Dear Sean: I'm with you when you write: "Nothing makes me feel quite so diminished as voting." Voting in an election is like clapping after a performance. The feeling that it doesn't really matter, and that you're doing it out of an obligation to fulfill some social contract you don't remember signing, is inescapable. And the reactionary anger you might feel towards people who get all smug about the fact that they always vote, as if that were some kind of great achievement? I understand that, too.
You know who else does? Kshama Sawant. Last year, I had a conversation with her that wended its way towards that very question. And I can reproduce her answer verbatim because I was recording it.
The question was something like, "Now that the Seattle left has secured the $15/hour minimum wage, what should it do next?"
In Seattle, one thing we need is to fight for is reelection—and I use the word “fight” because I fully expect a ferocious challenge from the Democratic party establishment... If the establishment could prove or convince people that all of what’s happened in the past—Occupy, our election, $15—was just a flash in the pan and not at all like what you were saying before, an indication of things to come. That’s the narrative they want. And we want the opposite...
It’s a complex thing. On one hand, we don’t have any illusions that voting is some form of high political activism. In fact, it’s the most disengaged form because it’s a proxy thing—you fill out a black bubble and that doesn’t translate into a real movement. However, the process of fighting for the votes will create activists, just like our city council campaign generated a whole layer of new activists who then got involved in the $15 fight.
In other words, voting feels small because it is small. But that doesn't mean it's not worth doing. Like dishes. Or writing thank-you notes. Voting is a thank-you note to representative democracy, in all its glorious imperfection. You're always free to get off your ass and buy it a present—say, getting involved in a campaign—if you feel like it.
And it's funny how Sawant's "I fully expect a ferocious challenge from the Democratic party establishment" prediction turned out. Sawant's biggest money challenger, Pamela Banks, raised $226,533. That's serious money. Tim Burgess-level money ($244,716). And almost 50 percent of her contributions were in the $700 or more category. (See chart above.)
But she didn't turn out to be that ferocious, at least not in the SECB meeting. According to my scribbled notes, Banks liked "collaboration," giving developers some nonspecific incentives to build more affordable housing, and building more transit. (She was also deeply confused about whether income taxes are progressive or regressive.) For all that money, you'd think the anti-Sawant camp could've found a more compelling candidate to back.
Sawant, by the way, raised a ton of money at $251,239 and the size of her contributions were more evenly distributed, though she also got a healthy chunk of $700-or-more contributions (35 percent).
And as long as we're looking at charts: Vulcan and the City of Seattle were the second- and third-top employers of people who donated money in this cycle.
The number-one employer of contributors? "Not employed." Also high on the list: Starbucks, the State of Washington, and the engineers at Coughlin Porter Lundeen.
Low on the list? Amazon, down at 21. Microsoft is just above it at 20. Google was so far down I quit counting. I'll see if I can find any of our tech brethren as the SECB does its usual, dreaded crawl through the election-night parties.