Five years ago today, we made Seattle the first major city in the country to win a $15 minimum wage! We built the 15 Now campaign by bringing together a coalition of unions, community organizations, Socialist Alternative, and my City Council office. Since that historic victory, the fight for $15 has spread around the country, with workers winning in city after city and in 7 entire states!
We won because we took the fundamentally different approach of basing ourselves on the power of working people, not on negotiating backroom deals and settling for what was acceptable to big business. We won by having a movement — and an elected representative in City Hall — which understood that fighting for working people, communities of color, and the LGBTQ community means standing up to big business and the billionaire class, and being unafraid to make powerful enemies.
A key lesson from our victory was that you can’t serve two bosses. You cannot be accountable to big business and to working people at the same time.
As Seattle increasingly becomes a playground for the rich, what’s at stake this year is who runs Seattle — Amazon and big business or working people. Winning rent control for Seattle will take standing up to the wealthy developers raking in record profits off sky-high rents and price gouging. Taxing Amazon and big business to fund tens of thousands of new affordable homes every year will require building powerful movements.
Already, corporate PACs have amassed an unprecedented warchest of a million dollars, with $200,000 from Amazon alone. This year, our enemies have made it clear that they want ‘anybody but Kshama Sawant’ for District 3. Why? Because they know that my office has not only been unshakably accountable to working people — we’ve been incredibly effective.
Let’s continue to fight for historic victories. A crucial part of that will be defending our seat for working people on the City Council this year. Can you chip in $15, $50, or $150 today to our re-election campaign?
Making Things Happen
Since 2013, we have built powerful movements and won historic victories for working people.
$15 Now: A Historic Victory
- When I was first elected, our calls for 15 Now were dismissed as impossible, but we brought together the coalition for 15 Now consisting of unions, community organizations, Socialist Alternative, and ordinary working people to make Seattle the first major city in the country to win a $15 minimum wage.
- We sparked a nationwide movement which has won $15 for the entire states of California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, plus the District of Columbia. Three in 10 American workers now live in states which are raising their minimum wage to $15, in addition to the millions of workers who have are benefitting from victories for $15 or other significant minimum wage increases in cities and states across the country. Momentum for a nationwide $15 minimum wage is growing. It has been adopted into the Democratic Party’s official platform, though that hasn’t stopped leading corporate Democrats from using their authority to block, delay, and dilute $15/hr, even in one-party cities like Minneapolis, Baltimore and Chicago.
- Under pressure from workers’ organizing, huge employers like Amazon and Target are raising their wages to $15/hr.
- While the corporate media spread propaganda about how $15/hr would make the sky fall in an attempt to scare working people, economic analysis has confirmed what we said all along: that $15 has resulted in the transfer of billions from the wealthiest CEOs to the lowest paid workers, especially benefitting women, people of color, queer, and trans people who are more exploited under capitalism.
Renters’ Rights and Affordable Housing for All
- We’ve won a series of landmark renters’ rights victories: the Move-In-Fee cap, the “Carl Haglund” law barring rent increases at substandard rental homes, the Fair Chance Housing bill to limit the use of criminal records in rental housing applications, and a law requiring landlords to provide voter registration information to new tenants.
- The Move-In-Fee law means that Seattle renters no longer need thousands of dollars just to move in, caps how much landlords can charge in non-refundable deposits, and requires them to offer a payment plan for move in fees.
- We’ve fought to Stop the Sweeps and authorized and won funding for homeless encampments.
- We stopped the Seattle Housing Authority’s Orwellian “Stepping Forward” public housing attack, which would have raised rents by 400%.
- Our office has has supported Be:Seattle in organizing over 30 renters’ rights bootcamps to educate renters on their rights and get organized to fight for more.
- We’ve played a central role in building momentum for rent control in Seattle, including organizing a rent control debate where myself and former Councilmember Nick Licata debated a developer lobbyist in the Seattle Channel, commissioning a study for commercial rent control, and passing a City Council resolution calling on the Washington State Legislature to lift the statewide ban.
