Tag Archives: Socialist Alternative

Charges Against Kshama Sawant & Two Co-Defendants Dropped

Independent Political Report

All charges against Councilmember Sawant, Reverend John Helmiere, and Alaska Airlines baggage handler Socrates Bravo were thrown out today as the judge heard the City of Seatac’s case and found it uncompelling.

“The city decided to treat it like the crime of the century, yet could not prove their case,” remarked Dmitri Iglitzin, lawyer for the defendants.

“This ruling has not only vindicated us, but has really vindicated the voters of the city of Seatac who voted in the $15 minimum wage law and all the low-wage workers around the nation who are currently in a battle for $15 an hour,”said Councilmember Sawant…

To read more, click here.

Real Change News: Introverted Socialist

Kshama Sawant

(The following was originally published in Real Change News.)

Kshama Sawant helped raise the minimum wage. Now she wants more affordable housing. The City Councilmember says she’s shy. But that won’t stop her from taking on affordable housing and SHA in particular.

At 5 p.m., on Sept. 23, at a protest planning meeting at NewHolly, a Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) mixed-income neighborhood, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and her staff looked pretty disorganized. An SHA informational meeting about Stepping Forward, a proposed program that would significantly raise rents on thousands of SHA tenants, would soon begin, and Sawant’s team had forgotten markers to make signs. They had even forgotten tape to hang up the signs. The protest planning meeting was sparsely attended: five SHA tenants, five Socialist Alternative members, a representative of Radical Women, a union organizer, one unaffiliated guy, an interested passerby and Sawant. Fifteen people.

There were stacks of leaflets in five languages: Somali, Tigrinya (Eritrea), Amharic (Ethiopia), Spanish and English. Sawant’s staff had printed up hundreds of signs with one of three slogans: “Tax the Rich,” “Stepping Backwards” or “No Rent Increase.” There were also small “chant sheets” with suggested slogans to shout out during the meeting.

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Socialist Alternative: Hong Kong: Massive Anti-Government Protests After Attempted Police Crackdown

Socialist Alternative

(The following was originally published on the Socialist Alternative website.)

This was the weekend that changed everything in Hong Kong. Mass popular resistance on the streets, by night and day, with mass gatherings of 100,000 and up to 180,000, spearheaded by the youth and a weeklong student strike, has forced the unelected Hong Kong government and thousands of heavily armed riot police to beat a retreat.

Global media, grasping the unprecedented nature of these events, call this a “historic standoff”. With the mass protests continuing to grow and feeling enormous self-confidence since defeating Sunday’s massive police attack, the movement in Hong Kong represents, in the words of Associated Press, a “major pushback” against the Beijing regime’s anti-democratic agenda in Hong Kong, and in China.

The vicious police onslaught of Sunday 28 September produced shock and anger throughout society on a scale not seen before. This is the most serious political crisis in Hong Kong since its reversion to Chinese rule in 1997. There are some features of a pre-revolutionary situation, with a government in deep crisis having suffered a loss of control and authority. The state institutions – especially the police – are now widely distrusted and despised. The territory’s tenuous ‘autonomy’ as a special region of China is now distrusted or rejected as a fake by a majority of Hong Kong people.

Yet this movement is almost entirely without organisations, programme or leadership, replicating a pattern we have seen in similar mass protest movements around the world. There is a powerful anti-party mood within the demonstrations, and while Hong Kong’s opposition bourgeois democratic parties continue to issue statements identifying themselves with the movement, monopolising most media interviews, these parties are almost completely absent on the ground inside the protests.

While this ‘spontaneous’ model has proven itself more than equal to the task of kick-starting the movement on the streets, more will be needed: steps to organise, build democratic strike committees and occupation committees, and work out a clear programme of demands to take the struggle forward to defeat the government’s anti-democratic agenda.

A crucial issue is the need to spread the movement across the border, by issuing appeals to workers and youth in mainland China to join the struggle against China’s one-party (CCP) dictatorship. Clearly, as long as the CCP rules there will be no possibility of democratic elections in Hong Kong – the main focus of this movement – and only the toppling of this regime will open that road. This task requires greater forces than the masses of Hong Kong alone can muster. Rather than appealing to the US administration or ex-colonial masters Britain for support, as some pan democratic organisations are doing (for US and British capitalism, financial deals with China always trump concerns over democracy and human rights), the protest movement must seek allies among grassroots workers and youth in China and worldwide.

