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“We Have Not Backed Down”: Kshama Sawant Speaks At Solidarity Campaign Election Night Party

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Below is the text of Kshama Sawant’s speech shortly after initial results came in on the right-wing recall. You can watch the video of the speech here.

Thank you all for being here. The initial election results have been reported. At present, the vote against the right-wing Recall is 46.9% and the vote for it is 53.1%.

In every one of our elections there has been a dramatic swing after election night in our direction. Given the unprecedented nature of this undemocratic December election, while we can’t be sure of the final result, if past trends hold it appears working people may have prevailed in this fight. 

What we do know for certain is that working people and young people have roundly rejected this racist, right-wing, big-business-backed attack. We know that from our tens of thousands of conversations in the last weeks in this district and the voter data we have systematically collected through that. We have the highest support ever based on those discussions. 

The massive support of working people and young people for our campaign is also reflected in our record number of volunteers, over 1,500, and our record numbers of donors. We broke multiple records – our own records in fact from past campaigns. We had more donors, by a country mile, than any Seattle election ever, with over 11,500 individual donors. We had more in-district donors than any campaign in Seattle history, with over 5,000 (nearly triple the number from the right-wing Recall campaign). We raised more money, without taking a dime in corporate cash, than any city council campaign in Seattle history, raising over 1 million and 10 thousand dollars.

We vowed to build the biggest get-out-the-vote campaign that Seattle has ever seen, and we have done exactly that. 

Our results tonight stand in stark contrast to those in November, where big business succeeded in buying the elections.

The November election results, unfortunately, reflected the failure of many woke, progressive candidates and politicians – both in Seattle and around the country – in countering the false fear-mongering, anti-poor, anti-worker, protest-demonizing narrative by the chamber of commerce and the right wing.

Just weeks ago, the City Council Democrats voted for raises for the Seattle Police – yes, raises for them – in the context of their ongoing racist policing, in the context of continued federal oversight, in the context of the SPD sending the largest single contingent of officers to the January 6 attempted coup in DC. They did this as public employees providing crucial social services in Seattle continue to be grossly underpaid.

What did we do? We refused to back down in the face of a right-wing backlash, and we have fought against the efforts of the Democratic establishment to make concessions to the right. 

From day one we have rejected the attempted racist characterization of peaceful protest movements as “lawlessness” and “chaos.” 

We have not backed down on the need to further Tax Amazon and big business, rather than working people, to fund affordable housing. Our Amazon Tax, which working people won at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, is a shining example of what can be won through movements, if we have strategy, a democratic movement, and an accountable leadership and if we are organized to fight.

We have not backed down on the urgent need for rent control. We have not backed down on renters rights. In the midst of fighting this recall attack, we have won groundbreaking renters rights laws in this year alone – from winning all renters the right to an attorney, to the ban on school year evictions, to 6-months notice for all rent increases, to forcing landlords to pay you three times your monthly rent if they force you to move through a rent increase.

We have not backed down in the need for a socialist response to the climate catastrophe – we call for a socialist Green New Deal, including taking the big energy corporations into democratic public ownership because that is the only way we can stop them from destroying the planet as we know it.

We have in every way run a groundbreaking socialist election campaign. We fought until the final hour. Volunteers are still arriving to this party after helping get out the final votes in this struggle.

Our message throughout this recall fight has been: which side are you on – working people and Black Lives Matter – or big business and the right wing? We’ve explained this at the doors, in our flyers, in our ballot reply. 

This 15-month long mockery of democracy has reminded us the difficulty of having a genuinely democratic society under the billionaire’s system. We saw the utter hypocrisy of how this thoroughly undemocratic recall system in Washington was applied by the capitalist courts. The recall against Amazon’s Mayor, Jenny Durkan, Teargas Jenny, was unanimously thrown out by the state supreme court judges, despite the weapons used by the police under her watch against peaceful protestors, myself included. Despite the 18,000 complaints by peaceful protestors. 

Also in utter hypocrisy, the court rejected the recall effort against the covid-denying Sheriff of Thurston County, though he bluntly refused to follow the mask mandate. 

It is telling and predictable that only the recall against socialist politics was allowed to go forward. Not only did it go forward but it received the enthusiastic stamp of approval from the supreme court with language on the ballot that dishonestly implied that I had broken the law. Even though I have not and even though the courts do not judge the truth of charges in recall cases.

