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An Indian-American council member of Seattle City Council, Washington, is facing a recall vote on December 7.
Kshama Sawant, who has served in the city’s council since 2014, is a member of Socialist Alternative and the first and only member of the party to be elected to public office in America.
She currently faces recall on four grounds with petitioners alleging her of relinquishing the authority of her office; misusing city funds for electioneering purposes; disregarding regulations related to Covid-19, and misusing her official position.
The fact that Sawant’s seat is under dire threat is indicative of the contempt that Seattle’s business interests hold for her and her policies: The considerable victories Sawant has won for working people have made her the target of some of Seattle’s most powerful forces.
This campaign against Sawant is backed by landlords, real estate developers, corporate executives and other wealthy constituents that represent bastions of corporate power.
Sawant had responded to the allegations in an opposition filing with the superior court, arguing the recall effort is politically motivated and had asked the court to dismiss the petition. However, in April 2021, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the recall could proceed on all of the alleged grounds except for the allegation that Sawant relinquished the authority of her office to a political agency.
Supporters of the recall petition submitted signatures on September 8, 2021, ahead of the October 19 deadline. The Recall Sawant campaign has said that they have submitted 16,273 signatures ahead of the vote.
On the other hand, Sawant and her supporters have won concrete victories over capital. One og the main victories are the groundbreaking $15 minimum wage and the JumpStart payroll tax on massive corporations, including Amazon.
Notable wins have included free legal representation for renters, bans on school year and winter evictions and a requirement of six months’ notice for rent increases, plus relocation assistance — to list only a few recent examples.
Sawant is effective, and, if allowed a continued presence on the council, she has every intention of aggressively pursuing rent control and further taxes on the rich.
Her supporters under the banner of Kshama Solidarity, are highlighting that she has “unapologetically fought for working people since she was first elected in 2013”. They allege that it is a right-wing group which is behind the recall petition. Among Sawant’s supporters is Bernie Sanders, the high-profile senator from Vermont.
It’s clear that the recall is politically motivated, perpetrated by establishment forces that fear Sawant’s impact on their profits. However, the recall is instead proceeding under the pretense of three charges of alleged malfeasance.
The Recall campaign manager Henry Bridger II has insisted that the vote is “only about the charges.” But given capital’s structural incentives to depose Sawant, that would be difficult to believe — even if those accusations weren’t incredibly flimsy.
Sawant, an IT professional, went to the US to study economics and ran for the Washington House of Representatives in 2012, but lost. Her political career has been that of an activist who says that she brings a passion for social justice to her work as a public servant.
As a member of the Seattle City Council, she has pledged to be a voice for “workers, youth, the oppressed and the voiceless”. She only accepts the average workers’ wage and donates the rest of her six-figure salary to building social justice movements.
“If the Covid-19 pandemic teaches us anything, it’s that the existing profit-hungry capitalist system has failed the vast majority of working people. And it will continue to fail us. We must organize our own independent political movements, raise our demands, and fight for our rights as working people,” she says in a message on her Seattle City Council web page. As a member of Socialist Alternative, she says that she recognizes that “we have to fight for a socialist society, one that puts people’s needs before corporate profits”.