Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Democracy is Coming to the USA: Kshama Sawant, the New Face of Socialism in America

Following on my closing comments in the last post about the election of Bill de Blasio as Mayor of New York, on a somewhat related note, a somehow even more promising ray of hope in US politics is the recent election of Kshama Sawant to the Seattle City Council.

It's not just that she unapologetically describes herself as a socialist in a country where 'socialism' has become a bad word, nonetheless winning a surprise victory over a well-funded, business-friendly Democrat incumbent. And it's not just her articulate, direct, no-nonsense, cut-straight-to-the-chase public speaking style; or her experience as an organizer and campaigner for OWS and raising the minimum wage. And it's not just that she says all these things we want politicians to say but that they never say - even the most promising ones - for fear of upsetting their corporate sponsors, or being perceived as radical. It's that she does all these things, bucking all the trends and received wisdom of US electoral politics, changing the game as it were - running a low-budget campaign with no big business support, with less than half the campaign funding of her incumbent opponent - and succeeds in the most grass-roots way possible: by getting the voters' attention.

"There will be no backroom deals with corporations or their political servants," she proclaims in her inauguration speech yesterday, and I believe her. "There will be no rotten sell-out of the people I represent."

Skip to 29:30 for Kshama's swearing-in and speech.

"A completely dysfunctional Congress does manage to agree on one thing," she says emphatically, "regular increases in their already bloated salaries…Yet at the same time allowing the federal minimum wage to stagnate, and fall further and further behind inflation…We have the obscene spectacle of the average corporate CEO getting seven thousand dollars an hour, while the lowest-paid workers are called presumptuous in their demand for just $15."

This is sexy stuff, people.

Sawant's response to Boeing's threat to move jobs out of Washington state if they don't get tax breaks and wage concessions? She calls their tactics 'economic terrorism', urging state leaders to reject "blackmail" and tell Boeing's CEOs, if you want to go, you can go - we don't need you. "The machines are here, the workers are here. Let us take this entire productive activity into democratic public ownership and retool the machines to produce mass transit."

Fuck yeah. This is what I've never understood about even some of the more progressive, left-leaning folks I know around here - they never seem to see a way out of this type of situation but to give in to corporate demands. This is why the unions are weak, and why the political establishment is for sale to the highest bidder - because there isn't enough of this type of thinking. Because people are naively afraid of taking risks, taking or even contemplating radical measures - like taking over factories - in response to what I will argue are just as radical threats and measures, macroeconomic blackmail and terrorism, such as the outsourcing and wholesale transfer of entire production systems to locales where workers can be more easily exploited. They did it in Argentina with FaSinPat and the fabricas recuperadas, why not here? If Big Business has you by the proverbial balls, you grab them by the balls.

This lady is pretty convincing, and she clearly means business. She could go much further than Seattle City Council. I really hope she does. And I hope there will be more like her.

It just might be that, as Leonard Cohen put it, democracy is coming to the USA.

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