From the night of Donald J. Trump’s election until now, we have heard about rallies and marches held in protest of the new president and his policies. A member of the Seattle City Council named Kshama Sawant has publicly advocated for these protests against Trump since their inception, which is unsurprising considering she is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party. The Socialist Alternative Party is part of the Committee for a Workers’ International, a coalition of socialist groups from around the world. It seeks to provide an “alternative” to the two political parties currently in power in the US.1 To further understand Sawant’s position, we need look into her background and her beliefs.
Kshama Sawant was born in Pune, a city in India close to Mumbai.2 She studied computer science at the University of Mumbai, eventually earning a Bachelor of Science degree before moving to the United States. In an interview with Matt Taylor of Vice, Sawant was quoted as saying, “The earliest memory I have of my childhood — and most vivid — was just a logical question of why there should be poverty when there’s clearly so much wealth and so much technological capability in human society.”3 Based on this kind of statement, it’s easy to see how Kshama Sawant would be drawn to socialism. Another factor to take into consideration is India’s caste system. Discrimination based on caste, although it has been outlawed for around 60 years, still lingered in India when Sawant was an adolescent and even does today. Her rhetoric about class and how she fights for the common person rather than the elites was likely inspired by her life in India as part of the working class. In the race for a seat on the Seattle City Council in 2013, Sawant ran on a platform of a $15 minimum wage, which was achieved in April of 2014. More recently she has supported Seattle’s Climate Action Plan, which looks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
As of late, Kshama Sawant has spearheaded multiple efforts to protest President Donald Trump and the direction he wants to take the country. However, the focus of her protests during the months leading up to the election was not on Trump. Sawant railed against Hillary Clinton instead. She argued that Clinton was no better than Trump, calling her a “warmonger” and “a dogged representative of Wall Street.”4 Regardless of the validity of this statement, attitudes like these may have caused many Sanders supporters to stay home on Election Day. Over 90 million eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 election, or around 40% of the eligible voting population.5 The message spread by Sawant and others that Clinton was just as corrupt as Trump may have helped to keep many liberal Sanders supporters from turning out in support of Clinton. While she may now be a vocal supporter of protests against President Trump, some suggest the best way for her to have kept Trump out of office would have been to stay quiet or better yet, support Clinton.
This isn’t the only time that Sawant has spoken out controversially about an issue. In 2014, she called for the Seattle City Council to publicly denounce both sides of the conflict between Israel and Gaza, and asked President Obama to rescind military assistance given to Israel. Her efforts were obviously unsuccessful, and incited a response from the Ambassador of Israel demanding that she take back her statements.6
Kshama Sawant is clearly a controversial figure in U.S. politics. And while she may not have the most powerful position, the fact that an Indian-American socialist woman is in power in a major American city says a lot about the direction our country is headed. Regardless of whether you agree with her course of action or not, Sawant is part of a group of immigrants from India and around the world that are bringing their own views to the table in the United States. Sawant’s ideals, as well as those of others like her, are striking a chord with a large group of people. Rather than pigeonholing ourselves into voting for the same political parties every year, we should try lending our ears to more voices and opening up our choices, whether we like the candidates or not.
- “About SA.” Socialist Alternative. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017. ↩
- “Socialist to Occupy Seattle City Council.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017. ↩
- Taylor, Matt. “Is Seattle’s Socialist City Council Member Going to Show Us How to Ditch the Two-Party System?” Vice, 28 Apr. 2014. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017. ↩
- Westneat, Danny. The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company, 29 July 2016. Web. 09 Mar. 2017. ↩
- Levine, Daniel S. “Over 90 Million Eligible Voters Didn’t Vote in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Heavy.com, Heavy, 10 Nov. 2016. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017. ↩
- Klein, Stephanie. “Ambassador of Israel to US Says Seattle’s Kshama Sawant Will Have to Retract Statements.” MyNorthwest.com. N.p., 07 Aug. 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2017. ↩