Umbrella Revolution

The movement has widely been dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution” on social media, due to the inverted umbrellas used by protesters as protection against tear gas and especially pepper spray. On Sunday, September 28, the police launched wave after wave of tear gas attacks – 87 times according to their own statement – in an attempt to clear the protests around the government headquarters in Admiralty. Not since 1967, then under British colonial rule, has tear gas been used against Hong Kong demonstrators (it was used by police in 2005 at the anti-WTO protests, but these were largely ‘international’ in composition).

By Monday evening, September 29, massive crowds totalling around 180,000 had gathered in three locations around Hong Kong. Some sporadic barricades have been thrown across major roads, and on Sunday night a ‘general strike’ call was issued by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU). While the latter is an extremely significant development – again it is unprecedented in Hong Kong for a political strike to be announced, something the supporters of the CWI, Socialist Action, have previously been alone in urging – the participation of workers in the strike is at this stage quite limited.

University students, increasingly joined by school students who have faced huge pressure and threats from school authorities, have extended last week’s strike action, with walkouts and sit-in protests on a larger scale than before. Such is the speed of events that the main focus of the demonstrations is now to demand the resignation of Chief Executive CY Leung, an already hated figure whose role as mastermind of the weekend’s crackdown only adds to his list of crimes.

Role of youth

This is not only a crisis for Hong Kong’s ruling elite. Through crass brutality, in its attempt to show a ‘firm hand’ against democracy protests, the government – under pressure from and eager to demonstrate its loyalty to Beijing – has triggered what is potentially the biggest challenge to the one-party (CCP) dictatorship in a quarter century.

“This is already much bigger than anything the Beijing or Hong Kong authorities expected,” commented Larry Diamond of Stanford University in the New York Times. “They have no strategy for peacefully defusing it, because that would require negotiations, and I don’t think President Xi Jinping will allow that,” he added.

Not surprisingly, China has tightened internet controls, blocking online searches for words such as “tear gas” and “occupy” and banning Instagram, which had been used to spread images of the Hong Kong protests in China.

It is extremely significant that this movement, like many others worldwide, began with the youth, and specifically with the school strike that commenced on 22 September. For much of the past two years, supporters and student members of Socialist Action, have been alone in advocating a citywide school strike, with the idea that this could trigger strikes among workers, as a key weapon in the democracy struggle. This perspective has been confirmed almost to the last detail in the events of the past week.

The current huge protests and street occupations evolved out of the weeklong school strike, in which around 13,000 university students participated. These were joined by around 1,500 secondary school students, some as young as 12 and 13, on Friday, September 26. On Friday evening, a group of student protesters managed to break the cordon around the ‘Civic Square’ and began an occupation there. This is a nominally public protest zone at the government headquarters that has been fenced off by police since July, in anticipation of ‘occupy’ protests.

Around 80 students and other demonstrators were arrested on Friday and Saturday, with police using pepper spray and heavy-handed tactics. The 17-year-old convenor of student group Scholarism, Joshua Wong, was arrested and held for 40 hours, then released without charge. Initially however, the police announced Wong would face three charges including the serious charge of “assaulting police”. The arrests of student activists, and excessive police violence, provided the spark for the weekend’s mass mobilisations.

Threat of escalation

At its highest point, 120,000 turned out on Sunday afternoon to protest the police repression against the students. Even after the first gas attacks on Sunday evening, around 50,000 remained and faced off against rows of riot police. Reports came, subsequently denied, that the police were preparing to use rubber bullets and bring in armoured cars equipped with ear-piercing ‘sound cannons’. In such a chaotic situation it is hard to know whether these were false rumours, perhaps deliberately circulated, or whether the reports were genuine but then the government and police leadership hesitated and drew back. The reports were taken seriously by leaders of the Occupy Central (OC) movement, however, who it should be stressed played no part in the student strike or the weekend’s mobilisations. It would be more accurate to say they ‘parachuted’ themselves into the demonstrations in order to claim a leading role once the scale of the movement was beyond all doubt.

