We stand with Kshama Sawant

Chris Mobley reports on the bigoted right-wing campaign against the socialist Seattle City Council member after her calls to protest Donald Trump's inauguration.

Socialist activist and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant (Shannon Kringen)Socialist activist and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant (Shannon Kringen)

SEATTLE CITY Council member Kshama Sawant, the best-known socialist elected official in the country, has been the target of thousands of threatening e-mails and phone calls following her remarks at a press conference and an anti-Trump protest.

Speaking the night after Donald Trump won the election, Sawant gave an impassioned plea for resistance to the incoming Trump administration, starting with a national day of action to "Occupy Inauguration Day."

"Let's have a massive protest and tell America we don't accept a racist agenda," Sawant said during her press conference. "On inauguration days--on the 20th and 21st of January--let's do a nationwide shutdown and occupy inauguration."

Sawant repeated her call that evening at a rally called by the organization she belongs to, Socialist Alternative: "On inauguration day, we are going to shut it down!"

This call has been met with a right-wing backlash, largely organized over social media by Trump supporters and others on the right.

"Videos of Kshama specifically advocating for protests against Trump, were circulated on various social media pages in support of Trump," Sawant's legislative aide Ted Virdone said in an interview. "The videos were viewed millions of times, and memes were created calling for Kshama to be fired."

"Our office received thousands of phones calls by angry Trump supporters," Virdone added. "Many also called the mayor asking him to fire her. Others called the office of the council president, calling for Kshama to be impeached."

An online petition demanding Sawant's impeachment for "using her platform to incite violence and call for protests and riots" has over 18,000 signatures as this article was being written.

Sawant's calls for national protests and opposition to Trump is unlikely to cost her support in the district she represents, which include Seattle's historically Black and LGBT neighborhoods--many of the petition signatories don't even reside in Washington state.

Sawant won re-election last November with a sizeable 55 percent of the vote, despite a well-funded campaign by an opponent, a former Urban League president, who had the backing of the city's political and economic elite.

The International Socialist Organization, publisher of this website, issued a statement in support of Sawant that reads in part: "The ISO stands in solidarity with Councilwoman Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative and denounces the racist, sexist and anti-immigrant threats made against her and her office. An injury to one is an injury to all."

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SAWANT'S OFFICE has been deluged not merely with demands that she lose her job, but with racist and sexist e-mails and phone calls. Q13 Fox reported that a Sawant staffer was told over the phone, "I will come and tattoo a swastika on your head and on that b***h's head."

The following sampling of e-mails received by Sawant's office illustrates the disgusting nature of the attacks:

-- Go back to India bitch, I am tired of being shamed because I'm a white male. You automatically think I'm a racist. How about you go the [expletive] back to India or wherever you came from?

-- We didn't riot with Obama was elected, ever stop to think we see [Obama] as a racist? But we carried on and lived to fight another day. Stop being such a cry baby bitch and go hang yourself.

-- Listen Bitch - Nothing you can do will change the fact that Trump is no our President. Don't like it, get out of my country.

-- Stop being a cry baby bitch and go hang yourself

As Sawant told Q13 Fox's Brandi Kruse:

This sort of thing that's happening is to be expected, I think. Unfortunately, what is happening now with Trump's election is not that the majority of America has turned racist and misogynist and bigoted, but that somebody like Trump, a right-wing demagogue getting elected has given a mandate, a certain sense of acceptance and emboldening of those who are racist and misogynist. Those are the people who are calling my office.

These threats fall into the same pattern of hate crimes and bigoted threats that have been reported in large numbers across in the country in the wake of Trump's victory.

It's clear that a minority of right-wingers feel emboldened to go on the attack, and a prominent socialist Indian-American woman is a clear target for these creeps. Defending Kshama Sawant is an important part of opposing and exposing all the racism and sexism that has risen up from the gutters with Trump.

This is also why Sawant's call for a nationwide movement of resistance to Trump is so important, not only to oppose his policies, but also to build opposition to these same far-right racists who have committed these attacks. An outpouring of protests can go a long way towards making the popular internet meme Make Racists Afraid Again a reality.

"The anti-Trump protests reveal that the right doesn't actually have a mandate," says Virdone, Sawant's aide. "This is why they are so angry about them."

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ANOTHER DIMENSION to the attack on Sawant is coming from some media figures who condemn the overt bigotry of the emails, but echo the right-wing argument against the right to protest.

For example, in a confrontation with Sawant, KIRO 7 reportter Amy Clancy peppered Sawant with Facebook messages such as "any damages or issues caused by the protesting in Seattle should be billed and charges filed to Kshama Sawant" and "I'm scheduled to travel to Seattle next week. I see that the city council is supporting riotous behavior. What is being done to keep people safe?"

Q13 Fox's Brandi Kruse set up Sawant with a seemingly neutral question that equated protest with violence: "When you call for mass protests, there are some people who won't hear that part about peaceful... If your words sparked some of protest in Seattle and things got out of hand, as a council women who called for the protests, what would you do in that moment to quell it?"

These questions echo the blatantly false right-wing campaign to equate protests against the incoming president with "riotous behavior" that requires a force to "quell it." In fact, the first line of the petition calling for Sawant to be impeached reads: "Kshama Sawant is not respecting the will of the people. She's using her platform to incite violence and call for protests and riots."

The right wing and law enforcement have a long history of using concerns about "law and order" and "riotous behavior" as a means to curtail civil liberties including the right to protest.

This is especially dangerous at a time when the right is emboldened, and the incoming administration has signaled its plan to intensify the attack on immigrants, Muslims and movements like Black Lives Matter.

Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, the right to protest still exists in the U.S. These journalists are engaging in a dangerous game of normalizing the curtailing of dissent by the state.

Unfortunately, the attack on Sawant hasn't been confined to mainstream outlets. Writing in the liberal Stranger newspaper, which supported Sawant's election campaigns in the past, Charles Mudede bizarrely accused Sawant of collaborating with Republican voter suppression schemes because she didn't support Hillary Clinton's pro-corporate campaign for president--and then insisted that Sawant should not call for protesting Trump.

At a time when Sawant is being attacked by the right for challenging Trump's bigotry, such slanders from the left are especially destructive.

It's more important than ever to assert our rights and put Trump on the defensive before he ever sets foot in the White House. As Virdone put it, "The best way to defend the right to protest is by joining Kshama at the inauguration protests."