The corporate-backed campaign to recall Seattle’s socialist City Councilor Kshama Sawant, which stretched on for a contentious 16 months, has concluded with a victory for Sawant, who will remain in her seat as the lone leftist of the council. It was a bitterly fought battle that mobilized District 3. This unusual December special election saw District 3 turnout. was 53 percent — on par with November’s general election, at 55 percent.
Sawant’s victory means capital loss. Sawant was backed by significant segments of the tech, corporate realty, and other business establishments who were allied with all manners capitalist ideologues, including billionaires, landlords and reactionaries. Their interest in removing her was utterly transparent — the victories she has won for working people (a groundbreaking $15 minimum wage, a payroll tax on major corporations and renter protectionsThese, and many other factors, have had a direct effect on corporate profit margins. In response, the reigning powers assembled a disingenuous pretense to recall her, leveling dubious charges related to her attendance at two racial justice protests and her alleged use of government resources to promote her “Tax Amazon” campaign.
Sawant and his supporting organizers on Kshama Sawant Solidarity campaign endured more than a decade of corporate misinformation, unfavorable (and sometimes hypocritical) court decisions, and attacksFrom establishment media. The corporate advertising budgets were used to produce a steady stream TV and digital ads; numerous flyers, and mailers; billboardsAt one point, it was also an aircraft. During the last days of the campaign, donations could be transferred to the anti-Sawant anti-Sawant politic action committees without campaign finance limitsThey can amass. nearly a million dollars.
The Solidarity Campaign raised similar funds, with $949,000 coming in from thousands of donors in the area and contributions from many supporters across the country. Chiefly staffed by members of the revolutionary socialist organization Socialist Alternative, in coalition with labor unions, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and local organizers of all stripes, the Solidarity Campaign’s tenacious voter outreach work was able to muster turnout sufficient to defeat the recall effort.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a close race. On the first night of the count, the “Yes” vote took an early lead. Sawant won, even though the outcome was not clear. gave a speechAt a final rally for a crowd of supporters. “What we do know for certain,” she proclaimed, basing her remarks on collected voter data, “is that working people and young people have roundly rejected this racist, right-wing, big business-backed attack.”
Emily McArthur, campaign manager for the Kshama Solidarity Campaign, was also present. She is also a member of the Seattle DSA and Socialist Alternative, like Sawant. McArthur and other Solidarity Campaign members were perhaps less worried than some as the pro-recall vote initially pulled ahead: “We’ve seen time and again that Kshama rises in the polls [as more ballots come in.] This is also true of other progressive candidates,” she said in an interview with Truthout. Sawant’s declaration was borne out: The “No” votes, many from young people and working people, began to accumulate. The reversal of fortunes came soon afterward, with Sawant’s total rising, then rising again. Sawant was left in the final calculus with the pro-recall lead that collapsed and never recovered. a margin of a few hundred votes.
Sawant and other progressive candidates often get a late boost because young voters tend to vote closer to Election Day. Election Day, in this instance, fell on the unusual date of December 7 due to some chicanery on the part of the recall campaign — they delayed turning in petition signaturesSawant would benefit from a higher turnout for a November race, it was clear to him. (Amusingly the Kshama Solidarity Campaign collected signatures at one time. For the recall — including Sawant’s own — to ensure the vote went through in November. It was in vain. The date was set for December 7. Results from earlier races with other left-leaning candidates substantiate the Sawant team’s contention that a higher-turnout election would deliver more Sawant votes, indicative of her broad support among District 3 residents. If the recall vote had occurred in November, her margin for victory would have likely been even larger. It was sufficient, however.
Sawant won the victory almost as certain. spoke at a press conference, declaring, with a deservedly triumphant tone that “The wealthy and their representatives in politics and the media took their best shot at us, and we beat them, again.” As contested ballot signatures were settled, lingering doubt subsided, and a Sawant victory became incontrovertible.
By the December 16 tally20 646 District 3 voters voted in support of Sawant, while 20349 voted in favor of recall. a slim marginfrom 50.37 to 49.63%. (As of this writing, 149 contested ballot signatures remain — not enough to change the outcome, even if they all went for the recall.) The demographic breakdown is based on elections past. a corridor of wealthier conservative votersNear Lake Washington, voters voted to recall, while the urban core of Capitol Hill overwhelmingly voted for Sawant. “That kind of engagement was really exciting to see,” McArthur told Truthout. “By the end of the election, we had over 5,100 donors in district. That’s about 6 percent of all registered voters in the district. You could feel that in the streets — people felt like this was their campaign.”