On Sunday night, as rumours of bullets and armoured vehicles circulated, OC leader Chan Kin-man called on protesters in Admiralty to retreat. “It is a matter of life and death,” he said. Even leaders of the Federation of Students called on protesters to leave the area, something that was openly criticised by ‘Longhair’ Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, who urged the protesters to stand their ground.

While most protesters did evacuate the main protest site in Admiralty, new occupations sprang up in two other parts of the city, with around 3,000 assembling in Mong Kok, closing down Nathan Road, the main traffic artery through Kowloon. “Occupy Mong Kok” is still going strong at the time of writing, with around 30,000 gathering there on Monday night. Others camped overnight in Causeway Bay, another busy business and shopping district. So, the police attacks did not succeed as planned in dispersing and quelling the ‘Occupy’ movement. Instead the protests have ‘mestatised’ – in response to police tactics – into multiple occupations, which present a far bigger challenge for the police to crack down on.

This outcome represents a big victory for the protests in withstanding and overcoming what Willy Lam, a liberal commentator, described as “a massive show of force” by the police. The Hong Kong police have been preparing – with meticulous detail – for two years, since OC was first announced, to break up the occupation. Their task has been made easier by the repeated delays and prevarications of OC’s leaders. This has involved wholesale conversion of the police into a paramilitary force, staging numerous drills to harden the police ‘cadre’ as a political tool against the democracy struggle. Yet despite this, and the lack at this stage of cohesive organisation within the demonstrations, the police onslaught failed in the face of stubborn and heroic resistance.

End of illusions

Underlining the depth of the current crisis, this is the second time in a month that powerful illusions, built up by the ruling elite over decades, under British and then Chinese rule, have been smashed. The first occasion was the August 31 decision of China’s undemocratic fake ‘parliament’, the NPC, that killed off popular hopes of free elections for the next Chief Executive. This time, it is illusions in the Hong Kong Police Force – ‘Asia’s finest’ – that have been dealt a massive blow literally in the space of one night. Even Fung Wai-wah, the president of the very ‘moderate’ Professional Teachers’ Union, declared, “the police have made themselves enemy of the people.”

Significantly, one of the main slogans chanted towards the police by protesters since the attacks of Sunday night has been “Police, strike!” This is an appeal for police to refuse orders and undoubtedly poses new problems for police commanders as morale is dented and they are forced to completely rethink their strategies.

The destruction of decades-old illusions in the impartiality of the state, and Hong Kong’s sacred ‘rule of law’, is a result of the CCP’s increasingly hardline, repressive and rigid position, which is in turn a reflection of the deepening crisis within the dictatorship. The CCP resembles a machine with only one gear: repression. With the regime set on removing rather than installing ‘shock absorbers’ in the form of the limited political reforms favoured by bourgeois liberals, the political perspectives for China are increasingly towards a social explosion or series of explosions. Towards revolutionary upheavals, in other words, a foretaste of which we are now witnessing in Hong Kong.

This is shown very graphically by the worsening state crackdown in the western Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang, with hundreds killed this year in clashes with state forces, and a recent decision to ban beards from buses in some parts of the region! Last week a kangaroo court imposed a de facto life sentence on Muslim Uighur professor Ilham Tothi on a charge of ‘separatism’. Yet Tothi is widely seen as a moderate critic of the Chinese regime, advocating reform rather than revolution.

Likewise, in Hong Kong the regime has kicked away the ladder holding up the ‘moderate’ bourgeois pan democratic leaders, who wanted little more than an invite to talks over electoral changes. The ‘moderates’ were prepared to swallow most of Beijing’s undemocratic rules and controls in return for quite minor concessions, but it refused.

“One country, two systems” under pressure

This hardline approach is rapidly eroding the remaining tolerance towards the regime, in Hong Kong for example, where many bought into the idea that the city could coexist as a relatively democratic enclave within an authoritarian China. The supporters of the CWI in Hong Kong and China have long explained that this was not possible; that either the democracy struggle would spread across China – with the initial spark quite possibly coming from Hong Kong’s protest movements – resulting in the downfall of the dictatorship, or the dictatorship would increasingly seek to close down Hong Kong’s democratic space. This is the dynamic we are witnessing today.

