Once again, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and her Socialist Alternative organization have beaten the political odds. Last week, she defeated a million-dollar recall campaign by real estate developers and landlords, Democratic Party leaders, big Trump donors, and newspaper editorialists, who all teamed up to evict the 8-year councilmember from City Hall.
Sawant’s win is both an inspiration for embattled progressives everywhere and a roadmap of how to fight back aggressively and win. And it’s all the more remarkable because this was a special election, engineered to suppress working class turnout with anti-Sawant forces scheduling the election between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“The wealthy…took their best shot at us, and we beat them. Again,” Sawant declared to about 100 supporters gathered Dec. 10 outside Seattle’s New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. “We won because we did not back down. We did not back down in our socialist City Council office. Instead we went on the offensive, and won some of the most crucial victories for renters’ rights this year. We did not back down in fighting for workers…. We did not back down one inch in our socialist election campaign to defeat the racist, right-wing, big-business-backed recall.”
The victory margin was narrow—50.4 to 49.6, a 317-vote difference out of nearly 41,000 cast, with a handful of ballots still being tallied in advance of the election certification on Friday. As Sawant’s fourth race in eight years, this recall effort wasn’t even supposed to be close.
Corporate executives and their political allies, with help from the courts, state government, and the media, had orchestrated this special December election. They fully intended to finish off the firebrand socialist, who has led movements producing the first big-city $15 minimum wage, breakthrough renters rights legislation, and a new tax on Amazon and other big businesses to fund affordable housing and Green New Deal projects.
Sawant, a member of both Socialist Alternative (SA) and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), is but one voice of nine on City Council, but she’s had an outsized impact on the city’s political discourse. I’ve witnessed this first hand, having worked with Sawant since 2013 on issue and electoral campaigns and currently in her City Council office as a community organizer.
As Seattle Times reporters Daniel Beekman and David Gutman observed the week before the election, “few figures have influenced the city’s politics as much in the past decade. Sawant’s scorching rhetoric and uncompromising approach have pushed the council to the left on issues ranging from business taxes to renter protections and have altered the way City Hall operates.”