With a packed City Hall full of clenched pumping fists, Seattle's newly elected socialist city councilmember Kshama Sawant took to the stage yesterday to deliver quite the inauguration speech.
"In this system the market is God," Sawant said into the microphone, "and everything is sacrificed on the altar of profit. Capitalism has failed the 99%."
Between Sawant's fiery oratory and the induction of Seattle's first openly gay mayor, Ed Murray, City Hall transformed into a television-worthy docudrama at yesterday's inauguration.
Those in attendance reacted as such—screaming like a crowd at a rock show. The room, crammed full of people holding "15 NOW" signs aloft, erupted in a din of cheers, chanting "KSHAMA! KSHAMA!" as Sawant accepted her position on the council. Sawant's speech (full transcript here) criticized global capitalism, Seattle's skyrocketing rent, inaccessible health care, and of course—the lack of a $15/hour minimum living wage.
"I will do my utmost to represent the disenfranchised and the excluded, the poor and the oppressed, by fighting for a $15/hour minimum wage, affordable housing, and taxing the super-rich for a massive expansion of public transit and education," Sawant said. "But my voice will be heard by those in power only if workers themselves shout their demands from the rooftops and organize en masse."
Skip to 31:23 for Sawant's speech and 66:10 for Murray's.
Sawant's effect is already being felt on the council—Mayor Ed Murray took to his Facebook page the day before the inauguration to post a scornful public letter in response to a Sawant quote from a Seattle Times article. In the article, Sawant claims Murray's recent $15 an hour executive order was a reaction to "pressure from below," referencing the grassroots campaign she led that made living wages its poster issue.
In Murray's Facebook response, the Mayor wrote he was "disappointed" in Sawant's suggestion, and that his commitment to $15 an hour "was driven by my moral commitment, legislative history, and my personal experience growing up."
As an interesting sidenote, the three councilmembers inducted before Sawant (Mike O'Brien, Nick Licata, and Sally Bagshaw) all called out $15 minimum wage as an issue in their respective speeches—drawing a few eyebrow raises from Sawant sitting in the sidelines. Bagshaw earned the biggest applause of her speech when she called out Sawant by name, saying the socialist would certainly have "more to say on the issue."
Whether or not Sawant is the primary source of the newfound interest in living wage issues, it's a topic that's clearly caught fire on city council now.
Ed Murray's historic inauguration as the city's first openly gay mayor was preceeded by Diverse Harmony, a gay-straight alliance youth choir, singing "Go the Distance" from Disney's Hercules. State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken also read a poem she wrote for the occasion, including a line suggesting that in light of a snow storm, “Mr. Mayor, don’t plow your own street first.”
The line prompted the nun standing behind me to ask her friend, "Did that line about Murray plowing his own street seem a bit raunchy to you?"
Murray was inducted alongside his husband Michael Shiosaki and former Washington State Governor/current US Amabassador to China, Gary Locke. He was sworn in on a 19th century Irish bible.
"We live in a moment in history where government and it's ability to function have been called into question," Murray said in his speech. "I reject that cynicism. Government can function again, and Seattle can lead the way."
Murray's speech hit on a number of topics ranging from the gender pay gap, climate change, social justice, public transit, and police reform. Ultimately, he called on cooperation and community as a solution—a seeming jab at his predecessor Mike McGinn's reputation for butting heads.
"I see government not as a place for political posturing, but a place for pragmatism," Murray said. "A forum not of ideology but of innovation. Where we draw strength from our diversity, not play to our deepest divisions."
Despite the call for togetherness, Murray's speech was punctuated by the loud maniacal laughing of a man holding a "15 NOW" sign, who was escorted from City Hall saying "Who is this guy?" over and over to himself.
After all was said and done, Seattle's littlest Socialist, 10-year-old Anya Winter, made the rounds handing out promotional material for the living wage campaign.
"I just want to help spread it—I don't know much about politics but I want Seattle to be a better place," Winter said as this giant man's hand reached in to grab a flier.
Also in attendance was Kris "Sonics Guy" Brannon, Seattle's leading public voice to bring the city's basketball team back. A vocal supporter for McGinn's campaign, Brannon said he came to see Sawant's speech since "the Sonicsgate guys endorsed her."
"Talk about a lightning speech," Brannon said. "All the council members mentioned $15/hour before she did, and she clearly brought the most people out today. I heard Murray went on record saying he wanted to bring the Sonics back though, so I'm still hoping that happens."
And then, everyone ate City of Seattle cake.