A recent poll in the South China Morning Post published before the current mass movement, showed that 53 percent of people in Hong Kong now have no confidence in the “one country, two systems” formula (allowing Hong Kong a degree of autonomy) compared with 37 percent who have the opposite opinion. This has slumped from 76 percent who had faith in the “one country, two systems” arrangement in 2007. As we have explained in previous reports, Hong Kong ‘separatist’ moods and support for independence from China will inevitably increase as a result of the dictatorship’s present policies.

But Beijing, especially under Xi Jinping, fears the loss of control – in China and not just Hong Kong – should it allow even one window or door to open towards ‘free elections’ on the so-called Western model. It wants not only to put the city’s democratic process on hold, but to reverse it, imposing greater political control over the city.

The August NPC ruling is just one element in a plan that aims to cage the Hong Kong democracy struggle. In addition to militarising the police and tightening controls on the local media, this plan includes reducing the powers of the largely toothless Hong Kong legislature and transferring greater control, over the budget for example, to the next Chief Executive ‘elected by the people’ under the mock electoral system outlined in the NPC ruling. It is this grand project to bring Hong Kong more closely under authoritarian rule that has run into the wall of mass opposition in the past few days.

Massive support

The government’s plan to crush and discredit ‘OC’, and in this way ride out the storm of protests over Beijing’s undemocratic election proposals, is now in tatters. Despite massive propaganda against the occupation, and lurid warnings of “chaos” and “violence”, it’s evident which side has won the battle for public support through the events of this weekend.

The South China Morning Post reported that office workers on their way to work on Monday morning cheered the occupiers in Causeway Bay. The newspaper quoted an accountant who said the government had “underestimated the power of the people.” There are many reports of passers by bringing water and food and showing support.

The huge turnout on Monday evening and the mass chants of “Down with CY Leung” show where the movement is now at. The first stirrings of the working class, which has up to now not made an entrance as a distinct, organised and independent force within the democracy movement, is for socialists the most significant of all developments. While the response to the strike call has been mixed, reflecting the numerical weakness of the unions in Hong Kong over a long historical period, still some important groups stopped work in anger at the police crackdown. These included around 200 workers at the Coca Cola factory in Sha Tin, water workers, bus drivers, some bank employees and schoolteachers.

Occupy Central supplanted

In this struggle, the two-year-old ‘Occupy Central’ movement is little more than a footnote, a plan that was never put into practise and has since been swept aside by the ‘umbrella revolution’ improvised from below. As we have pointed out in our criticisms of OC leaders, their vision was always for a much smaller and largely symbolic protest, of just 10,000 participants, initially even stating that young people should not take part in the occupation. Every aspect of their plan resonated with a fear of ‘radical action’ and spontaneity. Reality has turned all this on its head.

So, while sections of the capitalist media – and we can understand why they do this – continue to present the OC leaders as initiators of the current mass movement, this is not the case at all. The current movement developed independently of the OC leaders who stood on the sidelines, playing no part either in the student strikes or the first wave of protests against police violence. This did not change until early on Sunday morning, September 28, when the mass movement was already speeding ahead and the OC leaders found themselves ‘running after the bus’.

As Socialist Action explained at OC’s inception in 2013, while supporting the call for a mass occupation, OC was also an attempt by the ‘moderate’ pan democratic leaders to rebuild their damaged authority within the democracy struggle, especially among the youth and many activists, and position themselves at the head of the coming showdown over electoral reform. While the idea of occupation corresponded with the popular mood for more radical struggle to achieve democracy, the aim of the ‘moderate’ pan democrats was to use the ‘OC’ brand to block more radical initiatives from below. The ‘moderates’ who are close politically to the OC leadership, and who until last month were still looking for a compromise with Beijing, have suffered big electoral losses in favour of more radical pro-democracy candidates in recent years as a result of their betrayals and rotten compromises with the dictatorship, particularly during the previous round of electoral reforms in 2010.

“The leaders of OC hesitated and delayed too many times,” says Sally Tang Mei-ching of Socialist Action. “When [OC leader] Benny Tai Yiu-ting came to the student protests, after two days of standoff with the police, and said he was announcing the start of Occupy Central, many people booed and even began to leave in anger.”

