Seattle socialist councillor — ‘Our fight is for systemic change’

June 18, 2020
Black Lives Matter protesters in Seattle. Photo: Lisa Ahlberg/

Socialist councillor in Seattle Kshama Sawant addressed protesters on June 10, in the wake of their takeover of Seattle’s Eighth Precinct, from which police have been driven out. Following is an abridged transcript of her speech.

We must not underestimate what has happened here. The East Precinct is not just any precinct. It was the flagship of the Seattle Police Department and it has now been taken away from them.

I believe that we should not stop there. We should demand that the building doesn’t just stay boarded up, that the building does not go back to the police quietly, while we are not watching, but that the building is converted as a public resource, as a community centre for restorative justice.

We didn’t just defeat the police. The police are simply the outward face of repression under capitalism. What we defeated here is the political establishment of the city, under whose watch, 30 people have been murdered by the police since 2011. And under whose watch, housing has become more and more unaffordable and rents have skyrocketed and resulted in massive gentrification.

Our fight is not just against the police, our fight is for systemic change.

And the cops who maced us, who tear gassed us, who did all forms of brutality and violence against us, they had all kinds of weaponry with them, but they couldn't defeat us because we had the biggest weapon of all, which is multiracial, working-class solidarity.

And other victories have been won as well, nationwide, including in Minneapolis, where the establishment has been forced to bring charges against all four killer cops and to upgrade the charge from 3rd to 2nd degree murder against Derek Chauvin, who put his knee on the neck of George Floyd.

All of these victories show that when we fight by building solidarity among oppressed people, we can win.

One of the demands from the community is to defund the police by at least 50% and for that money to go to socially constructive programs like grassroots initiatives for restorative justice and other services. And I have already pledged, as you know, as part of the People's Budget campaign, to bring that legislation to defund police by 50% to the City Council very soon.

My office has brought forward two different pieces of legislation: one is to ban Seattle police from purchasing any chemical or so-called "crowd control" weapons; and the other is to ban the police from using choke holds.

We are also demanding Mayor Jenny Durkan, under whose watch such racist brutality has been enacted, must go.

We know that demanding accountability from the police, from the establishment, is like saying the police should police themselves. That is why our movement has to demand an elected community oversight board, with full power over the police.

There is a debate: should we demand the police be defunded by 50% along with other concrete demands? Or should we instead call for the police to be abolished?

We recognise that the police cannot just be re-imagined or rebranded out of existence under capitalism. In Minneapolis, politicians have made promises along those lines.

The politicians and the establishment are under pressure from the movement — a good thing. However, the politicians will make all kinds of promises and then break them.

But it is up to us: if we want to win a society free of police and free of oppression, we have to understand that the police exist for a reason in a system like capitalism, as do the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and all the other forces of the repressive state apparatus.

That reason is to defend capitalism — a bankrupt system that needs repression to divide us and enforce a deeply unequal and unjust society, in which hundreds of millions face hunger and billions have no healthcare to speak of, while a few amass unimaginable wealth.

Capitalism has given us a world where 8 billionaire men own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world, and 14 million Americans are currently unemployed. This kind of system needs repression to defend itself, because, as Malcolm X said, you can’t have capitalism without racism.

To achieve a society free of police we need a fundamentally different kind of society. That is why I am a socialist. I am fighting for a world based on solidarity and equality, in which the world’s resources and all the major corporations are democratically owned and controlled by workers. Such a world based on equality and cooperation will not need police and repression.

I am not just holding out a vision. I am fighting. And we need to fight to hold police accountable in every manner possible right now.

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