If I've any regret about the SECB's primary endorsements it's that our extensive trashing of Seattle City Council incumbent Richard Conlin didn't leave enough space to make the positive argument in favor of Kshama Sawant.
To be clear, there is nothing jokey about our endorsement. An immigrant woman of color, an Occupy Seattle organizer and economics instructor at Seattle Central Community College, Sawant is a smart, articulate, and thoughtful candidate with a refreshingly bold style and an unapologetically lefty perspective, who despite her "Socialist Alternative" label is not particularly radical when it comes to the core of her councilmanic agenda. Indeed, at the risk of offending her, it is reasonable to say that on transit, on affordable housing, on taxes, on coal trains, on sick leave, on civil rights, on police oversight, and many other issues, most of Sawant's policy positions fit comfortably within the mainstream of Seattle's progressive values.
Sure, if you really push her on the subject, she’ll make a cogent economic argument for nationalizing Amazon, so we guess there’s that. But she’s not running on it, and she freely acknowledges that it’s not happening, so it’s not like “seizing control of the means of production” makes Sawant's list of legislative priorities. When it comes to the issues that actually come before the council, Sawant can be surprisingly pragmatic. And for those who question whether she has the skills to be an effective council member, well, look around: It's not like the rest of the council sets much of a bar.
But perhaps the strongest argument for electing Sawant is best illustrated by the Seattle Times, which endorsed challenger Albert Shen by bemoaning that incumbent council member Mike O'Brien "has strayed beyond the leftward boundary of the reasonable too many times," and on whose pages columnist Danny Westneat recently denigrated Mayor Mike McGinn's stance in defense of living wages as "vaguely communistic." Really.
Absent an actual socialist like Sawant to anchor the left, it is progressives like O'Brien and McGinn who are ridiculed as extremists. And for what? Phonebook opt-out and incentivizing living-wage jobs? Gimme a break. Sawant's election would make this sort of absurdist red-baiting impossible by widening the ideological spectrum, making room for traditional progressives like O'Brien and McGinn to operate. No, we wouldn’t want a council filled with Sawants. But we wouldn’t want a council filled with Richard Conlins either—and that’s pretty much what we have now.
So that is why I am enthusiastically casting my ballot for Sawant—not just because I think she can be an effective advocate for working class Seattleites, but because I think her very presence on the council would help make other council members more effective simply by adding a little goddamn context to the public debate.