Socialist Occupy Activist Elected to Seattle City Council

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November 17, 2013; Politix

What if the Occupy movement had followed the path of the Tea Party to try to elect its own candidates to government? The Tea Party never became a political party, but a large number of candidates ran for local and statewide offices, with a huge effect on the composition of the House of Representatives in the 2010 electoral cycle, though running extreme, weak candidates who may have cost the Republicans control of the Senate (think Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada, and others). Nonetheless, support from Tea Party entities was consequential and still matters. Witness the ability of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to wield support from Tea Party-sympathizing House members to shut down the government and push the federal government close to a debt default.

The Occupy movement largely eschewed electoral politics. In 2012, a number of candidates for Congress tried to pick up on the Occupy message, but it would be hard to think of them as Occupy candidates per se. Following the Tea Party model of challenging Republican incumbents, one Occupy activist named Nate KIeinman, who had been involved with Occupy Philadelphia, unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), though the more Kleinman mentioned Occupy in his statements that he wasn’t an official Occupy candidate, the more he seemed like he was wrapping his notoriety around the encampment at Dilworth Plaza.

Last week, the electorate of Seattle elected a legitimate, as in tangibly involved, Occupy activist to the Seattle City Council. Kshama Sawant, an economics professor at Seattle Central Community College, defeated a politically favored incumbent, making her distinctive as a candidate who really did work with the Occupy movement. She is also distinctive because she ran as a socialist, making her Seattle’s first elected socialist in a century. Among the priorities on her platform were raising the local minimum wage to $15, establishing rent control in high-rent Seattle, and enacting a tax on millionaires to fund public transit and other services.

“Even though we don’t believe in capitalism, we fight for reforms within the system because the experience of fighting for them raises the political consciousness of the working class and builds solidarity,” Sawant told Al Jazeera America of her political approach. “We cannot replace capitalism without learning the lessons by fighting for reforms—you don’t learn how to fight to change a capitalist society to a socialist one in school. You learn from the real experience of the struggle.”

When Dr. Scott Noren decided to challenge New York State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, an Occupy Wall Street spokesperson named Patrick Bruner told the press, “Anyone can say that they’re working with Occupy Wall Street, but from what I understand OWS is against endorsing political candidates.” By abjuring engaging in the electoral process, and perhaps by rejecting the idea of an articulated set of policy demands, Occupy might have given up having influence comparable to that of the Tea Party. This may be because the Democratic incumbents that Occupy would have had to primary are not as distasteful to Occupy activists as the “Republicans in Name Only” (RINOs) were to Tea Partiers.

Our question for NPQ Newswire readers: Should the Occupy movement have emulated the Tea Party and run candidates to primary Democratic incumbents?—Rick Cohen

  • Tasasha

    Should the Occupy movement have emulated the Tea Party and run candidates to primary Democratic incumbents? Yes they should have. It was a missed opportunity; the world was watching Occupy, and many people agreed with their overall sentiments, even if they did not become involved. Although the current economic and political system needs to radically change, for the short-term, we need to make substantial reforms within the current systems, and the election of people involved with Occupy could have led to those much needed reforms.

  • John Campbell

    There is a reason why it wouldn’t have worked anyway. What do you think of with Occupy? Violence, property destruction, hate, vulgarity and disruption. Yep you want to associate with that mess, be my guest. Despite all the media bias against the Tea party movement . . . all you hear about there is volunteerism, friendliness, and organization.

  • No one can speak for Occupy

    “This may be because the Democratic incumbents that Occupy would have had to primary are not as distasteful to Occupy activists as the “Republicans in Name Only” (RINOs) were to Tea Partiers.”

    This isn’t true at all from my experience in Occupy. Occupy was much more decentralized than the Tea Party. The Tea Party was easily co-opted by big money interests, so that some of the more populist parts of its message (anti-bailout stuff, eg) was lost amidst the racism, anti-welfare stances, social conservatism, and other things that are mostly friendly to big business (even if it’s not totally in business’s control). But Occupy in general was VERY wary of co-optation, by any part of the entrenched left–Democrats, non-profits, the academy. It also would’ve been impossible for Occupy to endorse candidates like the Tea Party has because there is no centralized Occupy organization (there is no single one for the Tea Party but there are a few big ones), and that is very much a central part of Occupy–there was no centralized leadership, instead it was done in democratic (small d) networks. Occupy was very much, although of course not totally, against the politics of representation. Direct democracy was the point for a lot of people, not running candidates. So I’m happy that Occupy has led to this win in Seattle personally, I’m glad that the left might be getting a bit of a revitalization, but this is not the revolution we need–while, at the same time, $15/hour will be fantastic for a lot of people.