NY to Seattle: Why is support growing for American Socialism?

Jul 3, 2018, 1:27 PM | Updated: Jul 4, 2018, 6:39 am
American Socialism...
Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant (left) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (right) who won a New York Democratic primary in June 2018. (AP, MyNorthwest)
(AP, MyNorthwest)

The victory of Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has impressed many, including establishment Democrats as she defeated the chair of the House Democratic Caucus in New York’s primary.

RELATED: Is Seattle really a “Socialist hellhole?”

Ocasio-Cortez — to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District — is a good example of why Socialism has growing support in America, according to author and Professor Kristen Ghodsee.

“I think what people like Ocasio-Cortez are talking about when they are talking about Democratic Socialism as part of her identity … are these large federal platforms like Medicare for all, things like guaranteed federal support for college or trade school education,” Ghodsee told Seattle’s Morning News on KIRO Radio. “She’s also talking about making sure that there are no homeless people, that Americans have access to housing and food …”

Ocasio-Cortez garnered headlines for her defeat of an establishment candidate. But four other women, all Democratic Socialists, won races in the Pennsylvania primary. Ghodsee said that data shows young women are more inclined to support Socialist candidates, given their stance on women’s rights.

“The same way that wealthy people in this country over the last 30 years — some would argue a lot longer than that — have really made the government work in their interests, young millennial women are waking up to the fact that they can also make the government work in their interests by sheer numbers, showing up and pounding the pavement,” Ghodsee said.

Baby boomers vs millennial American Socialism

Another aspect is shifting generational demographics, according to Ghodsee. Millennials and younger voters are coming up in a world far apart from their Baby Boomer counterparts. She notes that millennials will outnumber baby boomers in 2019 (73 million millennials to 72 million baby boomers).

“It was almost as if you could see the generational battle lines being drawn, just from the visuals with these young candidates coming up (in the last primary),” Ghodsee said. “(Baby boomers) associate the word ‘Socialism’ and the policies of Socialism with the Cold War. There’s a lot of baggage about the history of 20th Century state Socialism in Eastern Europe … for younger voters, they don’t associate Socialism with Russia, or the Soviet Union, or Poland, or the East German Stasi. They associate it with Norway, or Sweden, or Denmark, or Finland, or Iceland. They see it as a viable, possible future for this country.”

The America that baby boomers thrived in, and the country that millennials are existing in are quite different, Ghodsee argues.

“Baby boomers had a lot going for them after the second World War … the economy was booming, we were a big superpower,” she said. “Millennials are saddled with debt for college. They have very bleak prospects for home ownership. There is the rise of the gig economy; baby boomers could count on a career that lasted 30 years. Millennials are never going to have a career that lasts more than a couple years.”

“They are trying to create a vision of an America for the world we live in now,” Ghodsee said. “Unfortunately, for the sake of the baby boomers, their ideas of how the politics of this country should work are still based in a vision of an America of the past that doesn’t exist anymore for people under the age of 30.”

Socialist Sawant in Seattle

While it’s growing support on the East Coast, Seattle’s relationship with American Socialism has been rocky because of one of its council members, Kshama Sawant.

Sawant lost a race for Washington state’s House of Representatives before she won a seat on the Seattle City Council in November 2013. She has represented council district 3 since 2014. Sawant is a member of Socialist Alternative, which is its own branch of American Socialism. Sawant supports public housing and moving Seattle’s large corporations — like Amazon and Microsoft — into public control. She was also a leading figure in the campaign for a $15 minimum wage.

But the optics of Sawant and Ocasio-Cortez may appear quite different to voters. Ghodsee notes that Ocasio-Cortez comes across civil, clear, and to the point.

“She’s hoping to create a caucus within Congress with Democrats and Democratic Socialists who are going to be pushing for these things; not just at the local level, not just at the state level, but at the federal level,” Ghodsee said. “And that is what has shaken up the establishment, the Democratic Party establishment, and most Americans who didn’t see this coming.”

Support and opposition for Seattle’s Councilmember Sawant seem equally passionate.

Sawant has recently called for independent candidates to take down four of her Liberal council colleagues who she says are “corporate backed.” While she was at it, she didn’t have friendly words about two other council members, saying they were a “disappointing spectacle.” She said the Democratic Party has “failed to be a reliable voice for working people.” The harsh words came after the council backtracked on its controversial head tax.

The Seattle council member has also targeted Amazon as a means of pushing her political agenda. She has promoted the mantras of “Tax Amazon” and “Bezos Bullying.” Meanwhile, Sawant’s supporters have turned city meetings into a sort of circus. They have grown unruly when they didn’t get their way, prompting the council to consider new rules for their meetings.

RELATED: Sawant says Seattle is a playground for the rich

Sawant’s demeanor and discourse have drawn the ire of many Seattle residents. Multiple online petitions are calling for her resignation — one gathered nearly 25,000 signatures. Sawant was also sued by two police officers after she called them “murderers” at a public meeting.

Sawant has also stoked animosity from fellow Socialists and Seattle workers who she says she fights for. One self-proclaimed Socialist from Sawant’s district publicly called for the council member to resign. She was also shouted down at a demonstration she organized against Amazon by union members working on construction jobs for Amazon’s growing Seattle headquarters.

Sawant’s Socialist reign in Seattle began a few years ahead of Ocasio-Cortez’s primary win in New York. But while American Socialism is gaining momentum on the East Coast, some in Seattle are wondering if Sawant’s Socialist era in Seattle is waning.

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NY to Seattle: Why is support growing for American Socialism?