It is not only that the State Supreme Court applies the recall law in a highly unequal and unjust manner, as they did also a century ago, when Seattle’s last elected socialist, Anna Louise Strong was undemocratically removed through a recall. The court was also directly responsible for allowing right-wing voter suppression in this election. Originally the state supreme court was supposed to rule on January 7, according to their own calendar. In fact, they are supposed to rule promptly on all recall cases, according to their own laws. 

Instead, they not only did not rule on their owb self-imposed date, they waited nearly 3 months to rule. Nearly 3 months, with no explanation given! All the while they listened to case after case. By doing so, they allowed the right-wing recall to bypass the normal November election – only the court’s delay made it possible.

Working people are not naive. This blatant voter suppression did not come out of thin air, it came from the State Supreme Court, from the institutions of the capitalist class. They have offered absolutely no explanation for this absurd 3-month delay. It is no surprise the right-wing recall campaign took the opportunity for voter suppression that was offered.

The laws under capitalism are not written for us, and the courts themselves uphold – just as much as they can get away with – the interests of the billionaires. They defend a deeply unequal, racist status quo in which the overwhelming majority struggle to get by, while the very wealthy live in enough opulence to last a thousand lifetimes. 

Slavery was once the law of the land. It took a second American Revolution, the US civil war, to end slavery. After that, Bblack people faced a century of the brutal system of racist Jim Crow segregation. While the lynchings that backed up segregation were not legally sanctioned, no court would convict the lynchers. Indigenous people in this country had their land systematically stolen at gunpoint, the treaty rights legally promised were denied by the courts, their children rounded up and taken away to “boarding schools.” All this was sanctioned by law.

Now that the Black Lives Matter movement is fighting back again against institutional racism, we see the racist courts punishing the protestors but not the violent racists.

We just saw with the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse after murdering two people and injuring another in Wisconsin. Roe v. Wade is now under attack, with basic women’s rights under threat, from the US Supreme Court.

Corporate cash has weighed heavily in this campaign, not surprisingly. 

We have proudly and powerfully fought back in a way that should be an example to all working people, regardless of whether we ultimately win or lose.

We say that when we fight we can win. But that does not mean that we will always win – the working class will lose also, even if it does everything right, even if it fights with every ounce of courage – because this bankrupt capitalist system is stacked against us. We do know, if we don’t fight, we will never win.

There are different kinds of setbacks and defeats. If we lose this fight, we should be crystal clear that all of us here, and those beyond this room that fought with us, that we should be incredibly proud. Not only of how hard we fought, but particularly of how we fought. Of how we used this campaign to raise the sights of working people, that we never went on the defensive, but rather we went on the offensive to win more gains for the working class and renters this year.

What was at stake with this election wasn’t about one city council position – neither for the working class nor the ruling class.

This was about the powerful example of successful class struggle we have shown. Bernie Sanders once said, “if this is going to be class war, it is about time that the working class won that war…” I agree with Bernie on this.

We are not the ones sowing division – we are the ones fighting for the unity of the working class, the overwhelming majority in US society – against this rotten system. It is the ruling class which relentlessly attacks ordinary people, denying the most basic rights to healthcare, to affordable housing, to a living wage. Never content, the ruling class puts its profits ahead of human lives and even the continuation of human civilization under threat from the climate crisis. Even in the context of COVID, from basic workplace safety to vaccine nationalism, the billionaires have put their profits ahead of human lives.

We have no choice but to build the labor movement and the socialist left. Everything depends on it.

October and November saw a crucial reawakening of struggle among US workers: a historic victory with the John Deere strike, and historic fights at Nabisco and Kelloggs, and the historic struggle of the rank-and-file led Pacific Northwest union Carpenters’ strike.

Defeating the recall attack will be a powerful example for the working class nationally and internationally. If the ruling class succeeds, it will embolden them to attack progressives and socialists nationally. Already in the wake of Seattle’s November election, Fox News was crowing about the results, and threatening to go after the Squad. Imagine how determined they would be if they win this one.

We also can expect that if we do win, that will not be the end of the attacks by any means. Attempts to call into question this election. Attacks in the courts of different kinds. We may even have reached the point where the ruling class goes after Socialist Alternative directly, as they went after the Black Panthers and anti-war activists.