On almost every issue – timing, composition, strategy, not to mention their very limited and ‘moderate’ programme, the OC leaders have been out of sync with reality, and the mood of the masses. Even their choice of location, Central, has been bypassed by the actual development of the struggle. This movement is rather ‘Occupy Decentral’ – consciously adopting a devolved character across several areas to outmanoeuvre the police. The current movement emerged from below, from the demonstrators who have borne the brunt of police attacks, rather than from self-appointed ‘leaders’.

Socialist Action has stressed that what’s needed but still sadly lacking is a democratically elected leadership for the mass protests, an action committee to decide strategy and tactics, open to all groupings, parties and unions, but with no one group trying to impose a monopoly.

A new Tiananmen?

The weekend’s events have conjured up in the minds of many people parallels to the 1989 democracy struggle in China, and the brutal crackdown that followed it. In previous articles we have looked at the question of how far the Chinese regime would be prepared to go to block demands for free elections in Hong Kong. There is an extremely sharp and potentially explosive power struggle taking place within the one-party (CCP) dictatorship. Xi Jinping can ill afford to appear weak or mishandle a political crisis in Hong Kong. This could trigger a counterstrike upon Xi’s position from the ‘vested interests’ and ‘tigers’ (top officials) who have been targeted by purges in the past two years.

At the same time Xi’s concentration of ever more power in his own hands, a departure from the past 30 years or more of ‘group’ dictatorship, will inevitably place the onus upon him – with no peers to hide behind – when as now in Hong Kong the regime’s policies spectacularly misfire. Hong Kong now constitutes a major dilemma for Xi and his attempts to consolidate his control within the regime. As Edward Wong and Chris Buckley note in the New York Times: “… even modest concessions [to the Hong Kong protesters] could send signals across the border that mass protests bring results – a hint of weakness that Mr. Xi, a leader who exudes imperturbable self-assurance, seems determined to avoid, mainland analysts say. And small compromises are unlikely to placate a good many of the Hong Kong residents who have filled the streets.”

In its ruling in August, the CCP threw down the gauntlet, brushing aside even the minimal demands of the ‘moderate’ pan democrats and calculating it could contain or crush the challenge that seemed at that time to be coming from a timid OC leadership. Yet as we have seen, and as socialists warned was an increasing possibility, due in no small part to Beijing’s intransigence the current movement has erupted without and despite the ‘moderate’ leaders.

The initial attempt at mass repression has – much like several of the gas canisters thrown by the police – blown back in the face of the government. This has forced the CY Leung and the local state forces onto the back foot for the time being. On Monday, as reported by the Financial Times, the government announced the removal of the riot police from the streets (although this was only partly true).

Early on Monday morning the ‘good cops’ of the police public relations department were sent out to negotiate with protesters, asking ‘nicely’ if the roads could be left open for traffic, as if nothing had happened the night before! In the occupations in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay there is currently almost no police presence, while at the government compound in Admiralty protesters still face heavy police lines.

Even the mega firework display in Hong Kong harbour to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, on October 1, has been cancelled due to fears of protests. This is just a foretaste of how the current political crisis in Hong Kong can rebound upon Xi Jinping and puncture the triumphant image he wishes to promote.

China’s Global Times, a rabid government mouthpiece, carried an English-language editorial saying, “the radical activists are doomed.” On the paper’s Chinese language website, an article was deleted that said the People’s Armed Police, China’s anti-riot and anti-terror force, could assist Hong Kong police to put down the protests. “Support from the armed forces could quickly restore stability” in Hong Kong, it said. That such talk is being toned down for the time being indicates that even in Beijing – where there are signs of ‘disconnect’ and a poor grasp of realities on the ground, not only but especially in Hong Kong – there is now a recognition that an explosive political crisis has been created and a need to tread carefully.

Even the 5,000 PLA troops stationed in Hong Kong would not necessarily be sufficient to ‘restore order’ i.e. strike a decisive blow against the protests, especially with the increasingly decentralised character of the movement. Deploying Chinese troops would risk igniting an even bigger political backlash. For the Chinese regime and the Hong Kong capitalist establishment the PLA garrison in more useful as a deterrent, a threat rather than a serious intention.

