In the age of Trump, socialists mobilizing together can turn around U.S. politics.
With millions across the country urgently searching for effective methods of resistance to the Trump administration, and Democratic leaders continuing to disappoint, Seattle is again taking a lead. Following the path blazed by Kshama Sawant, Seattle’s socialist city councilmember, two respected left activists are stepping into the political arena as independent candidates vowing to fight back against the corporate domination of Seattle’s political system.
Both Jon Grant – running for City Council – and Nikkita Oliver – running for mayor – are conducting serious campaigns and have pledged not to accept money from big business. Grant already has a substantial volunteer base, is utilizing the new “democracy voucher” public financing program, and has raised over $100,000 – an unprecedented amount for a left challenger this early in the race. Over 800 community activists came together for Nikkita’s rousing kick-off event on April 2, gathering widespread media attention.
Longtime tenant rights activist Jon Grant narrowly lost a 2015 council race running as a left Democrat on a housing justice platform against a business-backed Democratic incumbent. With most Democratic Party and labor leaders again refusing to back him, this time Grant decided to run as a democratic socialist. Grant should harness the energy and enthusiasm of the sizeable socialist and grassroots constituency in Seattle to build his campaign, stand up against pressure from the establishment to not appear too “radical,” and in turn use his campaign to strengthen the socialist movement for future fights.
Seattle mayoral challenger Nikkita Oliver, a racial justice activist, lawyer, and educator, is running on the ticket of the Seattle Peoples Party, which aims to give a political platform for marginalized communities in Seattle. Her campaign focuses heavily on housing affordability, police and prison reform, and education, all with a strong focus on racial justice. Nikkita was active in the successful struggle to block the city establishment’s efforts to build a new $160 million police bunker, and she is a central figure in the ongoing movement to stop construction of a new youth jail. Her platform calls for an end to youth incarceration in Seattle and a shifting of funds toward education and community-led restorative justice programs.
The ever-worsening housing crisis facing poor and working-class Seattleites is ample proof that the developer-backed Democratic Party is unable to prioritize human need above free market ideals. Socialists in Seattle can use this opportunity to work together and show in practice the power of a politics designed to meet human need rather than maximize profit.
Challenge the Two-Party System
Socialist Alternative urges Nikkita Oliver and Jon Grant to use their campaigns to help build a sustainable, democratic political organization that lasts beyond the election cycle. An electoral campaign can be a powerful tool to activate and organize new people, which is the first step toward building a new mass political party of and for working people. Armed with socialist ideas, such a party could take the fight against racism, sexism, and inequality all the way by ending the era of capitalist exploitation and opening the door for a new type of society.
Both Nikkita and Jon support Kshama Sawant’s calls for rent control and taxing the super-rich and big businesses so the city can invest in publicly owned affordable housing. Although neither candidate identifies the need to fundamentally break with capitalism and reorganize society on a socialist basis to achieve social and racial equity, their campaigns are poised to change the scope of the discussion around what is possible to accomplish in Seattle and beyond.
Another opportunity to build the power of the socialist movement can be seen in Minneapolis, where Socialist Alternative member Ginger Jentzen is running for City Council. She hopes to break the Democratic Party’s stranglehold on the city, which is actively suppressing progressive movements like the fight for a $15 minimum wage. If such candidacies are supported by the many socialist organizations rapidly growing in the U.S., like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), they can provide proof of what a new, broad Socialist Party could achieve. If the DSA, Socialist Alternative (SA), and others on the left work together to run candidates with a bold left program, we can draw working people, youth, unorganized socialists, and people on the left into activism and transform the political landscape in the U.S.
Socialists around the country should support Grant, Jentzen, Oliver, and similar left independent candidates regardless of where they are running. With the Democratic Party unwilling to take up the bold progressive policies called for by millions of young and working-class people, left independents need to bring the demands of BLM, 15 Now, Medicare for All, Cancel Student Debt, etc. into the halls of power ourselves by coming together to build a new mass party for all working-class and oppressed people.