Win or lose, we should not forget: the ruling class keeps going after us because we have shown how to win – not once or twice, but repeatedly, with unprecedented victories. It is a badge of honor if working people become enemy number 1 to the billionaires – it means we are getting it right and getting it done!

And there are crucial lessons to learn. In November, as I said, the victories for big business – and by large margins – was in no small part because of the kind of progressive campaigns that were run.

I endorsed Nikkita Oliver, as a movement leader, and hoped they would win.

I hoped the big business candidates would lose in the other races in the November election, in spite of the major weaknesses of the woke, progressive Democrats’ campaigns. 

But big business had a virtual sweep in Seattle’s November election, as well as big victories nationally. Why?

Because while corporate PACs backed “law and order” candidates, the progressive Democrats overwhelmingly failed to campaign on working-class issues. Worst was Lorena Gonzalez. But even Nikkita Oliver never campaigned in a real way for rent control. They never campaigned to expand the Amazon Tax for affordable housing. Instead, Oliver actually removed rent control from their website platform, and they backed away from rent control in a high-profile debate.

Why did the other Democrats like Lorena Gonzalez not offer anything to the working class – or fight on any working class demands? Why did they allow the election to be framed and defined by the right-wing backlash against Black Lives matter – by a right-wing “law and order” message? Why did they not call out the big business backing of their opponents, the $2 million in corporate money being used to buy those elections?

The blowout in Gonzalez’s election was because she never brought up any fighting demands – she campaigned on the defensive throughout – unwilling to point out that her opponent was the favored candidate of big business because she herself did not want to antagonize big business.

It is because the Democratic Party is not a party of the working class but rather a party of the Billionaires. Even its progressive wing ultimately wants to make peace with big business, and limit itself to make largely symbolic changes within the status quo.

The Democrats are obviously different the increasingly outright reactionary billionaire party of the Republicans. But that is not enough.

Because the Democratic Party enables the Republican Party every day. To be clear I’m not talking about Democratic Party voters or rank-and-file activists – who broadly want their party to represent working people. I’m talking about the pro-capitalist elected officials. 

Now, in the wake of big business victories in November, the Democrats on the Seattle city council are looking to hug the new corporate politicians, while they continue to attack our movements. It is no accident that while Mosqueda continues to oppose our legislation for rent control, yet she decided to join new corporate mayor Bruce Harrell’s “transition team.”

It is the absolute failure of the Democratic Party to fight for working people – its efforts to block and crush those who do fight – like Bernie Sanders, and like our movement here in Seattle – that paves the way for the right wing. Let’s not forget, an actual Republican, Ann Davison, who joined the party in the era of Trump, has gotten elected as City Attorney.

We urgently need a party of our own – a party of the working class and youth which bases itself on fighting unapologetically, not appeasement of the elite. 

The failure of Biden to do much of anything for working class people during this historic crisis is rooted in the fact that his administration, and his party, base themselves on what is acceptable to big business. His failure to fight for a $15 minimum wage, as promised, or Medicare for All, which he always opposed on behalf of the billionaires, or for the funding urgently needed to fight the climate crisis.

The failure of the Squad to win much of anything for working-class people is because rather than build fighting movements, as we have in Seattle, they have built an alliance with Biden, Pelosi and Co.

Ultimately the growth of the right wing, and the far right, is spurred on, again and again, by anger and disappointment with the Democratic Party.

Trump is a con man and a reactionary, but the support he has in the working class is a direct result of anger at the Democrats for hardly even pretending to fight for working people. 

The continuation of this will be utter disaster, it will be further growth of the right wing. If it continues it will mean a more dangerous right wing administration in the White House, whether Trump in 2024 or something else. 

Here in Seattle, the Democrats in City Hall have refused to fight for working people, refused to take on big business, and refused to use a movement-based strategy. But it’s worse than that. They have actually fought our movements every step of the way and tried to undermine working people’s movements repeatedly, partly by falsely making it about my personality, blaming me for not following the quote-unquote “process” and claiming that I am not “nice” when we have used our position on the dais to expose them, as is our moral and political duty.

