By Sue Misao
Northwest Asian Weekly
Nobody thought it could happen, but Kshama Sawant, the self-declared Socialist candidate, pulled a surprise win in her bid for a seat on the Seattle City Council Nov. 5.
Sawant, an Indian American, is a former Occupy Seattle protester who ran on three main issues: a millionaire’s tax, $15-per-hour minimum wage, and rent control.
Although she was behind in the vote count after the polls closed on election night, her numbers steadily trickled up each day as ballots arrived and were counted.
Even her website, votesawant.org, posted this three days after the election: “The Impossible Is Happening.”
“It didn’t surprise us,” she said, citing a pattern she observed in the primary. “People who vote later are more conscious voters because they are excited about a campaign,” she said, adding these generally include people of color, young voters, and those who feel marginalized and disenfranchised from the political system. They see a candidate rising, and get excited about voting, she said.
Ten days after the election, as her numbers continued upward, four-term council member Richard Conlin conceded to Sawant, saying “I hope that she will serve the people of Seattle effectively during her time in office.”
Since winning the election, Sawant has been in the national and even international headlines, due to the novelty of her Socialist party affiliation. She is focused on the momentum her campaign and victory has fomented.
“This campaign has energized and excited the people of Seattle,” she said. “And it’s happening all over. It’s a victory for the left here, in the whole United States, and also internationally.”
Sawant’s first order of business, she said, will be to draft legislation or begin work on a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in Seattle. “We need to pass $15 an hour in 2014,” she said.
Her “Socialist” label gets her noticed far and wide, but it’s more than a political theory, she said. It’s about motion. “We are democratic socialists actively involved in efforts toward economic and social justice,” she said, citing her involvement in the WTO protests, anti-war movement, marriage equality, and the war on women. “We are in solidarity with activists fighting against foreclosures and eviction,” she said. “We are advocating for low-wage workers, immigrants, and the elderly.”
Sawant’s message does not directly address the APA community, but she says her intention is to start a discussion with all marginalized communities, including the Asian community. She has already had conversations with members of the Filipino community, “trying to understand what their needs are,” and plans further discussions with others. “Regardless of who you are, no matter what your ethnicity, you are going to face the same difficulties as everybody with affordable housing, transit, low wages, police brutality,” she said. “Leadership means engaging with the community — you have to go out and talk to people.” (end)
Sue Misao can be reached at email@example.com.