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Seattle's Socialist Councilmember Sawant plans exit from city hall

caption: The MLK Labor Council worked to elect Kshama Sawant in 2015, but endorsed her opponent in the 2019 council election.
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The MLK Labor Council worked to elect Kshama Sawant in 2015, but endorsed her opponent in the 2019 council election.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant will not run for reelection in 2023, opening up District 3 to a newcomer after nearly 10 years in office. Her announcement Thursday also details the next steps she plans on taking to "continue to be disturbers of the political peace in Seattle, as well as nationally, whether inside or outside City Hall."

"While I’m sure the corporate establishment in Seattle will be very happy with the news that I am not running again, they shouldn’t rush to mix their martinis just yet, because we are not done here," Sawant writes in a "guest rant" for The Stranger.

Aside from stating a list of accomplishments, such as new taxes on large companies like Amazon, renters rights, and a higher minimum wage, Sawant also had some unkind words for Democrats. She called Seattle Congressmember Pramila Jayapal and New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez "sell outs" while further arguing that the Democratic Party is "moving further and further right in their loyal support of the corporate elite."

"We cannot put our faith in the AOCs or the Pramila Jayapals, even though I understand there were many who had high expectations for them," Sawant wrote.

This lack of faith in the Democratic Party, to ultimately overthrow capitalism, is part of Sawant's argument to start a new political movement, along with her party, Socialist Alternative, called Workers Strike Back.

At a press event Thursday morning, Sawant's supporters called for more militant action on behalf of workers, action that Democrats and unions have failed to provide.

"Workers Strike Back is meant to be a national movement," Sawant said, noting that a launch event is planed for March 4 in Seattle, and in other cities across the United States. "We're not going anywhere, right now, because we have a whole year ahead of us in City Council office. ... Workers Strike Back is going to be built in multiple cities."

"Having one city council office cannot replace a nationwide movement and it is necessary at this point that Socialist Alternative, union members, and others throughout the nation who want real social and economic justice, that we build a much wider campaign that brings together people from many cities."

Sawant said that Socialist Alternative is not running a candidate to take over for her on the Seattle City Council. Instead, it is putting its effort behind the Workers Strike Back launch.

"This is a beginning and we hope that rank and file workers and young people across the nation will be inspired and join us."

The Workers Strike Back effort will include a video broadcast for socialist politics, which Sawant will help host.

"There is such a vacuum in the corporate media ... even the left media," Sawant said Thursday. "There is a vacuum of real analysis, honest analysis, that supports and validates working class people, much less provides a strategy to fight back."

Sawant was first elected in 2013 as the city's first Socialist council member with 51% of the vote. Since officially taking office in 2014, Sawant's lead over challengers has narrowed. She kept her council seat with just over 3,743 votes in 2015. She defeated Egan Orion in 2019 with a difference of nearly 1,800 votes. Sawant also survived a 2021 recall election by just 310 votes.

"Despite everything being stacked against us ... we were able to defeat them and win," Sawant said of the recall effort.

Days before Sawant announced she will not run for reelection, Central District's Joy Hollingsworth announced she is running for the job.

With Sawant out of the running for District 3, it makes four out of seven council seats up for election without an incumbent in 2023. Councilmembers Lisa Herbold (District 1), Alex Pederson (District 4), and Debora Juarez (District 5) are also stepping down at the end of the year.

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