Another victory! Last week, the latest ethics complaints against Kshama Sawant, related to her role as a member of Socialist Alternative, were both thrown out. The complaints include allegations that she has misused her position by being democratically accountable to members of Socialist Alternative, and that the organization was trying to influence her decisions by paying for her travel to attend political events.
The attacks insinuate that Kshama is some sort of puppet whose votes are dictated by Socialist Alternative. This couldn’t be further from the truth: Kshama Sawant has helped to build and to lead Socialist Alternative, and while she is proudly democratically accountable within her working class organization she has also argued through its democratic structures for the political decisions she has taken while in office. Kshama has always been open about the fact that she runs for office as a candidate of Socialist Alternative, which has a proud tradition of democratic decision making and is made up of ordinary people fighting for workers and oppressed communities.
As The Stranger described the initial story from the SCC insight which prefaced the complaints: “People who dislike Sawant took this story as hard evidence of Sawant being mind-controlled by shadowy socialists and unaccountable to the voters of her own district. People who like Sawant laughed at idiots who were surprised that a member of a socialist party shares her power with other members of that party.”
Wayne Barnett, the head of the Ethics and Elections office, dismissed the accountability complaints, writing: “Fundamentally, I believe that elected officials are free to structure their decision-making processes as they wish, subject to the will of the voters every four years. Campaigns are won and lost based on voters’ estimations of whose interests elected officials are serving and whose interests they are not.”
In terms of travel assistance, Barnett also rejected the charges, finding that Socialist Alternative has a regular policy of partially or fully compensating members for travel to political events: “I do not find a persuasive case that there is any nexus between the travel expenses and the organization’s desire to influence Socialist Alternative’s actions. The history of payments for the Councilmember and others to travel lends additional support to my conclusion that these are customary expenses for Socialist Alternative to cover for its members, and not an effort to influence Councilmember Sawant’s official actions.
We should be clear, the real complaint from Seattle’s political establishment is that Kshama answers to working people, not to big business. To the political establishment, there is no worse crime. As Kshama wrote in response to the initial SCC insight attacks: “I plead guilty – to being a democratically accountable socialist elected representative, and not a corporate politician.”
Most politicians make election-year promises to working people, then promptly betray them once elected. When socialists like Kshama run for office, they do so in order to fight for the interests of working people.
This is a stark contrast to the corporate politicians in Seattle, who take their marching orders from Amazon and business lobbyists. For instance, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose election was bought with $350,000 from Amazon, was reported to hold court with an informal kitchen cabinet consisting of lobbyists for corporate clients such as Comcast, Lyft, and Airbnb.
Big business is used to getting their way and pressuring politicians to block overwhelmingly popular progressive legislation. They hate that Kshama can’t be bought and has instead used her position to open up City Hall to working people, building movements to win $15/hr, pass landmark renters’ rights legislation, and organize a People’s Budget each year to fight for the city we need.
Despite Barnett’s decisive dismissal, the decision could well be appealed to the Commission of the Office of Ethics and Elections. Currently, a defamation lawsuit against Kshama, which was also recently thrown out, is being appealed to higher courts. That suit attacks Kshama for calling the death of Che Taylor, an unarmed black man, at the hands of two police office officers for what it was: a brutal murder. At root, the political establishment is furious about Kshama fighting alongside the anti-police brutality movement and calling for key reforms like a democratically elected community oversight board with full powers over the police. Kshama was also the only Seattle city councilmember to vote against the rollback of accountability passed through last year’s city-police union contract.
Ever since our historic victory of $15/hr, big business and the political establishment have attempted to use every possible avenue to try to weaken our movements and discredit Kshama. Each time, they have failed. So far, every lawsuit and every SEEC complaint has been dismissed.
But we should also be clear: the legal system is not the friend of working people. Time and time again, the court system has been wielded as yet another weapon to attack the rights of workers, people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community and defend the “rights” of corporations when all else fails. Landmark cases like Brown v. Board of Education (ending racial segregation in schools), Roe v. Wade (legalizing abortion), and Obergefell v. Hodges (legalizing gay marriage) were the result of powerful struggles which created immense pressure for change, and did not come about because of the benevolence of judges or courts.
We should in no way be surprised by these attacks. In an election year when big business is fiercely determined to get progressives and socialists out of City Hall, we should expect more of the same – whether it’s through PACs, the corporate media, new ethics complaints, or the courts. That’s why we must keep building movements to fight for real gains for working people, and we need to have Kshama’s back.
We need more, not fewer, representatives like Kshama who are anchored to a democratic grassroots base, which is critical to withstanding the massive pressures from the corporate establishment. It was exactly this lack of an anchor that led seven of the nine Seattle City Councilmembers to bend to Jeff Bezos’ bullying and betray working people by repealing the Amazon Tax, which they had originally passed unanimously.
This is why Kshama and Socialist Alternative have consistently argued for building a broader political party for working people in this country, to unite our social movements, unions, and community groups together and boldly fight for progressive change, completely independent of corporate money. Such a working people’s party would need to have real internal democratic structures to decide which candidates to run, to debate and decide on a common program and, unlike the Democratic Party, to actually hold those candidates accountable to that program – including their votes – once in office.
As Kshama wrote: “I wear the badge of socialist with honor. I will continue to fight unambiguously and relentlessly to win gains for Seattle workers and for an alternative to this rotten and corrupt system, while fiercely opposing all efforts of big business to give marching orders in this city.”