In a bold initiative to push forward the process of building a left-wing, working-class political alternative to the two parties of big business, three Socialist Alternative candidates are running vigorous campaigns for city council in 2013: Kshama Sawant in Seattle, Seamus Whelan in Boston, and Ty Moore in Minneapolis.
With the political system increasingly dysfunctional, it is becoming ever more obvious that working people need to organize independently around their own political demands and break away from the Democrats and Republicans. There is a huge anger at the political establishment and a desire for a political voice for the 99%.
A January poll from Gallup found that only 14% of those surveyed approved of Congresss job performance. In another ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in January 2012, 68% of those surveyed said that they would either consider voting for or would definitely vote for a third-party presidential candidate with whom they agreed on most issues.
Yet the enormous potential for building a fighting, independent political party representing workers and youth is largely untapped. The leaders of the labor movement, along with those of other social movements, remain completely wedded to the Democratic Party.
Unions alone allocated over $400 million and 300,000 volunteers toward backing Democrats during the 2008 election cycle, figures which they purposely set out to top in 2012. Not only would these resources be better spent on organizing workplaces and supporting strikes, but also they are vast enough to build a viable new party of workers and youth from scratch.
Rather than just calling from the sidelines for others to act, socialists and activists need to take initiatives to demonstrate in practice the latent potential that exists for working-class candidates to make a big political impact.
Last year, Kshama Sawants campaign in Seattle already began to demonstrate this potential. Sawant, a leading member of Socialist Alternative and an economics instructor at Seattle Central Community College, ran an unabashedly socialist campaign against Washingtons long-time Speaker of the House, Democrat Frank Chopp, receiving 29% over 20,000 votes. This was the strongest vote received by any independent left-wing candidate in the country in 2012 and the highest vote for a socialist in the U.S. in decades.
Imagine what could have been gained if similar candidates had run in major cities across the U.S. The political landscape of the country could have been transformed. It is with this in mind that Socialist Alternative candidates are running major campaigns in three key cities in 2013, all of which have the potential to have a large-scale political impact.
These campaigns will challenge and expose the Democrats, who have presided over attacks on working people for years through their political domination of all three cities. Serious campaigns can give voice to the struggles for justice and to the real needs and interests of working-class communities, while popularizing socialist ideas to a mass audience. Crucially, they can play an important role in provoking a debate among activists and the left on the need to break from the dead-end Democratic Party and demonstrating in practice what is possible to achieve.
Candidates of the 99%
Any candidate intending to challenge the status quo must be fundamentally different from those that make up the two parties of Wall Street. All three Socialist Alternative candidates have differentiated themselves through their involvement in and support for working-class struggles.
These three activists are candidates, but they certainly arent your normal politicians. They are proven, committed fighters for the working class. If elected, all Socialist Alternative candidates pledge to take only the average workers wage in their district, donating the remainder of their wages to left-wing and working-class movements.
None will accept a dime of corporate money. Any positions won will be used as a platform from which to speak out, a rallying point around which to organize struggle, and another arena in which to fight the political power of corporate America – not a springboard to privilege.
Join the Struggle
Socialist campaigns will never stand a chance of winning without the active participation and support of working people and fighters for social justice. While many support the working class agenda socialists campaign on, passive support will not be enough. Working people will only win gains when we rise up and actively support and help build our own movements and political campaigns.
All three Socialist Alternative candidates are powered only by our supporters: people in the communities, schools, and workplaces where were running as well as those around the country who want to see this movement grow.
We have no connections to those in power, no corporate backers. As working-class campaigns, they will not be taking any corporate money. Instead, they are relying on the financial donations of workers and activists in order to have the resources to print hundreds of thousands of leaflets, yard signs, and mailers.
Victory depends on people like you. Volunteer to help build the campaigns, and spread the word to friends, family, and co-workers. Please consider donating to their campaigns.
It will take much more than elections, however, to achieve the lasting, fundamental change we are after. The political and legal system under capitalism is not only flooded with corrupt corporate cash, but has a structure that is inherently conservative and slow-moving, serving fundamentally to protect the status quo. Every major social advance in history, from equal rights protections and the 40-hour workweek to the establishment of vital public services and safety net programs, has required an ongoing struggle by regular people that threatened the power of the ruling class.