The People’s Budget: Bringing Working People Into City Hall
We have completely transformed the dynamic of City Hall, regularly bringing in hundreds of ordinary working people in for town halls and rallies to win major victories for working people. During my first year in office, we shattered a decades-long tradition during Seattle’s budget season. Instead of using taxpayer money to attend a retreat hosted by Seattle’s corporate Chamber of Commerce, I called it out as "a clear display of brazen corporate favoritism" and organized our first annual People’s Budget. Each year, we have fought back against police militarization and austerity policies from the corporate establishment, winning millions in funding for affordable housing and programs to prioritize racial, gender, and social justice, while at the same time demanding progressive funding sources. Through the People’s Budget, we have won:
- Tens of millions of dollars in funding for affordable housing, including fighting alongside the Block the Bunker struggle and launching the Build 1000 Homes coalition to stop the Mayor and City Council Majority from wasting $160 million of public funds on further militarizing the police, instead winning $29 million for affordable housing.
- Funding for critical jobs programs, including expanding the L.E.A.D program citywide, which directs low-level offenders into community-based treatment and support services; doubling funding for Career Bridge, which help prisoners transition into the reliable, well-paying jobs; and doubling funding for the Priority Hire program, which provides good youth jobs.
- Important gains for the LGBTQ community, including funding for an LGBTQ senior center in the heart of Capitol Hill, funding for an LGBTQ wellness center at NOVA High School, and a backfill against cuts made by Mayor Jenny Durkan to services for the trans community.
- Funding for the first eviction defense attorney in the city’s history to provide badly needed support for tenants facing evictions, as well as tenants education and organizing through organizations like the Tenants Union.
- A $15 minimum wage for all city workers as an important precursor to the implementation of our historic victory for $15 citywide, as well as wage raises for workers at the Seattle Human Services coalition, which had for years paid poverty wages for some of the most important and difficult work in our city.
- Permanent funding for the Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration.
- Millions in funding for crucial social services, including funding for the YWCA homeless shelter, programs serving survivors of domestic violence, funding for food for kids, more shelter space for a women’s shelter, increased shelter hours for homeless people, saving Seattle’s essential Urban Rest Stop from the Mayor’s cuts, restoring SHARE/WHEEL (King County’s largest shelter network) in response to cuts from the corporate establishment, and $1 million for ORCA passes for low-income middle and high school students.
- We defeated a scandalous proposal to increase the already astronomical salary of City Light’s CEO ($245,000/year) by another $120,000/year
- As a representative of working people, I take home only the average wage of a worker in Seattle, using the rest of the $130,000 annual City Council salary towards building social justice movements and supporting workers’ struggles.
Fighting Gentrification and Displacement
- We helped save the historic Showbox music venue from demolition by corporate developers — a victory we are fighting to make permanent.
- We’ve played a key role in fighting against the displacement which is pushing working people and small business outside of District 3. We helped win $650,00 in funding for small businesses hit hard by 23rd Ave construction. We were involved in struggles to save Saba, an immigrant-owned Ethiopian restaurant in District 3, and the Umoja PEACE center, a pillar of the Central District and Seattle’s Black community. We’re organizing with tenants against displacement from the Chateau apartments, a section-8 subsidized public housing unit in the Central District, and we won an unheard of concession with the development agency Cadence Real Estate offering $5,000 to each household in relocation assistance on top of the legal requirement. And we’re fighting alongside Central District residents to defend the Central Area Senior Center and Byrd Barr Place
- We’re fighting for a public post office in the Central District, which has become a post office desert.
- We organized with seniors facing economic eviction by for-profit developers at the Halycon mobile homes park, winning an emergency moratorium on mobile park development which we are fighting to make permanent.
- Working alongside the indigenous community, we made Seattle one of the first cities to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. As Indigenous leader Matt Remle said: “For six years we tried to change the racist Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day and no one responded. Councilmember Kshama Sawant responded in just a few hours when we reached out and took up the fight...and in 6 months, we won.”
- We won permanent funding for Indigenous Peoples’ Day during our People’s Budget process.
- We supported members of the Puyallup Tribe and environmental activists in their fight against a Liquid Natural Gas (fracking) facility in Tacoma.
- We worked with environmental and indigenous rights activists to divest Seattle’s budget from Wells Fargo, one of the key investors in the Dakota Access Pipeline, as a step towards a public bank.
Taxing Big Business & The Super Rich, Not Working People
- Our Tax Amazon movement forced Seattle’s City Council to pass a unanimous resolution to tax Seattle’s wealthiest businesses in order to fund affordable housing. Shamefully, the City Council majority bowed down to Jeff Bezos’ corporate bullying, repealing the tax just weeks later. Despite this, we showed what’s possible and inspired victories across the country, including two progressive corporate taxes in the San Francisco area (one referred to as the “Google Tax”) and stopping a proposed $3 billion corporate handout for Amazon’s HQ2 in New York City.
