On February 21st 2015, the anniversary of the assassination of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (also known as Malcolm X), there was a high profile confrontation in Seattle outside of a fund raiser for the former poverty pimp Democrat, Larry Gossett. The confrontation was between local #blacklivesmatter activists affiliated with OA206 and local celebrity city council person Kshama Sawant. Sawant was confronted on video with her close association to Gossett, which prompted her to justify her association by calling Gossett a long time “ally of working people.” A man whom I couldn’t identify was quick to end the confrontation saying that Sawant won’t continue this discussion on camera. It should have been obvious that the cameras and the potential negative political exposure threatened Sawant and the SA.
With this in mind, the video was uploaded for a short amount of time, but it was later removed by the activist responsible for the video. This was a huge victory for the SA and Sawant (Although they had no direct responsibility for the removal). Later, it was brought to my attention that this high profile video, (which was the only recording of Sawant defending Gossett to this degree made) was removed due to “security reasons.” What was the reason? A voice of an activist was recorded on the video.
Now I watched the video several times and posted it to Facebook. I didn’t feel that there were any security issues. That said, I think its important that neither the activists who felt threatened by the video, nor the person who uploaded the video should be shamed or made the feel bad. I think that would be pretty unproductive, and I recognize that without them there would never have been even this small amount of exposure. The OA206 activists did the movement a favor by confronting Sawant the way that they did, shooting the video and uploading it.
Again, I am not writing this with the intention of putting activists on the spot, but rather to document what happened so that we can all learn from this experience. I also hope that activists will be careful to not be guided by fear or security fetishes. This is a tough thing to write because there are a lot of reasons to have fear that are completely justified. That said, there is an important need to not let that fear control us or paralyze the movement.
Malcolm X was assassinated while speaking at the Audubon Ballroom. He gained a lot of notoriety since becoming a minister for the Nation of Islam and arguably even more so after he was expelled. He basically had to look over his shoulder all of the time. But despite this constant, very real danger, he continued to speak and organize worldwide. Despite the dangers that were presented by exposing his long-time friend, mentor and prophet Elijah Muhammad, the powerful leader of the Nation of Islam—he did it. Despite the dangers of speaking out against the US Government for its completely horrific racist practices—he did it. So, in thinking about the tremendous courage of Malcolm X, it would be wrong to call someone a coward and to shame them for not living up to his larger than life example, but if we can embody a small fraction of his character, I think we would find a heck of a lot of courage for our own work.
Attached is a letter by a member of the Socialist Alternative who was very moved by the video that exposed Kshama Sawant. I don’t think that she was the only member moved. I think the Seattle blogger who resigned from the SA after 7 years, was also moved. I hope the OA206 activists who confronted Sawant can be proud of that result. I hope that they can continue their best work to escalate the exposure so that we can build a lasting independent mass organization to end this horrible system of exploitation, fear and brutality. I hope that they can help each other to develop the confidence and courage that we all need to keep from being controlled by fear.
If we want our work to make an impact, the sacrifice we will be forced to make will be our anonymity and privacy. Our greatest strengths and faults will be exposed. I believe that those who protect this system have more to fear from that than we do.
An open letter by a member of the SA:
Last week I almost talked myself into attending a fundraiser for a local Democratic party political candidate.
I almost justified this to myself, even though Socialist Alternative stands for breaking with the Two Parties of Big Business. I have been a dues paying member of SA Tacoma for 3 years. I am firmly and openly critical of the Democratic party to anyone who will listen. If I almost broke with those principles, I wonder how many other SA members/socialists/progressives were influenced by the latest move by Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant? How many other people will say, “well this democrat might help me with …… if I support their campaign,” “quietly attending their fundraiser as their friend won’t hurt anything,” “attending a fundraiser doesn’t mean I’m endorsing them.”
From “What We Stand For” in SA newspaper: “Unions and social movement organizations should stop funding and supporting the Democratic and Republican Parties and instead organize independent left wing, anti-corporate candidates and coalitions as a first step toward building a workers’ party.”
Guess why I almost justified going to this democratic party candidate’s fundraiser?
A new political party recently started by some activists who I know. I was going to ask them what their orientation will be towards the Democratic Party. I am 99% sure of what their orientation will be, based on what I know about the people who created the new political party.
But, then I thought, “do I really want to go there right now?” Do I really have a leg to stand on considering that Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant recently attended a fund raiser for one of Democratic party’s “progressive” gatekeepers? She was caught on camera defensively justifying it? I did watch the video myself, but it has since been removed from the internet.
Kshama is in the leadership of Socialist Alternative and she is the most famous “socialist” in America. Several of my fellow marxists have said that Sawant and SA have become like European Social Democrats. SA is no longer acting like a revolutionary socialist organization in my opinion.
I sent Kshama a private message regarding my concerns.
In the last few years I have had several political disagreements with Socialist Alternative. Nonetheless I have stayed in the organization because, despite the disagreements, SA seemed like the most viable left political party that had firm principles regarding the democratic party.
Kshama attending King County Council Member Larry Gosset’s fundraiser and her defense of him is a significant breach of principle. It just continue’s the pattern that I have observed, of SA leadership spending more time and energy trying to appeal to middle class voters and build relationships with union leadership and democratic party leadership than they do on building a base among workers, youth and the poor.
I know that Kshama is facing a fight to keep her seat on the city council. SA is thinking they must build coalitions with people like Gosset in order to do that. Three Democrats have announced they are running against Sawant. In my opinion it would be better to remain firm on the principle of not supporting Democratic candidates. SA could emphasize to Gossett’s supporters, “Look, Gossett should leave the democratic party if he really is so progressive. His party is running candidates agains the only socialist, woman of color on the city council! “
Kshama Sawant is betraying our principles in an attempt to hold onto that city council seat. I have been told before by SA leadership that our political candidates are a reflection on our entire organization.
This is not what I joined SA for