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Q&A: A socialist on student activism

Councilwoman hopes to build a movement to resist Trump Administration

Oscar Zahner, political correspondent
Originally published March 14, 2017

Miles WhitworthCouncilwoman Kshama Sawant speaking at the Inauguration Day protest. She is one of very few socialists elected to political office in the country.

Miles Whitworth

Councilwoman Kshama Sawant speaking at the Inauguration Day protest. She is one of very few socialists elected to political office in the country.

City council member Kshama Sawant is no stranger to activism. One of the only socialists elected to political office in the country, Sawant made a name for herself by organizing demonstrations for tenant’s rights, the increased minimum wage and marriage equality.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory, Sawant’s unique political affiliation and her penchant for community organization has manifested in a series of anti-Trump rallies. Defeating Trump’s agenda at the local level has become one of Sawant’s primary concerns.

The Talisman was fortunate enough to sit down with Sawant to discuss her recent activism, her thoughts on the future under President Trump and the power students have to affect that future.

The complete interview with Sawant can be read on the Talisman website, at ballardtalisman.com.

What do you fear most from a Trump presidency?

“Judging by the state of the executive orders to the cabinet choices and the Supreme Court nominees, I think it is very clear that Trump, and Steve Bannon, and the whole right-wing bigot- dominated administration are very serious about carrying out Trump’s campaign promises: a wall against Mexico, discrimination against immigrants, seriously going against women’s reproductive rights and even going after labor unions. Most importantly, I imagine that we will see entire communities in America being targeted if we do not build movements of mass resistance and civil disobedience immediately.”

Speaking specifically to walkouts, what’s your take on school districts leaving absences for protest unexcused?

“I think that the school district has a historic opportunity to stand with the righteous students who are fighting against the agenda of Trump and the billionaire cause. If they take the position that they’re going to penalize or punish these courageous students, that’s quite shameful on their part.”

“Addressing the second question, you can see an example of community action in the protests at SeaTac. After Trump’s executive order, some passengers that were flying from certain countries were actually detained and were going to be deported. It was the direct and urgent community response at SeaTac, and at JFK, that put the Trump administration’s back against the wall, and forced them to back down from deportation. To me, the SeaTac action represents the first days of real civil disobedience that many of our generations had, which inspired us to say, ‘we can go much farther than this.’ In terms of what we should do, I think it’s a twofold process. We’ve seen one part of that process in the SeaTac response: immediate responses to dastardly actions like Trump’s executive order. The second part of the process involves actions that we must take with a lot of deliberation. For example, the Socialist Alternative is calling for massive demonstrations on Women’s Day, March 8. This is going to be a long-term struggle, so we’re going to need to take action around concrete political demands. We need to demand an end to sexual violence on university campuses, we need to demand that there is no attack on reproductive rights, and, I believe, we need to demand full coverage health care for all. Another example of a day we plan for is May Day, which has historically been a day for immigrant rights. In 2006, for instance, there was an attempt by congress to pass a piece of legislation that was very bad for immigrants. And on May Day of 2006, the immigrant activist community organized nationwide strike activity, called ‘A Day Without Immigrants.’ That’s the power of the working class. This machine of capitalism entirely depends on these millions of people going to work. It’s that kind of courage, where working people refuse to cooperate, that’s when you can have massive impact on the status quo.”

What do you think young people, who may not be part of the labor force, and may not have the power to strike, can do?

“If you look at the period of radical movements in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, those may not have happened had it not been for young people on high school and college campuses who played both a direct and catalytic role in building social movements. I would say that campus movements are extremely key to what we can do on March 8 and May 1. And I would say that we’ve already shown one indication of what students can do on Inauguration Day. We had socialist students organizing peaceful walkouts from 16 campuses. That’s a small glimpse of what students can do. Student leaders can work with labor unions and other movements, and can potentially organize mass walkouts that could turn into huge rallies. There’s a spirit of rebellion among young people right now, and that’s what gives me the most confidence and hope in carrying out my own work.”

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Q&A: A socialist on student activism