Militant Journalism

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant faces right-wing recall campaign

Feature image: Kshama Sawant speaks at April 3 rally in Seattle. Liberation photo: Brenton Brookings

The Washington state Supreme Court ruled April 1 that a recall campaign against Seattle’s socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant can proceed. The recall petition accuses Sawant of four acts of “malfeasance, misfeasance, or violation of the Councilmember’s oath of office,” two of which were related to her participation in last summer’s demonstrations against police brutality.

This comes mere months after the court unanimously threw out a recall petition brought against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for overseeing a brutal police crackdown of the very same demonstrations, including the use of tear gas on peaceful demonstrators during a respiratory pandemic.

In a unanimous ruling the state Supreme Court found charges sufficient to allow the recall campaign against Sawant to proceed with signature gathering. Petitioners now have 180 days to collect 10,000 signatures from residents of Sawant’s council district to authorize an up-or-down ballot measure to remove her from office.

Sawant, currently in her third term, is a member of the organization Socialist Alternative and also recently joined the Democratic Socialists of America. Since her election in 2013, she has used her platform to advance pro-worker legislative victories, including the $15 minimum wage, a payroll tax targeting Amazon and other big businesses, a ban on police use of chemical weapons against protesters, a ban on police chokeholds and most recently, access to free legal counsel for tenants facing eviction. These achievements have made Sawant a popular target for Seattle’s corporate interests.

The campaign against Sawant was launched last year by former tech industry corporate relations manager and Seattle resident Ernie Lou. “She is the leftist version of the right-wing version of Trump,” Lou told KING 5 News Seattle, “She’s a cancer in Seattle.”

“The recall is a sign that the ruling class is deeply fearful of the growth of peaceful protest and workplace actions that are coming as the crisis of capitalism escalates,” Sawant said to a crowd of enthusiastic supporters at a rally in Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park on April 3.

Other speakers and organizations at the rally included the Rev. Robert Jeffrey Sr. of New Hope Baptist Church; Chicago Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, a member of DSA; Katrina Johnson, cousin of Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four killed by Seattle police in 2016; Castile Hightower, sister of Herbert Hightower Jr., killed by police in 2004; as well as representatives of Teamsters 117, the Uber-Lyft drivers union. 

“Many progressive politicians want working people to believe that change can happen in some harmonious way. This is simply not possible, and it is a pathway to capitulation. In fact, if you are not facing ferocious opposition from the establishment during your term in office, and if your reelection is a cakewalk, it’s a sign you’re failing working people, because the ruling class does not see you as a threat.”

Kshama Sawant at April 3 rally

The recall petition accuses Sawant of four offenses: delegating her council office’s employment decisions to Socialist Alternative, using city resources to promote a Tax Amazon ballot initiative, organizing a demonstration inside City Hall during its pandemic-related closure, and allegedly leading a protest march to the gates of Mayor Durkan’s house. This last charge the petition asserts was “intended to substantially harm the Mayor’s physical or mental health or safety.”

The first of these allegations, delegating employment decisions to her organization, was found by the court to be without merit. However, the court ruled that the other three accusations were adequate to allow the recall petition to proceed.

Sawant maintains these accusations to be false and amount to political persecution. “In other words,” Sawant said of the accusation of using city resources to promote a Tax Amazon ballot initiative, “I am accused of using public resources on a non-existing ballot initiative, and ultimately an initiative that never went on the ballot? This is another dangerous precedent. How can working class elected representatives use their office to organize on progressive issues? Any progressive issue may sometime in the future result in a ballot initiative. We cannot make sense of this twisted logic without recognizing that the real intent of such ludicrous charges is to have a chilling effect.”

Regarding the accusation about holding an evening demonstration inside Seattle City Hall during the pandemic closure, Sawant noted that all participants were masked and socially-distanced and she was within her authority to allow guests into the building. As for the accusation about endangering Durkan’s safety by leading a march to the gates of her house, Sawant maintains that although she spoke at the rally, she did not lead the march and according to the legal brief she filed in response to the petition, does not even know which house was Durkan’s.

The Supreme Court’s decision is the final hurdle for the recall petitioners, giving them 180 days to gather the 10,000 signatures needed from residents of Sawant’s district to get the recall on the ballot, either in the November general election or early 2022. But Sawant and her supporters have already mobilized a “Kshama Solidarity Campaign” to solicit donations, volunteers, and decline-to-sign pledges from district residents. Sawant is being targeted for doing exactly what her constituents elected her to do: fight for the interests of working people in Seattle. 

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