city: increase the Amazon tax to fund more Covid aid, an employment program, and rampant local Green New Deal projects; Cancel rents and mortgages for renters and small businesses who have lost income during the pandemic; and establishing a democratically elected community oversight body over the police with subpoena, investigative and political powers.

They will also involve a number of political leaders and activists – socialists, independents, and progressive Democrats – who recognize the broader impact of the recall effort.

“I don’t have to agree to everything Kshama does to know I’m against the recall,” said Rebecca Saldaña, Senator for Democratic State. “Kshama is a democratically elected woman who works for her constituents…. Rather than spending money on the recall, companies should focus on helping economic recovery, our public health, eradicating racial inequalities, and creating a clean economy that recognizes the dire climate emergency. “The constituency of Saldaña overlaps with the district of Sawant.

Seattle civil rights leader Larry Gossett, who recently retired after 25 years on the council, noted that the attack on Sawant is an attack on the broader progressive movement. “I know that as an activist organizing black student unions, Third World coalitions and unemployed black workers from the 1960s onwards, our opponents always try to undermine our movement and its movement leaders, especially when they are effective,” he said. “That’s exactly what is going on here.”

Indeed, the power struggle in Seattle between a contested but formidable political establishment and a seedy, socialist-led movement reflects the growing national tension – regardless of the current honeymoon – between Biden’s political base and the insurgent left. In 2021, what happens in Seattle will be a major political factor, the importance of which extends well beyond the city limits.



Updated: February 10, 2021 — 9:42 am

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