Over 100 people gathered in Washington Hall on Tuesday evening for Socialists Into City Hall!—a unity event organized by the Seattle chapters of Socialist Alternative and the Democratic Socialists of America. The two groups maintain mostly philosophical differences, but for the short term they plan to put those differences aside and develop some strategies to "build grassroots movements to tax big business and fight for basic needs like publicly owned housing and world class, free mass transit."
Incumbent Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who's defending her seat in District 3, represented SA, a group that has come under scrutiny recently for not disclosing its finances and for controlling Sawant's brain or whatever. Shaun Scott, who's running in District 4, spoke as a member of DSA, an organization that has yet to claim an electoral victory in Seattle. Though her face was all over the posters for the event, community organizer and DSA member Tammy Morales, who's running for city council in District 2, was conspicuously absent.
Event organizer Emily McArthur, who's a member of both DSA and SA, told me that Morales was "enthusiastic" when she was first invited to participate in the evening, but ended up cancelling by e-mail "a week or two" ago. In an interview with The Stranger earlier this month, Morales said she was a member of DSA but didn't embrace Socialism.
"She didn’t want to commit to the big 'S' Socialist I think, which I think is unfortunate," said McArthur. "But the year is young, and so hopefully she decides that socialism is popular, and that it is something that District 2 especially needs. As a District 2 resident, I certainly hope so," she added.
The speakers voiced a few barely detectable differences in terms of long term political strategy between DSA and SA. “Our movements have to be linked to the idea of an alternative to Capitalism itself,” Sawant said, adding that they won't achieve change by simply winning reforms in the current system. Some have characterized SA as being more revolutionary in their goals and DSA as being more reformist, but ultimately the two groups demonstrated solidarity throughout the course of the evening, which more or less involved socialists asking other socialists about how they could campaign and govern in a way that would be the most socialist.
They certainly agreed on some enemies. Mayor Jenny Durkan was boo-hissed for being "bought by Amazon," former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was booed for being a coffee grinch, former interim mayor Tim Burgess was boo-hissed for being Tim Burgess, former Mayor Ed Murray was boo-hissed for being a disgrace, Governor Jay Inslee was boo-hissed for giving Boeing huge tax breaks, and, of course, Jeff Bezos was boo-hissed for opposing a modest tax on big businesses to fund housing and homelessness initiatives in the city. “That’s a sweet sound when somebody boos Jeff Bezos," Sawant said.
Beto Yarce, Sawant's most visible challenger, also was boo-hissed for allegedly scheduling fundraisers with "a parade of corporate executives, lobbyists, and political insiders." A rep from Yarce's campaign confirmed that the candidate has two fundraisers on the calendar. One is organized by Greater Seattle Business Association members. The other will be "at the home of two personal friends of Beto's who have known him since he was a busser at Galeria's restaurant." The rep said the suggested contribution at the latter event is $25.
Sawant and Scott both stressed housing affordability as primary priorities for the movements they're trying to build. Both support taxing the rich to pay for massive investments in public housing. Scott suggested the city could tap into the city's bonding capacity to raise $500 million for housing. Six city council members proposed this number back in 2016. Last year Councilmember Lisa Herbold credited Sawant with helping her get $29 million in bonds for affordable housing in the city budget.
Several taxes were proposed, including a vacancy tax, a tax on big businesses, a speculation tax, and Scott's eco-tax on local polluters.
They didn't leave out the small businesses, either. Sawant stanned for commercial rent control and noted her campaign to save Saba, a local Ethiopian restaurant facing displacement. She also pointed to her role in helping businesses on 23rd Ave get $650,000 in mitigation payments due to construction. Scott promised to look into "a soft reparations project" for businesses owned by immigrants and people of color who are getting gentrified out of their neighborhoods, citing a precedent in former Mayor Nickels's "$50 million community fund to help merchants from being displaced" when they were building the light rail in Rainier Valley.
In general, representatives from both organizations seemed bullish about their success but realistic about the work it will take to win. "We’re ambitious, and we know what it takes. We’ve won two campaigns with Kshama, but we don't take for granted we’re going to win again. There’s been a lot of displacement in our district, and it’s not like the Seattle Times is going to endorse us, so that means we have to fight for peoples’ ears. That means getting out on the streets and getting out at the doors," McArthur said.
Part of that strategy for Scott, he said in a brief interview after the event, involves his use of the Reach app. GeekWire wrote a nice feature about the app, which basically allows candidates to build their own voter lists and contact those voters more easily. The app was created by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's tech team, and it helped drive turnout in her race against longtime incumbent Joe Crowley.
But solidarity among Seattle socialists will also be crucial in attaining electoral victories for both groups, and organizers plan to continue to find ways to build momentum. "More than ever our members are talking to one another and coordinating different events," said Madeline Hanhardt, co-chair of Seattle DSA. “I’m sure there will be more events in the future.”