Kshama Sawant, an Indian-American councilmember on the Seattle City Council a prominent leader in the Socialist Alternative Party, won a decisive victory securing 54.5 percent of the vote and defeating her Democratic Party opponent Pamela Banks by 8 points in District 3.
Though just a city council seat low on the pecking order of power nationally, Sawant’s fiery Socialist rhetoric and activism attracted national attention and drew Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to make a pit stop in Seattle. The Socialist Sanders’ chances of winning the Democratic ticket against the formidable favorite Hillary Clinton, are low. But for Sawant’s party to support him presents a dilemma because of his affiliation with an “establishment” party that she has persistently attacked as being hand-in-glove with Wall Street and corporate America.
Senator Sanders’ buzz nationally among Millennials and in Seattle, may have given some kind of boost to Sawant’s campaign, she readily admitted during an interview with News India Times. But she was highly critical of the former Burlington, Vermont, mayor and his strategy. Yet, she conceded that while pundits had written Sanders’ political obituary, he had enthused a whole section of a hitherto disinterested public.
The Democratic Party undoubtedly had it in for Sanders, Sawant claimed. “The apparatus of the Democratic Party is clearly not on his side,” she said, adding, “What Sanders is talking about is not what the Democratic Party can get us.” So Sanders needs to do “real” organizing work at the grassroots level, building a base with labor unions and the broader working class movement and not depend on established parties. “That’s a fatal mistake,” Sawant said.
Sawant ran a well orchestrated grassroots campaign with more than 600 volunteers knocking on 90,000 doors, she said following her victory. Her campaign raised more money than her opponent, in what turned out to be the most expensive council race in Seattle’s history. Sawant described her’s as a “working class” campaign with 30 unions behind her, offering an independent alternative to what she described as “right wing” Republicans and a “Wall Street-driven Democratic Party machine.”
Sawant sounded gratified by the support young people in Seattle had extended to her, including Indian-Americans. “They see a role for themselves when they see a person like myself,” she said, adding, “I’m so happy that through victories we are able to provide the counter to the Nikki Haleys and Bobby Jindals,” she said referring to the Indian-American Republican governors of South Carolina and Louisiana respectively. She wants to see an alternative to the Wall Street image of Indian-Americans. Sawant criticized the “model minority” image bestowed on the Indian-American community, calling it an “insidious and divisive idea.”
She acknowledged the several Indian-Americans heading grass-roots organizations such as Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Saru Jayaram, organizer of restaurant workers and fast-food chains; and Vanita Gupta, now the head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. This victory belongs to socialists and working class people everywhere. Together, we have a world to win,” the campaign team added.