Kshama Sawant

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Kshama Sawant
Kshama Sawant at University Commons Groundbreaking.jpg
Seattle City Council, Position 2
Assumed office
January 1, 2014
Preceded by Richard Conlin
Personal details
Born (1973-10-17) October 17, 1973 (age 41)
Pune, India[1]
Political party Socialist Alternative
Alma mater North Carolina State University (Ph.D.), University of Mumbai (B.Sc)

Kshama Sawant (/kʃɑːmə səˈwɑːnt/)[2] is a Seattle City Council member.[3] A former software engineer from India, Sawant became a socialist activist and part-time economics professor in Seattle after emigrating to the United States. She held part-time teaching positions at Seattle Central Community College and Seattle University[4] and was a visiting assistant professor at Washington and Lee University.[5] Sawant ran unsuccessfully for the Washington State House of Representatives before winning a seat on the Seattle City Council, making her the first socialist to win a city-wide election in Seattle since the radical progressive Anna Louise Strong was elected to the School Board in 1916.[3][6][7]

Personal life and education[edit]

Sawant was born to Vasundhara and H. T. Ramanujam in Pune, India, in a middle-class family.[6][8][9] Her mother is a retired principal and her father, a civil engineer, was killed by a drunk driver when Sawant was 13.[10] Sawant's observations of poverty in her native country and her unhappiness with the Indian caste system helped shape her political views before her adoption of socialism.[9][11] Sawant grew up in Mumbai where she later studied computer science and graduated with a B.Sc from the University of Mumbai in 1994. She married her husband Vivek, an engineer at Microsoft, and moved to the United States.[12] Sawant was shocked by the level of poverty she saw and decided to abandon the computer engineering field.[13] She began to pursue studies in economics due to what she described as her own "questions of economic inequality."[14] She entered the economics program at North Carolina State University where she earned a PhD. Her dissertation was titled Elderly Labor Supply in a Rural, Less Developed Economy.[6][15] Sawant moved to Seattle in 2006 and, after hearing a speech by a Socialist Alternative organizer, became a socialist. She became a United States citizen in 2010.[16]


Washington State House of Representatives[edit]

Sawant was a candidate for the Socialist Alternative party for Position 1 in the 43rd District of the Washington House of Representatives, representing Seattle. Sawant advanced past the primaries with a write-in win for Position 2, while also advancing in Position 1 where she was on the ballot challenging Jamie Pedersen. Sawant successfully sued the Washington secretary of state for the right to list her party preference, Socialist Alternative, on the November ballot.[17] Sawant challenged incumbent house speaker Frank Chopp in the general election on November 6, 2012. Sawant received 29% of the vote, losing the race to Chopp's 70%.[18]

The Sawant campaign criticized the raiding of Occupy Wall Street activists' homes by the Seattle Police Department's SWAT team.[19][20] She also advocated on LGBT issues, women's issues, people of color issues and opposed cuts to education and other social programs.[21] She gave a teach-in course at an all-night course at Seattle Central Community College.[22]

Seattle City Council[edit]

Sawant with Nicole Grant at the City Council swearing in ceremony, January 6, 2014

After losing her run for the House, Sawant entered the race for Seattle City Council with a campaign organized by Socialist Alternative.[14] She won 35% of the vote in the August primary election, and advanced into the general election for the at-large council position 2 against incumbent Richard Conlin, making her the first socialist to advance to a general election in Seattle since 1991.[23] On election night early vote counts showed Sawant down by 6,193 votes but late ballots consistently favored her.[3][24] On November 15, 2013, Conlin conceded to Sawant after later returns showed him down by 1,640 votes or approximately 1% of the vote.[3][25]

Sawant's victory made her the first socialist to win a city-wide election in Seattle since the radical progressive Anna Louise Strong was elected to the School Board in 1916[3][7] and the first socialist on the City Council since A. W. Piper, elected in 1877.[26][27]

Sawant declared a victory in May 2014 after Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced an increase in the minimum wage to $15, which was the cornerstone of her campaign for City Council, but she is not pleased that large corporations will be allowed a few years to phase in the wage hike.[28] During a speech at the City Council on the day of the vote she said, "We did this. Workers did this. Today’s first major victory for 15 will inspire people all over the nation."[29]

