Speech delivered by Maurice Mitchell, national director of Working Families Party, at Jan. 13 inauguration of Kshama Sawant and launch of 2020 Tax Amazon movement:
Good evening, Seattle! My name is Maurice Mitchell, and I’m the National Director of the Working Families Party.
I want to start by thanking comrades Kshama Sawant and Sara Nelson for welcoming me onto this stage tonight, as well as all the organizers from the multitude of progressive groups that brought us all here, together.
I’d like to pause for a moment to recognize just how powerful this space is. We have members from so many political homes represented here tonight, to be in solidarity, in strategy and in struggle with one another as we move onto the next chapter in the fight against Amazon. This is a nationwide struggle that has brought us together across lines of difference.
As we enter 2020, it’s imperative that we continue to hold spaces like these. Not only to celebrate our hard-fought victories, but to galvanize ourselves for the many fights ahead. And with that, I’m going to spend the next few minutes framing my own experience of how we all got here, and where I believe our movement can go from here.
As we are all too aware, the roots of this struggle go deep. For decades, we have been carrying the weight of an economic and political system that was never meant for us. These systems were by no means organic — they were intentionally engineered by the likes of Reagan, Thatcher, and the big banks and corporations that sought ever more power. In this neoliberal economic worldview, the government exists only to assist corporations and their leaders, with the empty assurance that some benefits will eventually flow down to the rest of us. For too long, working people have paid the price for unchecked corporate power. Corporations and their high-powered lobbyists gobble up billions in tax breaks each year.
Meanwhile, wealth inequality has been rising for more than 40 years, displacing working families nationwide and driving the affordable housing crisis to unprecedented levels. Trump’s tax cuts have only worsened decades of an increasingly unequal and regressive tax system, alongside the deep underfunding of public services. Of course, no one should be confused about the dominance of the neoliberal framework over economic policymaking in America. And as we enter the most critical election year of our lifetimes, it is even more terrifying to confront the reality that corporations are buying their way into government.
But right here, right now, we are poised on the precipice of transformational change. Here are three things that bring me immense hope in these dark times.
Firstly, we have seen a massive shift in public consciousness around the idea that corporations and the rest of the one percent should be paying their fair share in taxes. Polling shows that the majority of voters support increasing taxes on millionaires and big business — a sentiment that’s growing across both party lines. This shift in public consciousness didn’t just happen — it’s bloomed from the backs of social movements and local organizing that has forced this issue to the forefront. There’s a hunger for change, and if we can scale up our collective organizing to meet this new national demand, I believe we can achieve something transformational.
Secondly, groups like Working Families Party, Socialist Alternative, DSA and others are institutionalizing that shift, by recruiting and running a multi-racial, cross-class coalition of leaders up and down the ballot. Now more than ever, we have elected leaders — many of them young, many of them Black and brown, many of them immigrants — that are committed to holding corporations accountable to paying what they owe. While many Republicans and corporate Democrats continue to cozy up to corporate executives and high-powered lobbyists, these leaders are fearlessly calling out the corruption that has devastated the political landscape.
And last but certainly not least, our people have shown it’s possible to take on these corporate giants and win. In New York City, community organizers in Queens came together with immigrants, workers and local small businesses to beat back the richest person in the world. In addition to the 3 billion-dollar giveaway of public money, HQ2 likely would have ramped up already high local housing prices and strained a crowded transit system. Community organizations and unions channeled the justified anger and concern of local residents, taking to the streets and the halls of power.
I count their victory over Amazon as one big ideological step in the right direction. And just months ago, right here in Seattle, Amazon spent nearly $1.5 million dollars — and triggered a multimillion dollar drive by big business interests — to try and buy control of the Seattle City Council and oust sister Sawant. Working people came together to take on the poster child for unchecked corporate power… and you won!
It’s astounding victories like these that prove what working people can accomplish when we come together and reject the idea that economic and political power belongs solely to the wealthy and well-connected. Beating back the world’s richest man is an adrenaline shot for activists, lawmakers and ordinary people across the country who are sick of a status quo in which politicians grovel before the corporate masters of the universe, competing to see who can come up with the most expensive package of goodies for them. It’s an adrenaline shot for all those tired of watching the corporate Democrats attempt to appease big business, only to make working people vulnerable to the corporations driving down living standards of ordinary people in a one-sided class war. This is the momentum we must carry with us as we turn to what’s next. We will only stop Amazon and companies like it from extorting and exploiting our communities by going big, bold, and national in our fight against corporate power.
And in order to do that, we must work together to elect leaders who are like Kshama Sawant in Seattle, or like State Senator Jessica Ramos in New York, one of the leaders of the charge against HQ2. Or like Kendra Brooks — who last November was elected the first third-party council member in Philadelphia history — and who ran against tax abatements and for investing in our communities.
That’s the mission of the WFP in a nutshell. To bring together the vibrancy and people power of social movements with electoral might. We’re building a multiracial populist movement to elect progressive champions from city halls and state legislatures to the halls of Congress. To elect a new generation of activists, organizers, public school teachers, nurses, and ironworkers to office. Because when we build electoral power alongside movement power, we win. The Working Families Party is committed to this fight; to make sure the CEOs and corporate giants chip in their fair share to make sure people get the services and support they need. To make our government at every level — local, state, and federal — accountable to us instead of the corporate titans.
Together, we’re going to take on the richest man and arguably the most powerful company in the world, and we are going to WIN! Thank you.