Even after gains are won, corporations and their political allies maneuver to overturn them as soon as peoples backs are turned. Winning a better world will take more than a personnel change; what is needed is a system change. What is needed is a system based on maximizing not corporate profits, but benefit to humanity. What is needed is socialism.
So if you want to keep fighting against pro-capitalist policies long after this election is over, fill out a membership application for Socialist Alternative and subscribe to our newspaper, Justice.
The world is waking up to the need to struggle for change, and history is on our side. There is no better time to act than the present.
Kshama Sawant in Seattle
Kshama Sawant has been a tireless advocate for working people. After rising to prominence as an Occupy activist, she used her 2012 campaign as a megaphone to air the grievances of those who are ignored by the current system.
Sawant won a historic 29% with over 20,000 votes against Democratic Washington State House Speaker Frank Chopp: the strongest vote for an independent left-wing candidate in the U.S. in 2012 and the highest vote for a socialist in decades.
The grassroots and activist nature of the 2012 campaign was illustrated when, during the campaign, she lost her job in an act of political discrimination. Rather than silently accepting this, Sawant and Socialist Alternative immediately organized a defense campaign that succeeded in compelling her employer to rehire her.
Now running for Seattle City Council, Sawant is building on the momentum from last year. The campaign kickoff party was attended by 100 people, and $2000 was raised! The campaign has received coverage in the Seattle Times, Seattle P-I, The Stranger, and in numerous neighborhood papers and blogs. Sawant was also interviewed on Seattles KEXP radio station, one of the most popular stations in the city.
To qualify for the ballot, a candidate must pay $1,200 – one percent of the city councilors $120,000 yearly salary! – or collect 1,200 valid signatures of registered Seattle voters. The Sawant campaign has already collected 1,100 signatures and aims to collect over 2,000.
Ty Moore in Minneapolis
Were building a movement-based campaign that challenges the Democrats one-party corporate control of Minneapolis and by running on a bold agenda for the 99%, explained Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative candidate for Minneapolis City Council.
Moore is an organizer for Socialist Alternative and a prominent leader in the Minneapolis Occupy Homes movement, in which he fights every day on the side of the homeless and those facing foreclosure against this nations most powerful banks.
Last year, the mayor and a majority on the City Council gave $678 million in taxpayer money to billionaire Zigi Wilf to build a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. This deeply unpopular corporate welfare project, alongside a host of grievances facing working-class families, is the background to one of the most hotly contested and closely watched Minneapolis city elections in recent memory.
Moore is running in Ward 9, a racially diverse, working-class, left-wing cluster of neighborhoods in South Minneapolis. There are about 10,000 households in the Ward.
Moore is endorsed by the Green Party, and with their help Socialist Alternative members launched a five-week canvassing drive on March 24. In the first three weeks alone, over 700 doors were knocked. Our canvassers also collected over 180 petitions for the Eviction Free Zone, a community solidarity network in Ward 9 organized by Occupy Homes MN to defend foreclosed-upon families who refuse to leave their homes.
Jessica English, a homeless mother of four, moved into a Wells Fargo-owned vacant property in the Eviction Free Zone last February. Ive worked all my life, but without a living wage its impossible to make it, said English. My familys right to a home should be defended by city officials, but instead I live under constant threat of city police evicting me on Wells Fargos behalf. Thats why Im supporting Ty Moore for City Council and decided to join Socialist Alternative.
Seamus Whelan in Boston
Seamus Whelan, a registered nurse and active member of the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), has seen firsthand the damage that capitalist profiteering has done to our health care system and the unwillingness of the two parties of Wall Street to address the problem. Whelan is running as a Socialist Alternative candidate in the At-Large (citywide) race for Boston City Council. Seamus is also endorsed by the Green-Rainbow Party and numerous union activists.
As an MNA delegate to the 2012 convention of National Nurses United (NNU), the nations largest staff RN union with 185,000 members, Whelan successfully moved an amendment that, the NNU will consider supporting/endorsing independent candidates to challenge the two parties of Wall Street and the 1%, Democratic and Republican, in local, state, or national election races of our choosing as these parties seek to carry out major attacks on public services and programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
We have an uphill battle to get on the ballot 1,500 valid signatures in three weeks! but we have seen support pour in since the campaign was announced. We expect to make a big impact on local politics while advancing the discussion in the labor movement about the need for a working-class party and building Socialist Alternative.