Sawant advanced through the primary election for City Council District 3 representative on August 4, 2015 with 49.9% of the vote, almost 15 percentage points ahead of her closest opponent, Pamela Banks at 35.3%.[30][31] The final vote count later showed she actually won 50.5% of the primary vote.[32]

Campaign issues[edit]

The core issues of Sawant's campaign were a minimum wage increase to US$15/hour, a "millionaire's tax" or income tax on wealthy Seattleites, and rent control.[23] Sawant said rent control is "something everyone supports, except real estate developers and people like Richard Conlin..." and compared the legal fight for its implementation to same-sex marriage, and the legalization of marijuana in the United States, both of which she supports.[14][33] Her campaign for a $15 an hour minimum wage has been credited for bringing the issue into the mainstream and attracting support for the policy from both Seattle former Mayor Mike McGinn and Seattle current Mayor Ed Murray.[34] In response to criticism that a $15 an hour minimum wage could hurt the economy, she said, "If making sure that workers get out of poverty would severely impact the economy, then maybe we don't need this economy."[35]

She is also a supporter of expanding public transit and bikeways, ending corporate welfare, ending racial profiling, reducing taxes on small businesses and homeowners, protecting public sector unions from layoffs, living wage union jobs, and social services.[36]

On the topic of public transit, Sawant has advocated for expanding bus and light rail capacity with a millionaire's tax and for what she calls "transit justice" which includes eliminating user fares, increasing services to the poor, especially communities in south Seattle, and not providing any more transit options to communities who "can afford other options" until that happens.[14][33][36][37] She said that, if elected, she would donate the portion of her salary as a City Council person which exceeds the average salary in Seattle.[38][39] On 27 January 2014, she announced that she would only accept $40,000 of her $117,000 salary.[40] She currently places the rest into a self-administered political fund which she uses for selected social justice campaigns.[35]


All of Seattle's major Democratic Party organizations endorsed Sawant's opponent Conlin, but several individuals within the city's dominant Democratic establishment endorsed her candidacy.[41] Celebrity endorsements included Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian.[42]

Sawant received no endorsements from sitting Council members but councilor Mike O'Brien expressed support of the idea of third party candidates while explicitly declining to extend an endorsement of Sawant.[43] The Stranger alt-weekly endorsed both her State House and her City Council candidacy.[44] Councilman Nick Licata also declined to endorse her but spoke positively of her campaign saying, "...she has been able to craft a message that is understandable, simple and eschews most of the rhetoric" and when her eventual election victory seemed unlikely, he expressed his hope that Sawant would not "disappear after the election if she loses. She represents the poor, the immigrants, the refugees – the folks who are not in our City Council offices lobbying us."[45]

On April 7, 2015, Chris Hedges endorsed Kshama Sawant.[46][47]

Political positions[edit]

Sawant picketing June 19, 2015, in support of UNITE HERE Local 8 union members in contract negotiation with Space Needle Corporation[48]

Kshama Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative party, the United States section of the British-based Trotskyist international organization the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI). She has referred to herself as a Marxist.[33][49] Sawant has stated that she does not advocate for any system like the "bureaucratic dictatorship" of the former Soviet Union, but for democratic socialism meaning "the society being run democratically in the interest of all working people on the planet, all children - everybody who has needs, and all that being done in an environmentally sustainable manner."[50]

Involvement with Occupy[edit]

Before running for office, Sawant received attention as an organizer in the local Occupy movement.[1][23] She praised Occupy for putting "class," "capitalism," and "socialism" into the political debate.[33] After Occupy Seattle protestors were removed from Westlake Park by order Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, Sawant helped bring them to the Capitol Hill campus of Seattle Central Community College, where they remained for two months.[14] Sawant has joined with other Occupy activists working with local organization to resist home evictions and foreclosures. She was arrested with several other Occupy activists including Dorli Rainey on July 31, 2012 for blocking King County Sheriff's Deputies from evicting a man from his home.[51]

Economic policies[edit]