- We’ve built momentum to tax big business and the rich, and through the Trump-Proof Seattle coalition helped win a historic tax on the rich in Seattle, which has unfortunately been tied up in the courts by big business' opposition.
- We’ve used every avenue possible to support workers in struggle.
- Our solidarity campaign with the EMTs in the Teamsters Local 763 resulted in the Seattle City Council unanimously adopting my resolution rejecting the substandard wages and benefits proposed in their contract, and demanding decent living standards for the EMTs.
- I’ve walked the picket lines and used my Council seat to mobilize community support for striking workers, including the Teamsters 174 bus drivers employed by First Student, who won a more affordable healthcare plan as well as the first retirement benefits for any First Student contract nationwide; machine operators in the Operating Engineers Local 302; Teamsters 174 sand and gravel workers in 2017; striking custodians at Harborview medical center organized in WFSE 1488; WFSE 3488 laundry workers at UW; ILWU 19 port workers; Amazon pilots represented in Teamsters Local 1224.
- We supported efforts to unionize post-doc workers at the UAW 4121, and we passed a resolution in solidarity with UAW 4121 workers on strike for a fair and equitable contract. Just recently, the postdoc workers' courageous struggle resulted in a historic victory.
- We’ve organized in solidarity with SEIU 6 Amazon security workers against discrimination and Islamophobia, flouting of labor laws, and even illegitimate firings. These workers just defeated the richest man in the world and have won their union.
- We supported REI workers’ calls for unionization in their organizing push which won significant wage raises and other crucial workplace gains.
- During the Seattle Education Association strike, I held a community rally in City Council chambers to build support for the strike, led the way on a City Council resolution in solidarity with the striking educators, donated twice from my Solidarity Fund to the teachers’ strike fund, and joined educators on their picket lines.
- Immediately after Trump’s election, we worked with a coalition of activists to resist Trump from day one, and we brought out thousands of people in protest the day of Trump’s inauguration. We helped to lead a mass nonviolent civil disobedience at SeaTac Airport to demanding the release of those detained by Trump’s racist Muslim Ban, as part of the movement which pressured the courts to declare the ban unconstitutional.
- I joined a direct action to block the ICE office in downtown Seattle, organized a rally as part of the #FreeDaniel movement in response to the first DACA recipient who was detained under Trump, and supported the hunger strikes two years ago at the Northwest Detention Center against the inhumane conditions for undocumented immigrants at the prison.
- We’ve supported the #BlackLivesMatter movement in fighting for justice for Charleena Lyles and Che Taylor.
- Alongside the May 1 action coalition and immigrants’ rights activists, I brought forward a successful resolution proclaiming that City of Seattle workers had the right to take the day off on May Day without retaliation.
- Unfortunately, I was one of the only City Councilmember to vote against the New Youth Jail and the only councilmember to vote against the rollback of accountability in last year’s city-police contract, which was recently ruled by Judge Robart to be in violation of important police accountability reforms.
- We’ve won crucial funding for LGBTQ services, including funding for a senior LGBTQ center and funding for a health and wellness center at Nova High School.
- In response to a surge in hate crimes and discrimination in Capitol Hill, we hosted a public forum which brought out hundreds to share our experiences and strategies to defeat anti-LBGTQ hate and violence.
- We introduced a proclamation declaring June 24 Trans Pride Day, winning a unanimous vote on the City Council.
- We fought alongside the Shell NO Movement and Councilmember O’Brien to lead the City Council opposition to Shell Oil’s failed attempt to use Seattle as a base for arctic drilling.
- We passed a resolution to defund Keystone XL and Transcanada. We also spearheaded Seattle City Council resolutions against the Fast-Tracking of the Trans Pacific Partnership and for seeking alternatives to nuclear power.
- We introduced a moratorium on coal and oil trains passing through Seattle neighborhoods. I have taken part in civil disobedience on train tracks in downtown Seattle to block oil trains and vocally opposed oil and coal trains and the proposed Cherry Point Coal Terminal. The organized opposition of environmental and indigenous activists ultimately led to the defeat of every proposed coal terminal in the northwest coast.
When ordinary people get organized and fight back, we can win.