This win is all the more remarkable when you consider the influence and resources of the anti-Sawant contingent. It can be attributed to the tireless organizing of Solidarity Campaign coalition volunteers. “Our campaign also had a really dynamic approach, making it clear to people that in a low-turnout special election like this, voting was never going to be enough, and trying to get people involved. We had 1,500 volunteers on this campaign,” McArthur says. “We had a lot of political conversations … [like], ‘We need you to talk to three of your friends, neighbors, coworkers about this election and make sure they get their ballot in.’”
Of little surprise was that Democratic elected officials didn’t deign to help — none of the Democrats on the City Council spoke out against the recall, despite its wide Republican support.
The defense of Sawant’s council seat was instead spearheaded by local organizers. McArthur described their get-out-the-vote operation’s strategies. “Throughout the course of a long campaign, we had different starting points, but in the last month, we were really focusing on, ‘Have you voted yet to defeat the right-wing recall?’… By leading with politically pressing issues like pushing back against an emboldened right wing or rent control, which was the major offensive demand of our campaign, we really draw people into discussion with us.”
McArthur also highlighted the campaign’s outreach efforts that were conducted in six non-English languages, helping grant a voice to marginalized Seattleites. A number of Seattle’s public housing units and apartment blocks have large immigrant populations, many of them members of Seattle’s Somali, Vietnamese and Chinese communities. “In some of those buildings we saw a 700 percent voter increase over the general election. We built a real coalition of people who are ordinarily overlooked in electoral politics.”
Solidarity Campaign made particular efforts to ensure broad distribution of ballots and increase democratic involvement. Washington State votes by mail-in ballot. Surprisingly, many of the paper ballots that were sent out to voters are mislaid, lost with junk mail or accidentally thrown away. The campaign set up distribution points to distribute new ballots after discovering that hundreds of voters had lost theirs. 1,400 ballots, 3 percent of the race’s total, were printed at these temporary voting stations — an entirely legal strategy that nonetheless drew indignant criticism. (The trusted Sawant antagonists on this editorial board of The Seattle TimesThis is the which recently decriedRepublican voter suppression in South were aghast at the excess of democracy.)
This is especially remarkable considering the gains made in the November election. Former attorney and City Council President Bruce Harrell ran to the right of M. Lorena González and won the mayor’s officeDSA-endorsed candidates Nikkita Oli and Nicole Thomas Thomas-Kennedy lost their races in a City Council seatThe city attorney and the city attorney are respectively. The winner of the latter race will be Seattle’s first elected Republican in 30 years. “[The opponents of the left] have advanced their line,” McArthur told Truthout. “I’m sure they’re going to use that big business mayor and conservative City Council seat as a battering ram against our movement. It will be a real question of how much we’re able to organize.”
This organizing will now start in earnest. After having fulfilled its purpose, the legal entity known as Solidarity Campaign will now be disbanded. But Sawant, in characteristic fashion, will not be resting on her laurels — or resting at all, it seems. McArthur, McArthur, and her fellow organizers intend to immediately resume all of their efforts. “As far as the political relationships and confidence that we’ve built, we’re definitely going to be bringing that forward,” she said.
McArthur went on to describe upcoming efforts that reflect the centrality of housing to working people’s needs; renter protections and housing provisions are a linchpin of the left’s goals in Seattle, where the crisis of unhoused people is particularly pronounced.
“There’s already a number of battles that we’re in the midst of waging. Kshama has been building on this renter’s bill of rights, which is incredibly important to all the different layers of our supporters. The crowning achievement of that is going to be fighting for rent control…. Rents in Seattle increased 26 percent this past year. That has a material impact on people’s lives. Wages are not going up 26 percent.”
McArthur and her fellow organizers also turned their attention to a unique piece legislation that will help members of the building trades: paying for parking and transportation costs for union contractors who have often had to relocate further from their jobs due to rising rents.
This fight demonstrates the effectiveness of solidarity and committed organizing. Sawant’s uninterrupted presence on the council will now help facilitate socialist organizers’ continuation of campaigns to ameliorate the housing crisis, address racial justice, make progress toward a Green New Deal and meet other critical challenges upon which lives depend. McArthur discussed the context of a struggle that reaches far beyond the Pacific Northwest City Council seat. “[Sawant] would be the first to tell you that what we’re able to win is based on the broader movement we’re able to organize to put pressure on the rest of the establishment.”
In her victory speechSawant did indeed share the same sentiment and summarized the key lessons from this fight. “If a small revolutionary socialist organization can beat the wealthiest corporations in the world here in Seattle again and again,” the councilor said, “you can be sure that the organized power of the wider working class can change society.”