Urban League Attacks Kshama Sawant, Only Woman of Color and Socialist Member of Seattle City Council

Blog / Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

A version of this article appeared in Socialist Worker.

The Urban League, a purportedly nonpartisan civil rights organization that today serves primarily as an extension of the Democratic Party, is wasting its working-class members’ hard-earned money in order to go after the only leftist and only woman of color on the Seattle City Council. It is literally expending its energy in an attempt to defeat leftism, instead of investing its resources on taking on the white supremacist proto-fascist wolves in neocon sheep clothing who increasingly dominate US politics.

Pamela Banks, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, announced in March 2015 that she will strive to unseat City Council member Kshama Sawant, the only socialist City Council member in the US, and the only women of color on the Seattle City Council.

Sawant has been a leading voice in the Fight for 15 campaign, a national anti-racist working-class movement that demands a living minimum wage of $15 per hour. She is one of the only politicians in US history to “openly and unapologetically criticize” Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinian people. In a matter of just around a year, Sawant has become an important symbol throughout the country, as a living example that a democratic, anti-racist, feminist, socialist alternative is possible to the reactionary corporate cesspool that is the Democratic Party. Banks and the Urban League hope to destroy this symbol.

What are Banks’ critiques of Sawant? “I’ve learned over my career that you solve more problems with a telephone than a megaphone,” she said. Okay, so Sawant actually practices democracy. She leaves the ivory tower of the bureaucrats’ dungeons and corporate boardrooms and goes out and mobilizes grassroots support among the actual masses, instead of just making private phone calls to technocrats asking for tit-for-tat favors. That is apparently a bad thing.

Pamela Banks
Pamela Banks

Banks continued: “I won’t be making rebuttals to the State of the Union,” she explained. Oh, now I get it: This is about partisanism. Sawant publicly criticized the right-wing, draconian Obama administration, so she must be thrown under the bus for daring to defy Democrat Dogma—even if that means weakening the US Left in the process.

“I don’t think we differ much in our values,” Banks admitted. “The biggest difference is how you get things done.” If she does not differ much in values, why go after Sawant? There are eight other members she and the Urban League could unseat.

Of the just nine members of the Seattle City Council, seven are white. In other words, 78% is white, in a city that is 70% white. Moreover, why not go after the more conservative members of the council. If Banks and the Urban League are true political progressives, why immediately go after the most progressive (not to mention prominent) member of the council?

Instead of trying to unseat one of the several right-wing white City Council members, in order to create a more representative, inclusive, and democratic local government, the Urban League is actively striving to keep it disproportionately white and dominated by economic elites.

The method of electing the Seattle City Council changed with the 2013 election. There will only be two at-large seats drawing votes from across the city. The most conservative council members will run in the newly created districts that represent the wealthier parts of town. Sawant has decided to run for office in District 3, and that is where Banks will aim to try to pull votes, along with two other candidates.

Still, the question remains: Why didn’t the Urban League focus on any of the following City Council members?

Surely Kshama Sawant, an Indian-American marxist feminist whose father died when she was 13, who arduously worked her way through the political system and won on a groundbreaking grassroots campaign, will serve the interests of Seattle’s most marginalized communities infinitely more than, say, a former financial officer for a corporate law firm that defended a racist bank that systematically saddled black Americans (whom its employees referred to as “mud people”) with crippling subprime mortages (what it referred to as “ghetto loans”). But Sawant is a scary socialist, so she clearly must go!

Incidents such as these only go to show that all liberals are good for is undermining and attacking the actual Left, implementing neoliberal policies, and giving the nationalist, racist far-right recruitment opportunities. They are worse than useless: They are genuinely harmful. They prevent progressive movements, not help—yet alone lead—them.

Kshama Sawant
Kshama Sawant

In their attack on Sawant, Pamela Banks and the Urban League have only demonstrated that they prefer white economic elites over socialists of color who will defend the interests of people of color, women, and the working class.

This should not come as a surprise. Before she was elected to Seattle City Council, “all of the city’s major Democratic Party organizations” opposed Sawant, instead endorsing her Democratic opponent, Richard Conlin, a stodgy longtime member.

Liberals often accuse real leftists of “dividing the Left.” Perhaps the most well-known example of such accusations took place in the 2000 US presidential election, when they claimed it was the fault of progressive Ralph Nader for Bush’s win, not Al Gore and his right-wing, corporate friendly policies (not to mention questionable electoral practices). When socialists pose a threat, Democrats almost invariably side with Republicans over actual leftists.

As with so many accusations reactionaries make, it is in fact the opposite that is true: liberals are the ones who divide the Left, by wasting money, times, and resources attacking leftists, and by siphoning real progressives off into the right-wing, racist, patriarchal, corporate-controlled Democratic Party. This is just the latest example.