|Seattle City Council, Position 2|
January 1, 2014
|Preceded by||Richard Conlin|
October 17, 1973 |
|Political party||Socialist Alternative|
|Alma mater||North Carolina State University (Ph.D.), University of Mumbai (B.Sc)|
Kshama Sawant (/ /) is a Seattle City Council member. 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 and was a visiting assistant professor at Washington and Lee University. 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.
- 1 Personal life and education
- 2 Candidacies
- 3 Political positions
- 4 Arrest
- 5 Electoral history
- 6 Notes
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Personal life and education
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Sawant was born to Vasundhara and H. T. Ramanujam in Pune, India, in a middle-class family. Her mother is a retired principal and her father, a civil engineer, was killed by a drunk driver when Sawant was 13. 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. 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. Sawant was shocked by the level of poverty she saw and decided to abandon the computer engineering field. She began to pursue studies in economics due to what she described as her own "questions of economic inequality." 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. 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.
Washington State House of Representatives
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. 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%.
The Sawant campaign criticized the raiding of Occupy Wall Street activists' homes by the Seattle Police Department's SWAT team. She also advocated on LGBT issues, women's issues, people of color issues and opposed cuts to education and other social programs. She gave a teach-in course at an all-night course at Seattle Central Community College.
Seattle City Council
After losing her run for the House, Sawant entered the race for Seattle City Council with a campaign organized by Socialist Alternative. 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. On election night early vote counts showed Sawant down by 6,193 votes but late ballots consistently favored her. On November 15, 2013, Conlin conceded to Sawant after later returns showed him down by 1,640 votes or approximately 1% of the vote.
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 and the first socialist on the City Council since A. W. Piper, elected in 1877.
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. 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."
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%. The final vote count later showed she actually won 50.5% of the primary vote.
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. 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. 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. 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."
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.
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. 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. On 27 January 2014, she announced that she would only accept $40,000 of her $117,000 salary. She currently places the rest into a self-administered political fund which she uses for selected social justice campaigns.
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. Celebrity endorsements included Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian.
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. The Stranger alt-weekly endorsed both her State House and her City Council candidacy. 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."
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. 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."
Involvement with Occupy
Before running for office, Sawant received attention as an organizer in the local Occupy movement. She praised Occupy for putting "class," "capitalism," and "socialism" into the political debate. 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. 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.
In her most recent campaign, Sawant called for large Seattle companies such as Starbucks and Amazon to be unionized. In previous campaigns, she has advocated the nationalization of large Washington State corporations such as Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon.com 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." 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. Sawant also supports single-payer health care. 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.
Environment, education, and immigration
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".
She opposes the Measures of Academic Progress test in public schools, and supported the teachers' boycott of the standardized tests. 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." She is an active member of the American Federation of Teachers union 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.
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.
Rejection of major political parties
|“||The job of socialists is to point the way forward, and we are not shy about it. We invite people to debate with us on ideas of socialism. But we are not shy and we have been proven, resoundingly correct, that we should not be shy, because there is no excuse for being shy or reticent when you are talking about such serious issues as fighting against the enormous misery that capitalism unleashes on us, all over the world. So let's be clear about it, let's not be shy. This is not a time for modesty; this is a time for boldness and courage.||”|
|“||We need a movement to break the undemocratic power of big business and build a society that works for working people, not corporate profits - a democratic socialist society.||”|
Opposition to US support of Israel
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. Salon called the open criticism of Israel, "something an American politician is never supposed to do". Washington's Jim McDermott is one of only a few members of the US Congress who have openly criticized Israel. 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.
On November 19, 2014, Sawant was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct at a $15 minimum wage protest in SeaTac, Washington. 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.
|City of Seattle, City Council, Position 2, 2013|
|Washington House of Representatives, District 43b, General Election, 2012|
|Socialist Alternative||Kshama Sawant||20,425||29.4%||N/A|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kshama Sawant.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Kshama Sawant|
- Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council Position 2 at Seattle.gov
- Entry at VoteSmart
- Campaign website
- Socialist Alternative
- King County voters' pamphlet November 5, 2013 General And Special Election, Seattle, Council Position No. 2
- King County voters' pamphlet August 4, 2015 Primary And Special Election, Seattle, Council District No. 3