Sawant: ‘Even with the victories of our movement, the Democrats’ austerity budget deeply fails working people and marginalized communities, including working-class and poor communities of color’
Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, today issued this statement in response to the City Council adopting the 2021 City budget:
“As in previous years since 2014, the People’s Budget movement, and this year along with the Solidarity Budget, has won important victories for working people.
“We restored funding for the GND oversight board and the $30 million anti-displacement fund – both unfulfilled promises from Mayor Durkan. We have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for renter rights organizing, and eviction defense, millions of dollars for 3 new tiny house villages and funding for Nickelsville and SHARE-WHEEL’s self managed villages, and funds for 24-hour homeless shelters.
“We won the beginning steps to pass transferable renter background check legislation and standard lease legislation ordinances that my office will bring next year, which, if passed, will have a major impact on renter rights. And we won the initial pre-development funds for Africatown’s project to develop a full city block of affordable housing in the heart of the Central District.
“Over the summer, tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of Seattle, and over 20 million around the country, to protest pervasive and ongoing police violence. These protests also captured the frustration with a society that offers little to the majority of working people and youth, a society that is riddled with crises – the pandemic, the recession, and a dead-end economy for many young people.
“It was a real testament to the power of that movement in the summer that 7 of the 9 councilmembers committed to defunding the police by 50 percent at that time. And it is because of thousands of people speaking up from the People’s Budget and the Solidarity Budget, and because the movement has its unwavering voice through my socialist Council office, that we have now won a $31 million – or 8.2 percent – reduction in the police budget, not counting the mechanisms like moving the costs of parking enforcement out of the police department, which do not honestly represent actual cuts. And those millions have been made available for community programs and services.
“But taken as a whole, the budget that Democratic Party Councilmembers have approved today is a budget that deeply fails working people and marginalized communities, including working-class and poor communities of color.
“In the middle of a pandemic and a spike in COVID infections, in the context of the worst recession for working people since the Great Depression, Democratic Councilmembers will be carrying out brutal austerity.
“It’s true that the City Council’s budget reduces slightly the size of the cuts proposed in Mayor Durkan’s budget. But still, the Council is allowing almost $200 million to be cut from affordable housing, bus hours, parks, and libraries.
“Funding for affordable housing has been cut from $131 million in 2020 to only $84 million in 2021, a cut of over a third to affordable housing, while homelessness balloons out of control across the city. Funding for transportation has been cut by almost $100 million. Those cuts include millions for buses and tens of millions for essential maintenance and construction of our transportation infrastructure. And starting in April, the grocery voucher program that thousands of families have relied on will expire.
“For over two months, my Council office and working people organizing with the People’s Budget asked Councilmembers: will you make big business pay for the crisis, or put the burden on working people and communities of color?
“We know the answer now, and unfortunately, it is not a surprising one. This is par for the course for the Democratic establishment. Not one single Democratic councilmember was willing to support the People’s Budget and my office’s proposal to approve a tiny increase in the Amazon Tax that would have stopped all of the cuts.
“Corporations like Amazon, f5 Networks, and Starbucks have just reported staggering third-quarter profits. Amazon alone has made $11.5 billion in profits just since April; in other words, throughout the pandemic so far. Instead of a tiny increase in the taxes on these pandemic profiteers, the Democrats are choosing to put the burden of the crisis on ordinary people.
“Democratic councilmembers have shockingly claimed that this is an anti-austerity budget, but that is simply a lie. The City Council’s current proposed budget does reduce slightly the size of the vicious cuts proposed in Mayor Durkan’s proposed budget, but there are still almost $200 million being cut from parks, libraries, transportation, and housing.
“They have made the bald-faced claim, for example, that there are no cuts to parks, while at the same time, voting for an ordinance that gives the City the legal authority to cut the parks department budget.
“The introduction to the Mayor’s proposed budget says, ‘Spending reductions were necessary.’
