Wednesday, August 28, 2013
In Support of Kshama Sawant
Although the Burning House still reads widely and sometimes posts here about politics, economics, and social issues, we have honestly given up on electoral politics as an engine of progress for the forseeable future.
We do participate in voting: casting votes for alternatives we can support, and occasionally for Democrats. The trouble is, we see an urgent need for leadership that is outside the Republican-Democratic duopoly. This duopoly, the "two party system" that never rotates the eligible parties, is an institution enjoying a lock on elected power (the laws are in fact rigged to ensure the dominance of these two parties) despite a legacy of poor government, fealty to a capitalist-corporate agenda, and subsequent inability to address a grave ecological crisis, distribute education and health care to its people, roll back our economic dependence on war as an industry, develop an infrastructure for renewable energy, or to distribute meaningful work for its people.
Despite its failures, the duopoly reigns. This is partly because the laws and customs of our elections overtly favor its continuity, raising obstacles and firewalls against independent candidates or alternative parties. It is allowed to continue, however, because the public has been led to believe that supporting alternative parties is too dangerous to consider, and that it is better to settle for a "lesser of two evils" rather than candidates they actually would support in principle. This is true of conservatives and liberals, and the fear leads people either to abstain from voting or for voting for candidates they don't believe in while refusing to vote for candidates and platforms they do believe in.
Results: a plutocracy administered by the Republican-Democratic duopoly, with dominion over a demoralized electorate who no longer even expect government to represent their interests.
In this grim United States, the received political wisdom among so-called progressives is that the only course worth pursuing is to work with the Democratic Party, raise all the money you can (i.e. corporate money), and secure prominent endorsements from other Democrats and major newspapers.
Results: Loss, or co-optation into corporate-dominated Democratic Party politics, which works against an actual progressive agenda.
Enter Kshama Sawant.
She is an American immigrant from India, now a professor at Seattle Central Community College. She was active in the Occupy movement and has moved into electoral politics while continuing to be active in protest politics. She previously ran for the state legislature, losing the race while winning a respectable margin of the votes cast. Now she is running for city council and she performed well enough in the first vote that she has gone on to the November runoff against a vulnerable incumbent.
The incumbent is the kind of Democrat we complained about above: He introduced himself to voters as a progressive candidate but pursued a very different agenda over a decade and a half in office, no doubt better reflecting the interests of high-level donors and corporations. With his name recognition and fundraising advantage, the conventional wisdom is that he's all set provided he doesn't blow it in some kind of personal scandal. The epitome of entrenched incumbency.
Oh, but guess what.
In the initial vote, Sawant took 35% of the vote in a three-way race against an entrenched Democratic incumbent. More than one third, in a three way race, against candidates with a lot more money than she had. As part of a vow to be a working class candidate representing working class interests, she refuses corporate money and accepts donations from individual donors, most of them small. According to one of the Seattle Times articles linked here, her opponent had raised seven times as much money as she had. And yet, a majority of the votes cast in that three-way race were against the incumbent, and now Professor Sawant faces him in a runoff. By the accounts I've read, she has a pretty good ground-organizing game, and is making the best use of her funds.
Another thing: she's not a Democrat, and not even a Green. She is running as a socialist candidate. And apparently a lot of Seattle voters aren't afraid of that word, although the Seattle Times pronounced her much too "hard left" to be taken seriously.
Well, maybe not. For one thing,if her platform is "hard left" it just goes to show how much the political spectrum has shifted to the right during our lifetimes (we are about the same age). She is pro-union and her economic agenda is Keynesian: higher minimum wage, progressive taxation, economic stimulus, robust public sector work within capitalism.
But even this is going farther than the Democratic Party can go. And apparently voters aren't so afraid of the word "socialism," like the policy direction, and are donating to her campaign and planning to vote for her.
Who knows. Maybe this can happen.
And if we dare entertain that hope, can we go a bit further and dare to dream that progressive voters are starting to open their minds to leadership outside the Democratic-Republican box? Maybe entertaining a wider range of policy ideas? Another indicator could be the election of Gayle McLaughlin, of the Green Party, as mayor of Richmond, California. She is serving her second term, and has been making news lately (even earning a mention by the liberal duopolist Rachel Maddow, who poo-poos politicians of other parties) for the mayor's innovative effort to use government's "eminent domain" powers on behalf of the poor. With her city facing a corrosive foreclosure crisis, McLaughlin wanted to appropriate "eminent domain" (whereby govenrment seizes private property for ostensibly public purposes, which could include turning them over to private enterprise) on behalf of homeowners and in order to stave off urban blight in her city.
Maybe there is a dimly glowing ember of hope for electoral politics. Maybe alternatives to the duopoly can secure a toehold, win a seat, maybe start opening the door to representation for the poor and the working class.
We don't have our hopes up just yet. And we're broke. But we're sending a few bucks to Kshama Sawant. And telling you about her in case you'd like to check her out and consider doing the same.
For more, YouTube has lots of videos of her speaking.
[Image taken from Sawant's campaign website. Hope they don't mind.]