US: Socialist candidate making a big impact

Interview with Kshama Sawant in Seattle

Kshama Sawant, a Socialist Alternative candidate in Seattle, is challenging Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp in the general election for Washington’s 43rd Legislative District. Sawant achieved unprecedented primary election results that had her winning second place in both Positions 1 and 2 of the district. She took some time out from campaigning to talk to Justice newspaper.

Kshama Sawant

Q: Why are you running as a socialist?

I believe that if we’re going to effect change, we have to be bold. That means not hiding behind false labels. More and more people, when asked, will tell you that they prefer socialism over capitalism. And it is obvious why: Capitalism has failed the 99%, whereas socialism stands for genuine democracy and equality. A better world is possible!

That better world starts with the working class, the 99%, realizing that we are powerful! I am running as a socialist to show that there are alternatives to the Republicans and Democrats, both of whom represent the interests of the giant corporations. I’m calling for independent candidates of the 99% to run against the corporate politicians in every race! This is just the first step for us in a process of building movements challenging the power of the 1%.

Q: What does a socialist candidate offer that a Democratic Party candidate does not?

I will be a voice for everyday people in Olympia. Unlike my Democratic opponent, I will put the interests of the 99% first. Look at the money. My campaign is completely funded by ordinary people; meanwhile, my opponent has received tens of thousands of dollars from corporations and the super wealthy. After seeing where his money comes from, it is no surprise that he has consistently voted to slash the budget for social programs like health care and education. I will not only fight to reinstate and expand programs such as Basic Health, but I will also make sure that true single-payer health care is on the agenda in Washington.

I will fight to make a quality education available to all, not just to those who have the means to afford it. I will make expanding mass transit and green energy a priority. Unlike the Democrats, I will fight for taxes on corporations and the very wealthy in Washington, who currently benefit from the most regressive tax code in the country. With this revenue, all of these programs can be easily funded.

Another difference between myself and the Democrats is that I strive to help build movements. As an Occupy Seattle activist I worked to do just that. History shows the only way real change has been achieved is when people work together to make it happen. The Democratic Party functions to stifle these movements. We’ve seen it time and time again, with the antiwar movement of the early 2000s to the labor union struggle in Wisconsin last year.

Q: What do you say to those claiming you can’t change anything through corporate-dominated electoral systems?

I don’t think history shows that to be correct. Look at how the Canadians won universal health care. Canadian workers began running independent candidates and eventually built the New Democratic Party. The party grew in popularity, threatening big business and Canada’s main political parties. It became clear that for the ruling class to retain their electoral power, they’d need to give some concessions, in this case universal health care.

Ultimately, it’s mass movements that bring about fundamental change. During a presidential election year, many more people are paying attention to politics. Running in elections allows us to reach more people with our ideas and effectively build the movement, particularly when there is such anger with both the Democrats and the Republicans.

Examples from history show that it is possible to build working-class parties that do not function as electoral machines like the two major corporate parties. Instead, they are parties that work for the interests of ordinary people, fighting for jobs that pay a living wage, for free, universal health care, for affordable housing, defending pensions and protecting the environment. We need a party of working people, and running candidates that challenge the corporate politicians is the first step toward building that party.

Q: What is the most important message you want to give to others thinking of challenging the two main parties?

Now is the time! There is increasing support for breaking from the two-party system. This anger at the Democrats, in particular, is evident in the strong showing for our candidate in the primary elections earlier this month. We won over 9% of the vote against a well-liked Democrat, Jamie Pederson, in position 1 and over 11% o f t he vote in position 2 as a write-in candidate against the more vulnerable Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp. These votes show how people are angry at the two corporate parties and are looking for an alternative to challenge the status quo in electoral politics.

Winning both races, itself, has increased the media attention and the number of people wanting to get involved with the campaign. The unusual election result gave our campaign the opportunity to switch races and run against the second most powerful Democrat in Washngton State. Running against the House Speaker will provide our campaign with a larger platform from which we can inject our ideas into the stale debate on how to address the economic crisis gripping the state.

When I’m out talking to people in the 43rd District I ’m hearing that working people, the unemployed, youth and the elderly are increasingly finding that capitalism isn’t working for them. After hearing me loudly proclaim, “Stop the budget cuts; elect a socialist candidate,” one guy told me, as he backtracked to our table, “Budget cuts are a ***! I NEED one of those [leaflets].”

There is real openness to socialist ideas. Many youth and workers have said, “Socialism, YES!” when they meet us on the streets. So, it’s obvious that ordinary people are energized by a campaign that isn’t beholden to corporate America and is speaking out for the needs of the 99%. We need to build a mass movement, independent from both big business parties, as an initial step to break corporate control of U.S. politics and to start transforming the country and the world!

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September 2012