In her most recent campaign, Sawant called for large Seattle companies such as Starbucks and Amazon to be unionized.[36] In previous campaigns, she has advocated the nationalization of large Washington State corporations such as Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon.com[37] and expressed a desire to see privately owned housing in "Millonaire's Row" in the Capitol Hill neighborhood turned into publically owned shared housing saying, "When things are exquisitely beautiful and rare, they shouldn't be privately owned."[52] During an election victory rally for her City Council campaign, Sawant criticized Boeing for saying it would move jobs out of state if it couldn't get wage concessions and tax breaks. She called this "economic terrorism" and said in several speeches that if Boeing moved jobs out of state, the workers should take over Boeing facilities and bring them into public ownership. She has said they could be converted into multiple uses, such as production for mass transit.[53][54] Sawant also supports single-payer health care.[36] Sawant maintains that a socialist economy cannot exist in a single country and must be a global system just as capitalism today is a global system.[55]

Environment, education, and immigration[edit]

Sawant opposed the construction of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel calling it "environmentally destructive" and "something most people were against, most environmental groups were against".[14]

She opposes the Measures of Academic Progress test in public schools, and supported the teachers' boycott of the standardized tests.[36] Sawant has called for a revolt against student debt saying that "the laws of the rich are unenforceable if the working class refuses to obey those laws."[33] She is an active member of the American Federation of Teachers union[49] and has been critical of American labor union leadership, saying the leadership, "...in the last 30 years has completely betrayed the working class. They are hand in glove with the Democratic Party, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into their campaigns, and they tell rank and file workers that you have to be happy with these crumbs..." Sawant believes the American Labor movement should break with the Democratic Party and run grassroots left-wing candidates.[33]

Sawant advocates for a moratorium on deportations of illegal immigrants from Seattle and granting unconditional citizenship for all persons currently in the United States without citizenship. She opposes the E-Verify system.[36][36][37][52]

Rejection of major political parties[edit]

Sawant said she rejects working within the Democratic and Republican two-party system, and says socialists should campaign as a third party:

Sawant has encouraged other left-wing groups, including Greens and trade unions, to use her campaign as a model to inspire a much broader movement in 2014:

Opposition to US support of Israel[edit]

During the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, Sawant urged the Seattle City Council to condemn both Israel's attacks on Gaza and Hamas's attacks on Israel, and called on President Obama and Congress to denounce the Israeli blockade of Gaza and to cut off all military assistance to Israel.[57][58] Salon called the open criticism of Israel, "something an American politician is never supposed to do".[57] Washington's Jim McDermott is one of only a few members of the US Congress who have openly criticized Israel.[58] Sawant's fellow Seattle City Council member Nick Licata also sent a letter asking for investigation of the shelling in Gaza, though he did not criticize Israel's actions. Sawant's call to condemn Israel's actions prompted a response from Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer, calling for Sawant to retract the statement.[59]


On November 19, 2014, Sawant was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct at a $15 minimum wage protest in SeaTac, Washington.[60] She was released on $500 bail. On May 1, 2015, a SeaTac municipal court judge dismissed charges against Sawant. The judge determined that testimony provided by police demonstrated that it was technically the police themselves, not protesters, who had blocked traffic.[61]

Electoral history[edit]

City of Seattle, City Council, Position 2, 2013[62][63]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Nonpartisan Kshama Sawant 93,682 50.67% N/A
Nonpartisan Richard Conlin 90,531 48.97% -28.26%
Write-ins 665 0.36% +0.04%
Majority 3,151
Turnout 184,878

Washington House of Representatives, District 43b, General Election, 2012[64][65]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Frank Chopp 49,125 70.6% -16.2%
Socialist Alternative Kshama Sawant 20,425 29.4% N/A
Majority 28,700
Turnout 69,550