Not one of the sitting 8 Democratic Party City Councilmembers spoke out against the right-wing recall. Not one. Given what is at stake for the working-class in this fight, it tells you all you need to know about these Democratic politicians. Even when the stakes are high, even the progressive wing of the Democratic Party betrays working people, again and again.

Many people ask, and have asked throughout the history of capitalist democracy, why is it when progressive people get elected, even well meaning ones, they don’t do anything much. Or they utterly sell out. There is no big mystery – fundamentally it’s because this system puts enormous pressure on elected representatives to operate within the status quo. And it is only by basing yourself on movements that you can fight back. 

We need to run our own candidates, independent of the two parties, as a step toward building a new party for the working class. And we need to build the socialist movement.

I am a member of both Socialist Alternative and Democratic Socialists of America. The first is an explicitly revolutionary socialist organization and the latter is a big-tent socialist organization. 

We need both, and it is very positive that DSA has grown to more than 90 thousand members. However, it is not enough to organize generally around the idea of socialism, to be more effective, DSA needs to, and again I say this as a member, build its Marxist wing and base itself on class struggle methods. That is to say, on organizing working people to fight for their interests, not on accommodation or alliances with the existing power structures, with the nonprofits, with the progressive Democrats.

You may have heard that I am a Marxist or even that I am a Trotskyist… This is true.

But what is Marxism… and why is it important?

In short, Marxism is scientific socialism. It is based on the study of history, of capitalism and its inner laws, and about what is necessary to take humanity forward. As Marx said, “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways, the point is to change it.”

The basic ideas of scientific socialism are now 175 years old, but they are and will remain the most modern of ideas so long as the bankrupt system of capitalism exists.

Marx recognized that history under capitalism, under all previous class societies, was defined by class struggle. The ruling class viciously exploits the majority of society to whatever degree it can get away with, and the exploited can only win any gains by getting organized and fighting back. Capitalism is a system of ongoing crisis, characterized by instability, by recessions and depressions. He saw that the ruthless quest for profits would lead to imperialist powers dominating not only their own working classes, but increasingly those across the globe. 

Marx concluded that the working class was the only force that could take society forward, and that could only happen if we get organized with clear ideas. 

He saw that no ruling class anywhere, ever, would allow a society based on equality and solidarity. He saw that the engine of change under class society is class struggle – and ultimately revolution. 

These basic ideas are as true today as ever. The urgency is even greater – as the capitalists prepare to take humanity over the cliff of climate catastrophe.

We will not prevent that disaster by compromising with the capitalists. We will not prevent it by making alliances with corporate politicians.

We need to take the big corporations, starting with the big energy corporations, into public ownership and run them democratically by the workers. If we don’t, they will destroy the planet as we know it. The clock is ticking.

We urgently need to rebuild a fighting labor movement.

We need to build powerful mass movements. We need to win the majority of the working class to socialist ideas. How will we do that? By showing the power of those ideas in action, as we have again and again in Seattle. By showing how on the basis of class struggle we can win historic victories like the $15 minimum wage, like the Amazon Tax, like groundbreaking renters rights, by fighting alongside workers on strike and helping them win their demands, by fighting alongside social movements for the same. This is how the socialist movement must be built. 

This is why the example of Socialist Alternative, here in Seattle, and nationally, is so crucial.

If you recognize the importance of what we are doing, if you are impressed with what we have done with this campaign, and through our socialist city council office in Seattle. If you want to learn more about how we have been so effective, I encourage you to find out about joining Socialist Alternative. There are forms to join Socialist Alternative being circulated here tonight. Talk to the people with the clipboards, who are our members.

What are our next steps? 

In Seattle, we have an unfinished fight for rent control. We collected 15,000 signatures this summer and fall. Now we need to build a movement to force the Democrats to pass our legislation.

Nationally, we see the vicious attack on Roe v. Wade, on basic women’s rights. We need DSA, the unions, the big women’s rights organizations, to organize mass protests. 

We need to build on the strikes and militancy of Striketober – and for that we need to build rank-and-file leadership to overcome the opposition of so much of the trade union leadership to class struggle methods.

We have not only these crucial fights in front of us, we have a world to win. Another world is both possible and necessary. 

If a small revolutionary socialist organization in Seattle can beat the wealthiest corporations in the world here, again and again, you can be sure that the organized power of the wider working class can change society.

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