Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Seattle’s Sawant Faces Corporate-Backed Recall Campaign

Socialist councilmember Kshama Sawant has been a thorn in the side of corporate interests in Seattle for more than six years. Now they are attempting to recall her on trumped up charges of misconduct.

James Dennis Hoff

October 4, 2020
Facebook Twitter Share

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is no stranger to controversy. The first open socialist to win a citywide election in Seattle since 1916, she has faced death threats from the far right and has been consistently challenged and attacked by Seattle business interests and their Democratic Party representatives on the council who have painted her as a dangerous radical. Now, she is facing a corporate-led recall petition less than a year after winning her second re-election. 

A member of Socialist Alternative, Sawant won her first election to the council in 2013 on a platform based largely on support for the growing national movement for a $15 minimum wage. Although it was a tight race, Sawant’s election proved — contrary to the DSA’s general electoral strategy — that independent socialists can run and win elections without the use of the Democratic Party ballot line. 

Since taking office, Sawant has been a strong proponent of a higher minimum wage, affordable housing, and, more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement. She has also managed to play an outsized role in Seattle politics, helping the city become the first in the U.S. to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage. Although she voted in favor of the 2018 appointment of the recently resigned Chief of Police, Carmen Best — who then went on to oversee the crackdown of the Capitol Hill Occupation Protest in July — she has become an increasingly vocal critic of the Seattle Police Department since the uprisings that began after the police murder of George Floyd. Sawant has also played a pivotal role in attempts to pass legislation to force Amazon to pay more in local taxes in order to fund affordable housing in Seattle, which has some of the highest rents and highest homelessness rates in the country. In response, big business and the liberal Seattle establishment have thrown millions of dollars into the campaigns of her opponents. But Sawant’s message of affordable rents and higher taxes on the wealthy has remained popular with Seattle voters and she has managed to solidly win both of her last two elections. 

Having failed for six years to vote her out of office, these same interests are now attempting to remove her through a recall petition that has already received court approval to proceed, and which now needs just 10,000 signatures to trigger a recall vote. Early last month, advocates for the recall won a significant court battle, in which four of several complaints were deemed legitimate enough that the petition process could move forward. Unsurprisingly, the leaders of the recall effort are much more offended by Sawant’s membership in a socialist party, her participation in recent protests, and her support of the Black Lives Matter movement, than they are about any supposed misconduct. The four charges levelled against Sawant in the petition include: supposedly relinquishing the authority of her office to her party (Socialist Alternative), misusing city resources to promote a ballot initiative, admitting hundreds of demonstrators into City Hall during a BLM protest, and supposedly leading a march to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s house in June. They also accused Sawant of inciting the occupation of the Capitol Hill police precinct, but this claim was thrown out by the judge and is not included in the official petition. 

With few exceptions, the charges posed in the original petition are almost entirely politically motivated and most are directly related to recent uprisings and protests against police brutality and racism. In this respect, the recall effort against Sawant is clearly an attempt to punish and intimidate her and her supporters, and follows a pattern of liberal and right-wing attacks against socialist politicians and activists across the country. As the petition makes clear, the recall is clearly not about corruption or misfeasance, as it claims, but about politics and economics. The uprisings and occupations that have rattled the nation have not been good for business and the big and little bourgeoisie of Seattle are terrified of further disruptions to their ongoing ability to effortlessly extract rents and profits from the working people of the city. Replacing Sawant with a more pliable and less confrontational liberal councilmember more amenable to business and real estate would obviously be in their immediate interest. Indeed, the petition explicitly complains, not once, but twice about the threat of Sawant’s politics to Seattle property values. They claim that Sawant’s actions as a council member “have negatively impacted the value of businesses and residences in her district,” and that she was responsible for creating “a criminal toxic environment around the capitol Hill occupation protest zone and devaluing our businesses and real estate values.” Such statements make it plain that the organizers of this petition are enemies of the work class. 

Of course, the question of whether or not Sawant is guilty as charged is completely beside the point here. Any good socialist should be guilty of such charges and a lot more. Socialist politicians, after all, have fundamentally different reasons for pursuing office than their liberal counterparts. Socialists who run for office have an obligation and responsibility to stand as representatives and tribunes of the working class and the working class alone. They are neither subject to nor responsible for representing the interests of the bourgeoisie, the landlords, real-estate developers, or business owners, and they must make this case plain whenever possible. Their job is not to protect property values or business interests, large or small, nor is it to befriend or compromise with liberal politicians in order to pass this or that legislation. 