  1. ^ a b Lewis Kamb (August 11, 2013). "Growing wealth gap spurs on socialist in Seattle council race". The Seattle Times. 
  2. ^ 1 November 2013. 'How do you pronounce your first and last names?'. reddit.
  3. ^ a b c d e Connelly, Joel (November 14, 2013). "Socialist Sawant wins City Council seat". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  4. ^ Kshama Sawant. "Candidate Personal Financial Affairs Statement" (PDF). SeattleMet. 
  5. ^ Lynsi Burton (November 13, 2013). "Sawant increases lead on Conlin in Seattle council race". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  6. ^ a b c Kshama Sawant. "Elderly Labor Supply in a Rural, Less Developed Economy: An Empirical Study. (Graduate thesis)" (PDF). North Carolina State University. 
  7. ^ a b Seattle elects first socialist City Council member. King5. Retrieved 15 November 2013.
  8. ^ Brian M. Rosenthal (October 11, 2013), "Shen, Sawant look to shake up city council from opposite sides: Two challengers in races for Seattle City Council would bring differing perspectives, but face uphill battles to unseat incumbents", The Seattle Times 
  9. ^ a b "Extended interview: Kshama Sawant". King5. 
  10. ^ Maria La Ganga (November 20, 2013). "Socialist to occupy Seattle City Council". Los Angeles Times. 
  11. ^ Josh Eidelson (November 18, 2013). "Capitalism is a "dirty word": America's new socialist council member talks to Salon". 
  12. ^ Erica C. Barnett. "Isn't It Weird That...A weird thing we noticed about "99 percenter" and socialist city council candidate Kshama Sawant.". SeattleMet. 
  13. ^ Matt Taylor (28 April 2014). Is Seattle's Socialist City Council Member Going to Show Us How to Ditch the Two-Party System? Vice. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  14. ^ a b c d e f "KEXP interview with Kshama Sawant". KEXP-FM. 
  15. ^ Clark, Robert L. (March 27, 2003). "Financial Education and Retirement Savings" (PDF). Retrieved September 4, 2012. 
  16. ^ Brian M. Rosenthal. "Richard Conlin making issue of Kshama Sawant's voter registration". The Seattle Times. 
  17. ^ "Washington socialist candidate wins suit to state party preference". OregonLive.com. Associated Press. August 30, 2012. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Legislative District 43 : Rep Position 2". King County Elections. State Legislative Races Results, November 2012 General Election. November 28, 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-07. 
  19. ^ [1][dead link]
  20. ^ "Police serve warrant in May Day investigation - Local". MyNorthwest.com. 2012-07-10. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  21. ^ "The Student Debt Explosion: The New Indentured Servitude?". OlyBlog. 2012-02-27. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  22. ^ "Occupy Capitol Hill | All-night ‘teach in’ at Seattle Central | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle". Capitolhillseattle.com. 2011-10-30. Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  23. ^ a b c Manuel Valdes (November 16, 2013). "Socialist Kshama Sawant wins Seattle City Council seat". Associated Press. 
  24. ^ Connelly, Joel (November 6, 2013). "McGinn concedes; other losers concede nothing". Seattle Post Intelligencer. 
  25. ^ Martha Kang and Manuel Valdes. "Conlin Concedes to Socialist Sawant in Seattle Council Race". KPLU.org. 
  26. ^ Dorpat, Paul (January 1, 1999), Now & Then -- Seattle's Front Street (now 1st Avenue); Essay 2585, HistoryLink, retrieved November 20, 2013 
  27. ^ Stripling, Sherry (August 15, 2004), "Coming home to Carkeek - Carkeek Park, celebrating its 75th birthday, has seen some hard times. But thanks to dogged supporters, it is a refuge for nature, and nature lovers, in the city", The Seattle Times 
  28. ^ Ryan Buxton (1 May 2014). Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Councilwoman: McDonald's Doesn't Need Time To Phase In $15 Minimum Wage. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  29. ^ Speech by City Councilmember Sawant on $15 Victory. Socialist Alternative. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  30. ^ https://electionsdata.kingcounty.gov/2015/election-results-august/three/City/Seattle/City%20of%20Seattle%20Council%20District%20No.%203
  31. ^ http://q13fox.com/2015/08/04/primary-seattles-sawant-gets-strong-primary-vote-incumbent-godden-may-be-in-trouble/