That is not to say that PLA troops would never be used, including the drafting of reinforcements from over the border, in the event of a crisis and splits within the local Hong Kong state apparatus and police force. In the short-term however this is unlikely. The government’s tactic in coming days, as in Taiwan during the ‘sunflower movement’ earlier this year, will be to use paid gangsters and pro-CCP ‘volunteer groups’ to act as provocateurs who trigger clashes that can be used to discredit the movement and provide a pretext for a new police crackdown.

“Down with CY!”

Although the situation is extremely fast-moving, with sharp variations and changes possible, it seems now that the regime will hold back from unleashing a new repressive wave, and probably offer concessions, perhaps sacrifice an unpopular official (as it done on occasion before) in order to buy time and allow the crisis to pass.

It cannot be ruled out that CY will be forced to bow out in the interests of restoring ‘stability’ in Hong Kong, although his departure in the face of a mass protest movement will carry an enormous cost for both the Hong Kong and the Chinese regime. It will greatly raise the confidence of the democracy movement and vindicate the idea of audacious mass resistance. The call for CY’s ouster is now the central focus and demand of the mass movement. Even the OC leaders have called for the Chief Executive’s resignation, reflecting the pressure of mass anger they are feeling at this moment. On Monday night, CY issued a statement that he will “not compromise” – but as the crisis drags on open splits will emerge in the government camp, with the pressure mounting upon him.

Socialist Action has been active throughout this movement and is playing an important role in organising strikes among secondary school students through the Citywide School Strike Campaign (see link below). Socialist Action explains that genuine democracy can only be achieved by linking mass protests in Hong Kong with the coming revolutionary upheavals in China, where the gigantic working class is the most important force to change society and defeat the dictatorship. The struggle for real democracy cannot be won within the confines of capitalism, which everywhere including the ‘Western democracies’ favoured by pan democratic leaders, means the control of politics by unelected billionaires and big corporations. Capitalism means dictatorship, either by authoritarian regimes or by financial markets. Our alternative is a socialist society and democratically-run and planned economy that can eliminate rising poverty levels, housing misery, unemployment and low-paid contract labour.

Within the current mass protests Socialist Action stands for the creation of a mass workers’ party in Hong Kong and also in China, that links revolutionary democratic demands with the need for a clear socialist alternative.

  • Solidarity with Hong Kong’s ‘umbrella revolution’ of mass civil disobedience, strikes and occupations!
  • Spread the strike movement! Build unions and democratic strike committees of workers and students.
  • For immediate and full democracy in Hong Kong and China! Down with one-party CCP dictatorship!
  • Kick out CY Leung and his unelected government!
  • Oppose repression – no new Tiananmen crackdowns!

http://chinaworker.info/

Socialist Alternative: What is the Way Forward for the Environmental Movement?

Socialist Alternative

(The following was originally published on the Socialist Alternative website.)

 

Upwards of 400,000 people participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday. Billed as the largest climate change march in U.S. history, it far surpassed organizers’ original estimate of a 100,000 person turnout. The march was not only massive in size but also had a huge number of youth participants. It was a key moment in the radicalization of a generation. Huge numbers of students  – one contingent alone had over 50,000 people in it — were also present, they had been bussed in from all over the country. While many of them held signs that vaguely said, “Youth Choose Climate Justice,” there were also many who held bolder signs that read, “Youth Choose System Change.”

The significant union presence (including the SEIU, CWA, Teamsters, IBEW, AFSCME, UAW, NYSNA and the TWU) on Sunday’s march also shows a growing consciousness in the labor movement about the connection between our current economic system and the devastation of our environment.

The march spanned a total of about four miles, from 90th Street all the way down to 34th Street. Organizers established six primary “themes,” fitting each individual contingent into a broader category. Socialist Alternative’s contingent was grouped into the “Anti-Corporate Campaigns, Peace & Justice & More.” Our banner read: “Capitalism failed people and the planet; join the struggle for socialism.” Other nearby contingents were System Change Not Climate Change, as well as the Flood Wall Street contingent, a group that would go on to lead direct actions the next day, shutting

Beginning of a New Mass Movement

While the organizers of the march should be credited for setting off a new phase of the environmental movement, there were clear political weaknesses. The march  received sponsorship from a number of corporations, including Lockheed Martin, BP, and Goldman Sachs. The organizers also failed to put forward any clear demands and did not allow any groups to put forward speakers.

