Holding Elected Officials Accountable to Working People

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I was elected and then reelected to the Seattle City Council on the basis of my pledge to unwaveringly use my office to help build movements to win victories for ordinary working people. A recent article from SCC Insight, now happily picked up by the corporate conservative media, argues that pledge is somehow at odds with my long-standing and publicly declared commitment to remain democratically accountable to the members of my organization, Socialist Alternative. Socialist Alternative is the social movement organization I have helped to build and lead, and it has been a driving force behind my election campaigns, the historic victory on the $15 minimum wage, and many progressive gains working people have won in Seattle.

In reality, my ability to deliver on the promises I made to the voters of District 3 and Seattle, and stand firm against big business threats, has everything to do with rooting the day-to-day political work of my office in a living social movement organization with genuine democratic structures and basing itself on grassroots collective action. This has been the starting point for building the broader coalitions and campaigns that have succeeded in winning victory after victory for working people and District 3 residents, despite vicious opposition from big business, corporate developers, and the corporate landlord lobby.

I have made no secret of the fact that I was running as a candidate of Socialist Alternative, which has a proud tradition of democratic decision making and is made up of ordinary people fighting for workers and oppressed communities. We are nothing like the Democratic and Republican parties, who pretend to be accountable to working people but who are in reality politically dominated and funded by the super rich and big corporations like Amazon and Comcast.

Most politicians make election-year promises to working people in order to get their votes, but then promptly betray them once elected. When socialists run for office, we do so in order to fight for the interests of working people. Because we build a democratic organization to ensure accountability, we stay true to that promise, rather than bending to the pressures from the billionaire class, as we have seen Seattle’s Democratic Party politicians do over and over, including last year with the shameful repeal of the Amazon Tax.

Big business has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to heavily influence politicians in Seattle to block progressive legislation. Despite overwhelming support for progressive policies from the majority of Seattleites, corporate power has been able to stymie efforts towards a massive and much-needed expansion of affordable housing by taxing big business, establishing a municipal broadband network, and funding neighborhood needs as opposed to subsidizing ventures for the corporate elite.

Just last Sunday, the Seattle Times revealed the huge influence business lobbyists have within Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office. After Sandeep Kaushik’s lobbying firm played a central role in Durkan’s corporate-financed election campaign and her backdoor push to repeal the Amazon Tax, now “Kaushik describes himself and Evans as members of Durkan’s informal ‘kitchen cabinet,’ even as they lobby her administration and advocate for corporate clients such as Comcast, Lyft and Airbnb” (Seattle Times, 1/6/19).

We need many more, not fewer, representatives in office who are anchored to a democratic grassroots base like Socialist Alternative and other social movement organizations. This is critical to withstand the huge pressures from the corporate establishment. It was exactly the lack of a democratic, grassroots political anchor that led seven of the nine Seattle City Councilmembers to twist in the wind and then betray working people after Jeff Bezos and other big businesses bullied City Hall on the Amazon Tax, which was originally passed unanimously and then repealed 7-2 just one month later.

This cuts to the core of why we in Socialist Alternative have consistently argued for building a broader political party for working people in this country, to unite our social movements, unions, and community groups together and boldly fight for progressive change, completely independent of corporate money. Such a working people’s party would need to have real internal democratic structures to decide which candidates to run, to debate and decide on a common program and, unlike the Democratic Party, to actually hold those candidates accountable to that program – including their votes – once in office.

In contrast to Democratic and Republican politicians, our accountability to working people has meant that we have successfully used our council office to build movements to win the historic $15/hour minimum wage, a series of landmark renters’ rights victories, replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, stopping the “Stepping Forward” public housing attack, protecting the Showbox, and winning millions in funding for vital social services. Every single one of these victories was won despite the opposition of City Hall politicians loyal to big business, and required overcoming their backdoor machinations and maneuvers.

So in response to SCC Insight and other recent media coverage attacking Socialist Alternative and my office, I plead guilty – to being a democratically accountable socialist elected representative, and not a corporate politician.

These articles insinuate that my votes reflect some sort of puppetry. In fact, I am an elected leader of Socialist Alternative who agrees with, and has argued for within our democratic structures, the political decisions and votes I have taken while in office. The allegations of ethics violations are similarly utterly baseless. The real issue the political establishment has is that my accountability is to working people and social movements, instead of to the corporate agenda.

We should in no way be surprised by these attacks. In an election year when big business is fiercely determined to get progressives and socialists out of City Hall, we should expect more of the same. At heart, these attacks are nothing new; they are just good old fashioned red baiting. As Dae Shik Kim Hawkins of the Seattle People’s Party remarked with appropriate irony on Twitter, in response to the SCC Insight story: “Breaking news: socialist elected officials decentralizing power by being accountable to a larger organizing body.” Genuine socialists have always rooted themselves in accountability to working people and social movements and in collective, democratic decision making.

I wear the badge of socialist with honor. I will continue to fight unambiguously and relentlessly to win gains for Seattle workers and for an alternative to this rotten and corrupt system, while fiercely opposing all efforts of big business to give marching orders in this city.

But the struggle for a City Hall that represents working people has only begun. This year, we need to begin building a broader independent left challenge in Seattle to throw out the corporate politicians and replace them with working class representatives who take no corporate money, who are democratically accountable to social movement organizations, and who will consistently stand up to Amazon and the Chamber of Commerce.