A Tale of Two Cities
By Kshama Sawant
Seattle is becoming two cities. In one, glittering fortunes are being made for the super rich and the major corporations that dominate the landscape. In the other, where most of us live, life is becoming increasingly unaffordable.
We face dramatically widening income inequality and the nation’s worst gender pay gap. And while Seattle is home to some of the most profitable corporations in the world, we have a highly regressive tax system and severely underfunded public services. In recent years it has become increasingly difficult to live a working class life and raise a family in many of our neighborhoods.
But this year spirit of change is in the air.
The move to elect Seattle City Council members by District – approved by voters last year – has dramatically changed the equation in Seattle politics. The resignation of three of the City’s longest serving Council members has further thrown open the gates of City Hall.
Already, more than 39 candidates have filed to run for the nine Council seats, all of which are up for election this year. Grassroots, worker-friendly candidates are at long last stepping forward in the hope that it may no longer require a massive financial war chest to reach voters. Working class and minority candidates may, for the first time, find a real seat at the electoral table.
In light of this changing dynamic, what should advocates for working people be watching for in the coming elections?
Housing. Seattle is facing a severe housing crisis. The for-profit housing model is not working, with big developers and speculators pushing workers and even middle-class families out of the city. Meanwhile the City Council is working on behalf of big business rather than ordinary renters and homeowners. While government officials give sweetheart deals to billionaire developers, we face the fastest rising rents of any major US city.
This crisis promises to be the defining issue of this election cycle.
We should be looking for candidates and proposals that challenge the current developer-centric model. Already new voices are calling for policies like rent control, enhanced renter’s rights and massive investments in union-built, City-owned affordable workforce housing. Look for this chorus to grow, and for new coalitions to develop around new creative solutions.
Progressive taxation and inequality. Already this past year – in the wake of the historic $15 per hour victory – the priorities of City Hall have begun to change. Much-delayed progressive proposals to increase Metro funding, begin a universal pre-K program, institute priority hire, and adopt reasonable developer fees have been put forward by Council members with an eye to the upcoming election season and rising public discontent.
My own council office has led the charge to investigate the feasibility of instituting a millionaires tax, issue hundreds of millions of dollars in city bonds to build new workforce housing, and provide emergency shelter to the more than 3000 homeless who live on our city’s streets.
Look for an array of council candidates to at long last call for Seattle’s most wealthy to pay a fair share of the costs of policing, social services, education, and desperately needed mass transit. Those who make serious proposals on this front will have the best chance of connecting with the mood of our dissatisfied electorate.
A broken system. The political system in Seattle, and throughout the country, is broken. Beholden to corporate cash, the establishment cravenly serves big business while the 99% – working and middle class people, youth, and people of color – have little or no genuine political representation. In recent years Seattle has been no exception.
The door is now open for something new. Working people in Seattle are building our own political representation. As my election victory and our success in winning $15 per hour showed, when we have independent political representatives helping to build grassroots movements, we can defeat corporate interests. When we change the balance of power by bringing ordinary people into political action, we can win.
The coming Seattle City Council elections present workers and their advocates with the greatest opportunity in decades to achieve this new representation. Lets seize it together.
Kshama Sawant is a member of the Seattle City Council and a member of PSARA.