While it is no secret that politics is dominated by big business and wealthy developers, my own experience on the City Council has only served to confirm this with countless daily examples. It would be shocking to most working people to see how shamelessly big corporate interests dictate city policies.
I saw this perhaps most starkly expressed during my first budget debate on the council. It is often said that a budget is a moral document. Yet what is the morality of a budget that spends hundreds of millions of dollars on a massive waterfront project desired by big developers, while ignoring the simple request to adequately fund social services at a cost of an additional $30 million?
Incredibly, at the height of the budget debate when the City Council normally meets five days per week, a special break in the council’s business was arranged so six councilmembers could attend a Chamber of Commerce retreat. The registration and travel to this retreat at a luxury resort was even paid for by taxpayer dollars. A keynote speaker at the event was the CEO of Alaska Airlines, the main company blocking the implementation of the voter approved $15/hour minimum wage at SeaTac. Is it a coincidence that almost every councilmember has taken campaign contributions from the Chamber or its political arm?
The political system in this city, and throughout the country, is broken. Beholden to corporate cash, the establishment cravenly serves big business while the 99% – working and middle-class people, youth, people of color – have no genuine political representation.
The threat of the Republican Party to women, people of color, unions, immigrants, and LGBTQ people is often used to make the case for voting for the Democratic Party. I take the dangers of the Republican’s right-wing politics very seriously. However, they are only one part of the problem. Over decades, Seattle has been dominated by a one-party regime. The Democratic Party establishment has presided over an ever-growing housing crisis, increasing income inequality, the largest gender pay gap in the country, and an unaccountable police force, while paying little more than lip service to demands of social justice.
It is time for something new. Working people need our own political representation. As our success in winning $15 showed, when we have independent political representatives helping to build grassroots movements, we can defeat corporate interests. If we change the balance of power by bringing ordinary people into political action, we can win.
I believe we need an alternative to a society run by billionaires and a corrupt corporate elite. Capitalism has failed the 99%. In the wealthiest country in human history, there is no reason for poverty or persistent social and racial injustice.
That is why Socialist Alternative and I are fighting for a society that puts people before profits, the environment above big oil, and the needs of the many over the greed of Wall Street. A democratic socialist society would mean a society based on solidarity and sustainability, not greed and exploitation.
Of course, we cannot create such a world through a city council in a single city. But these goals help me day-by-day to keep my sense of proportion and to base myself on the needs of working families and the marginalized.
Further, our work here in Seattle is part of a bigger picture. As winning $15 showed, local efforts are usually based on bigger changes in society. We benefited from fast-food workers going on strike and demanding $15 all across the country. Last year, we helped pay them back by winning a historic victory in Seattle that gave new momentum to the fight for $15 nationwide. The same dynamic was also seen with the victories for marriage equality in Washington State and nationally over the past decade.
I was elected on a platform of rejecting all corporate donations and basing myself on the active support of workers and progressive movements. We need to build on this by working to elect a majority of independent, pro-worker candidates to the Seattle City Council to implement progressive policies and spread this example across the country.
My re-election to the Seattle City Council will help to encourage this process by demonstrating it is possible to begin building a genuine political alternative, encouraging others to also stand up against corporate interests.
Imagine what will be possible if we build a network of elected representatives on all levels, activists and leaders in communities and unions, and thousands of ordinary people like you and me. Together we can build a new political party, a mass party of workers, environmentalists, socialists, and many more to end the era of corporate politics.
I pledge to continue to work for each and every improvement for working people, the poor, people of color, women, and LGBTQ people. I will stay independent of big business and developers by rejecting all corporate campaign donations. I will continue to donate all of my salary beyond an average worker’s wage to build social justice movements.
With your help, I will continue to be a councilmember who represents working people. Please contact our campaign with any questions you have. Please get involved, volunteer, donate, and be part of our movement to put people over profit!
Councilmember Kshama Sawant