Socialism (and hope?) Reaches the U.S.: Kshama Sawant

I remember thinking at some point in time, while I wrote or said something in the same way I’m doing it now — off the cuff and improvising most of it — that the political state of things  was changing in real and tangible ways. Whomever I was with at the moment reminded me that I was delusional, or perhaps even drunk, to actually think that the Occupy movement could mean anything significant for the political landscape of the world – least of all in the U.S. of A. I didn’t budge, but I did see his point: the ‘alternatives’ that people, including the ones at Occupy, demanded were never really articulated in a determinant way, that’s at least what we could gather from the news; we always got a version where they were always danced around, and flowered with terms like “social reform,” “bridging the gap between the rich and the poor,” and other pretty but substantially empty phrases.

And while some of the protesters and occasional journalist, did admire the style of the late Bolivarian leader, Hugo Chavez, and  of other of the new-century Revolutionaries spreading through South America like wild-fire (some would say), they did so from a distance, never really wanting to drink the Kool-Aid themselves, but wanting to see what it did to the brave-ish-foolish ones that did. But today I found out that some — at least one — seems to have taken a step further, however brave or foolish it may be.

sawant2

Kshama Sawant, an economics teacher, former Occupy activist and self-denominated Socialist, according to Democracy Now, was elected to the Seattle City Council on Monday, January 6. Some articles on the net are estimating that this is the first Socialist elected to office in over 100 years. Wikipedia — for whatever it may be worth — says Anna Louise Strong, a radical progressive, was the last far-left person to be elected to office in Seattle in 1916 (School Board). I expect I’ll find out a little more when I get a chance to sit down and actually dig into it, because it’s early and I didn’t expect to get into any of this heavy stuff at this time, without at least preparing my nerves or even a morning coffee.

But so be it. It’s very clear to me that whatever this could actually mean in the future, it certainly got the Washington-crowd out of bed with a jolt this morning, like a cattle-prod to the testicles when you least expect it. And I don’t mean just the politicians — because if it is just another smoke-screen after all, as I suspect some others may be suspecting, then that type of human-machine-dog hybrid that inundates Capitol Hill certainly knew about it — but just the good ol’ civilians; the unsuspecting ones (that sounds like a good movie title). And if rednecks keep up with news, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were already up in arms, planning to ‘take back their country from the reds’ — though I would be surprised if they read the news. In any event, the point is that Kshama Sawant, the Seattle City Council wearing “the badge of Socialist with honour,” has certainly raised some eyebrows.

Now, the thing about it being a smoke-screen is not that farfetched, at least to jaded, or perhaps enlightened, or even unstable (depends where you look at it from) people like me. I wouldn’t put it that far past anyone in that state, or even remotely embroiled in politics, to concoct some bizarre plan to distract from the myriad other issues crumbling on top of them like a house of cards made of heavy and jagged marble (high unemployment rates, Guantanamo, drones, scandals, the overall stalemate in Congress, debt in the trillions, etc.). But it’s way too early to seriously assume that. And if I did, I’d be no better than that individual that was telling me Occupy and other such movements didn’t really mean anything.

I’ve met many people like that — hell, most people I meet are like that. At most, they sympathize with some ideas and call them well-intentioned and idealistic, but unrealistic at their core. These, I think, may very well be the same people that equate “conviction” with “stubbornness,” and “neutrality” or “objectivity” or “open mindedness” with being a fart in the wind, carrying the stench of an expulsed gas to whatever corner the stronger winds may carry them. I recall Thompson’s phrase in Fear and Loathing: “All energy flows to the whim of the Great Magnet…” I guess even a fart is energy, and the Great Magnet certainly doesn’t have to be benevolent, and often, as with most Gods in the religious/mystical history of the world, certainly not free of Greed, Insecurity and an ironically misplaced sense of Self-Importance.

In any case, I’ve always refused to be that person, and it’s always taken a bit more than wind to move me, even when it’s towards the warmth it’s moving me. Now it’s time to see what this Kshama Sawant can really do. She ran on a ticket to raise minimum wage to $15/hour, and Democracy Now reports that Seattle Mayor, Ed Murray, is planning to raise city employees’ wages to just that. “Meanwhile, voters in the nearby community of SeaTac recently increased the minimum wage for many local workers to $15,” the article continues. “The vote suffered a setback when a judge ruled last month that the raise does not apply to workers at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the area’s largest employer. That ruling has been appealed. Murray and Sawant are being sworn in today with record crowds expected at City Hall.”

In this excerpt from a transcript of the interview with Democracy Now, Sawant captures what I think is the bigger significance of all this to the average person, whatever the emerging truth may be down the road:

Today’s inauguration really is an absolutely historic moment for working-class politics, and to understand—to really feel the moment that this is a turning point in the history of the United States…. this is all an indication that the people in this country are extremely frustrated and angry and outraged at the status quo…the fact that we have been victorious in this grassroots campaign is really an indication that people are ready to start moving forward, moving into struggle. And so, the real question is: How are we, on the left—how are we going to take up this responsibility of organizing the vast numbers of people, especially young people, for whom there is no future? And how are we going to present those alternatives? (emphasis added).

[Democracy Now Interview]

And there it is. Like the old ‘proverb’ says — or perhaps just a dumb saying we say all the time — now we just have to wait. Of course, we won’t do it with our arms crossed or thumbs up whatever orifice we can first find. Hopefully, we will be ‘waiting’ while really we are moving forward with it all: Writing more about it in the mainstream news; exploring what makes the difference between one or another state, or country; supporting and growing grassroots movements; having real discussions, even (and particularly) in newsrooms, about sincerely exploring what results similar domestic and international movements have done and could do, etc. This is no time for being a fart in the wind, but a Bastion of Change!

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