  32. ^ http://kshamasawant.org/2015/08/05/kshama-gets-49-9-in-primary-vote/
  33. ^ a b c d e f g "Kshama Sawant Speech at Vote Sawant election night party 11/6/2012". Socialist Alternative. 
  34. ^ Ross Reynolds and David Hyde (November 18, 2013). "Kshama Sawant Is A Socialist But What Does That Even Mean?". KUOW. 
  35. ^ a b Kevin Roose. "Meet the Seattle Socialist Leading the Fight for a $15 Minimum Wage". New York Magazine. 
  36. ^ a b c d e f g "Sawant Campaign Issues Page". votesawant.org. 
  37. ^ a b c Kshama Sawant (July 27, 2012). "What Our Campaign Stands For". Wayback Machine. 
  38. ^ Palash Ghosh. "Kshama Sawant: A Socialist, Indian-American Woman Running For Seattle City Council… And She May Win". International Business Times. 
  39. ^ Young, Bob (August 6, 2013). "For Seattle council: Conlin against Sawant, O'Brien against Shen". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2013-08-07. 
  40. ^ Jeff Black (27 January 2014). Seattle's Socialist councilwoman to accept less than half of $117K salary. NBC News. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  41. ^ Deborah Wang. "Activist Democrats Support Socialist Candidate Kshama Sawant". KUOW-FM. 
  42. ^ Matt Driscoll. "Sawant Lands Tom Morello/Serj Tankian 'Axis of Justice' Endorsement". Seattle Weekly. 
  43. ^ Matt Driscoll. "Mike O'Brien Expected to Make 'Significant Statement' In Support of Sawant". Seattle Weekly. 
  44. ^ Stranger Election Control Board (July 17, 2012). "Endorsements for the August 7 Primary Election". The Stranger. Vote or We'll Kill You. Retrieved 2013-08-07. 
  45. ^ Isolde Raftery. "Why Socialist Kshama Sawant's Campaign Matters, Win Or Lose". KUOW-FM. 
  46. ^ Kiley, Brendan (June 6, 2015) A Quick Interview With Journalist Chris Hedges. The Stranger.
  47. ^ Connelly Joel (June 7, 2015) Kshama Sawant: I represent "aspirations of tens of thousands of people". June 7, 2015
  48. ^ Tu, Janet I. (July 14, 2015), "Space Needle, Unite Here fail to reach new labor contract", Seattle Times, retrieved July 18, 2015 
  49. ^ a b Socialist Alternative. "Speech: Relevance of Socialism in Seattle today". YouTube. 
  50. ^ Socialist in Seattle: Kshama Sawant’s revolution, the indigenous fight against Keystone XL. Breaking the Set on RT. Retrieved 7 February 2014
  51. ^ Brian M. Rosenthal (July 31, 2012). "Council hopeful Sawant arrested during anti-eviction protest". The Seattle Times. 
  52. ^ a b Sarah Stuteville (October 30, 2012). "You might be a socialist if... An interview with Kshama Sawant". Seattle Globalist. 
  53. ^ Gary Horcher (November 19, 2013). "Seattle City Councilmember-elect shares radical idea with Boeing workers". KIRO-TV. 
  54. ^ Chris Legeros (November 18, 2013). "Longshot winner of Seattle City Council seat warns of struggle ahead". KIRO-TV. 
  55. ^ Josh Eidelson (18 November 2013). "Capitalism is a "dirty word": America's new socialist council member talks to Salon". Salon. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  56. ^ United States: Seattle socialist Kshama Sawant defeats Democrat incumbent. Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  57. ^ a b ""They don’t have the courage": How the two-party system aided Israel disaster". Salon.com. 2014-08-09. Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  58. ^ a b Connelly, Joel (August 13, 2014), "War in Gaza: Israel takes fire from two Seattle City Council members", Seattle P-I 
  59. ^ "Ambassador of Israel to US says Seattle's Kshama Sawant will have to retract statements - Blog". MyNorthwest.com. 2014-08-07. Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  60. ^ "Seattle council member Sawant arrested in minimum wage protest". November 19, 2014. 
  61. ^ Daniel Beekman. "SeaTac judge tosses case against Kshama Sawant, 2 others". Seattle Times. 
  62. ^ King County (26 November 2013). "Election Results" (PDF). p. 46. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  63. ^ King County (24 November 2009). "Election Results". Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  64. ^ "Washington House of Representatives elections, 2012". Ballotpedia. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  65. ^ "Washington House of Representatives elections, 2008". Ballotpedia. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]