“And that is how big business and the political establishment always has approached recessions. You will catch them either engaging in obfuscation and simply pretending that the budget cuts don’t exist, or claiming that there is no alternative to draconian cuts to public infrastructure and essential services, while the biggest corporations continue to absorb record profits.
“Part of my job as a representative of working people is to expose the lies of the establishment. As you can see, the claim that this is an “anti-austerity” budget is the latest such blatant falsehood.
“It is true that the Council’s budget amendments, which I supported, have prevented the budgetary layoffs of City of Seattle workers. But that is only because the overwhelming majority of the budget cuts defer or eliminate public works like construction and maintenance projects that the city contracts out to be done by workers who are not directly employed by the city. Even a simple back of the envelope calculation shows clearly that these cuts will result in hundreds and hundreds of layoffs and cancelled job creation, which in turn will deepen the recession.
“We need to be expanding public jobs programs like in the New Deal that the labor movement – led by socialists – won in the 1930s by putting ferocious pressure on FDR. We do not need to slash public investments. We should be expanding the GND jobs program, not cutting infrastructure maintenance. As our movement has said, austerity budgets are anti-worker, anti-union, and anti-people of color.
“Democratic Councilmembers even refused to support our movement’s proposal to develop legislation for an elected community oversight board with power to hold the police accountable – every single Democrat voted against accountability.
“This is the eighth time I am voting on Seattle’s City Budget, and never before have there been more lessons for the activists and organizers of social movements then have been revealed this year.
“Throughout history, it has been movements that make progressive change, not the machinations of the political establishment, not electing the smartest technocrats, and not the relationships between elected officials. Real change is driven by the balance of power in society as a whole and particularly the organized forces of the working class prepared to fight.
“Two years ago, I was the only ‘no’ vote as the Council approved the police contract rolling back accountability, increased funding to the Seattle Police Department by tens of millions. Last year, with just me voting ‘no,’ all Democrats then passed a special bill to provide hiring bonuses for new police officers.
“Now, after the Justice for George Floyd movement, many of the same councilmembers have voted in favor of a $31 million reduction in the police budget. What made the Democrats take even this limited step was the pressure of the movement.
“Similarly, had it not been for the powerful Tax Amazon movement over the summer, there would be an additional $214 million hole in the budget.
“In the first half of 2020, the Tax Amazon movement mobilized hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of community activists and organizers. We held mass organizing conferences which elected a coordinating committee that was held accountable to the rank and file, where community members voted democratically on both the policy and the strategy to win. And those volunteers gathered 30,000 signatures on the Tax Amazon ballot initiative, and with the threat of a ballot initiative hanging over the heads of the political establishment, we won this historic legislation.
“Members of the public may have noticed that I never use the phrase ‘jumpstart’ to refer to the Amazon tax. That is because that language is designed, and approved by big business, to try to erase the pivotal role of the grassroots Tax Amazon movement from the history of our victory. You can see the pictures and videos of the Tax Amazon movement, and the hundreds participating in mass meeting after mass meeting. There are no pictures of a movement called jumpstart because there was no such movement – only a watered-down proposal passed under pressure from our movement.
“And it is essential that we recognize the vital role of the movement in these victories, which otherwise would not have happened. If we as working people do not, then our future demands will fail.
“We should recognize and claim every victory our grassroots movements win, and I have voted for every progressive amendment in this budget. But those victories continue to be on the margins, while the majority of the budget is an austerity budget placing the burden of the COVID Emergency, Climate Emergency, Homelessness Emergency, and recession, onto the shoulders of regular working class people, rather than big business and the rich. For those reasons, I will be voting no on this brutal austerity budget.
“Our movement needs to carry forward serious and sober lessons from this year, and come back next year to fight renewed battles for COVID relief and a guaranteed jobs program, to cancel rent and mortgages for those affected by COVID, to defend the Amazon Tax against what will be round two of attempts by the Democratic establishment to pass a ban on municipal big business taxes, and for an elected community oversight board with full powers to hold the police accountable. But to win any of this, we will need movements – and the leadership of movements will need to be independent of the political establishment.”