While Sawant has generally helped advance the interests of working people in Seattle, at other times she has not. Socialist politicians, for instance, should not vote for police chiefs in order to placate “the movement,” as Sawant did in 2018, nor should they compromise with union bureaucrats as Sawant and Socialist Alternative did during the long drawn out negotiations over the new Seattle minimum wage in 2014. And of course, socialists must always insist on the political independence of the working class, a principle that Sawant and Socialist Alternative have consistently broken in their open support for Democratic Party candidates like Bernise Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. 

Whereas it is in the DNA of liberal politicians to compromise to remain in power, socialists have to always remember that their primary goal is not to win office or win re-election, but to build the power of the working class for revolutionary action. Sawant and Socialist Alternative have an opportunity to do that in Seattle. Toward that end, we hope that the recall petition against Sawant is a miserable failure, and stand in solidarity with efforts to defeat it. 

Facebook Twitter Share

James Dennis Hoff

James Dennis Hoff is a writer, educator, labor activist, and member of the Left Voice editorial board. He teaches at The City University of New York.

United States

Detroit protesters hold green banner that says "DTE" Affordable Renewable Energy Now

Detroiters Say ‘Hell No!’ to DTE’s Proposed Electricity Rate Hike

Detroiters are confronting regulators who are deciding whether private utilities can extract more profits from the working class during energy, inflation, housing, and climate crises.

Lee Palmer

September 20, 2022
US President Joe Biden stands in a suit wearing a mask, but is taking off one side of it.

Despite What Biden Says, the Pandemic Isn’t Over

Joe Biden and the bourgeoisie may be ready for the pandemic to be over, but that doesn’t mean Covid-19 has gone away.

Olivia Wood

September 20, 2022
Image of the Capitol building in grey scale with a turquoise semi-transparent overlay towards the left and a white semi-transparent overlay to the bottom right of it, overlapping slightly.

Polarization, Economic Crisis, and Class Struggle: The Contradictions of the Political Moment

From the resurgence of the Democratic party to the advance of the Right to the potential of Generation U, it is evident that we are in a moment of instability and heightened polarization in the midst of a burgeoning economic crisis and rising labor movement. The Left must take the opportunities presented by the current moment and turn them into advances for our movement.

Ezra Brain

September 18, 2022
In the center foreground, a Black person with gray close shaved hair wearing an orange t shirt wipes their face with their hand. In the background are pallets of water bottles and people are moving them.

Environmental Racism Leads to Water Crisis in Jackson, Mississippi

Jackson, Mississippi, a city whose population is more than 80 percent Black, has been without clean reliable water for days, adding to the ongoing water issues due to decades of neglect and divestment.

Molly Rosenzweig

September 2, 2022


Vigil in South Korea against femicide (post-it notes on a wall)

Femicide in South Korea: The State and Bosses Are Responsible

The recent murder of a woman who worked for Seoul Metro shows the dangers faced by women workers in Korea. The working class must organize against femicide and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Youngmi Lee

October 5, 2022
Union leaders are joined by community group representatives, elected officials and social activists for a rally in support of unionization efforts by Amazon workers in the state of Alabama on March 21, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. - Workers and organizers are pushing for what would be one of the biggest victories for labor in the United States over the past few decades if successful in the first Amazon warehouse union election in Bessemer, Alabama, where worker's ballots must reach the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board by March 29 to be counted.

‘We Need a Labor Movement That’s a Lot More Militant and Willing to Challenge the Status Quo’: An Interview with Joe Burns

Joe Burns, director of collective bargaining with the CWA-AFA union, discusses his new book, Class Struggle Unionism, and the importance of a militant labor movement.

Left Voice

October 4, 2022
A Pakistani man wades through flood waters carrying a bit bag of produce.

‘It’s Time to Declare War on This Climate-Destroying System!’: Interview with a Pakistani Socialist about the Flood

The flood in Pakistan is one of the most horrific climate events in recent history. A Pakistani socialist describes the consequences of the disaster, as well as the economic crises facing the country.

Maxi Schulz

October 3, 2022

Lula Finishes Ahead of Bolsonaro, but the Elections Will Be Decided in the Second Round

Lula and the PT came out on top in the first round of Brazil’s elections, but it’s far from clear that their conciliatory program can stop the Right.

André Barbieri

October 2, 2022