Most serious of all, while the organizers openly and correctly stated that one demonstration would not solve the problems facing the environment, they failed to provide any guidance or leadership on what the next steps of the movement would be.  If the march had called for taxes on the corporations and super-rich to fund a green jobs program, this could have given direction and impetus to future climate justice actions. From there, campaigns could be organized with mass protests on campuses and in communities to demand a huge expansion of public transportation and a transition to publicly-owned green energy.

But although the organizers weren’t clear on these points, the large numbers of the protesters were. The theme of “system change” appeared throughout the march, from the eco-socialist contingent to explicit calls for the need to overthrow capitalism, many on homemade signs. The calls for systemic change clearly indicate a real understanding among a broad swath of people of the need not just to reform our current capitalist system but to actually break with the system altogether. Of course, there is still a great deal of confusion about how to go about this or the next steps to be taken.

The hunger for answers was reflected in the overwhelmingly positive response Socialist Alternative got at the march. People were flocking to our tables looking for more information about our work, many of whom openly identified as socialists. What became clear from these discussions and the signs people were carrying is that an anti-corporate and even anti-capitalist consciousness is rapidly developing, spurred not only by the threat to the environment but also by the other products of capitalism: inequality, racism, sexism and war. Capitalism destroys more than just the environment, and it is our task to connect the struggle against human-caused climate change to the myriad of other injustices and degradations wrought by capitalism.

Building a Real Alternative

Deep frustration with the Democrats, particularly with the Obama administration, which has overseen a massive expansion of oil and gas production while talking about the need to do something about climate change, was a constant theme in our discussions at the march. The night before, Socialist Alternative participated in an electrifying panel with Kshama Sawant, Chris Hedges, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and Bernie Sanders which was attended by over 900 people in Manhattan (see a full video here). When Sawant encouraged Sanders to make a break with the Democrats, the church burst into applause, signifying people’s readiness for a real alternative to the choice between the “lesser of two evils.”

With so many people convinced of the need for system change, it becomes the task of socialists to explain and articulate what kind of system we need to put in capitalism’s place as well as the way forward for the movement.

Bold actions and campaigns are required to build on the momentum from September 21st. For example, on the same day, as already reported, the climate change protest in Seattle ended with a successful direct action to block an oil train. There is a rapidly growing movement on college campuses calling for divestment from fossil fuels. These campaigns and calls to action need to be broadened and lead to further mass mobilizations. The labor movement needs to become more involved and prepared to take solidarity action with the environmental movement.

The movement also needs to adopt a clear set of demands that can mobilize the widest possible support from the working class. As stated above, these should include the demand to tax the rich in order to create a massive green jobs program, a massive expansion of mass transit, and public ownership of the energy industry. But the movement also needs to establish independence from both political parties of corporate America. The environmental movement, alongside the movement for a $15 minimum wage and other social struggles, urgently requires expression through a new political force representing the interests of the 99%. As a first step, we need far more genuine left candidates like Socialist Alternative’s Jess Spear, an environmental scientist who is running speaker of the Washington State House.

But in order to end climate change, we need to end capitalism. The huge wealth and power held by big polluters has been gained at the expense of humanity and the environment. Rather than further destruction, that wealth should be used to rapidly transition to 100% green energy use and to organize our society’s huge potential to meet the needs of everyone. This is what a socialist society would look like.  Join Socialist Alternative in that fight today!

Democracy Now: Socialist Seattle Politician Kshama Sawant:”We Need a Radical Militant Nonviolent Climate Movement

Kshama Sawant

(The following was originally published in Democracy Now.)

Climate activists traveled from across the country and the world to take part in Sunday’s historic People’s Climate March in New York City. We speak to Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who recently became the first Socialist elected to city office in Seattle in over a century.

Jess Spear: 2,000 Come Out for Seattle’s People’s Climate March

Spear

(The following was originally posted on Jess Spear’s campaign website.)

The march ended with hundreds successfully blocking train tracks where Jess Spear, Socialist Alternative candidate for the 43rd district of the Washington State House of Representatives afterwards declared: “People power forced this BNSF train to retreat – we will stop these oil and coal trains putting downtown Seattle in danger and contributing to the global climate disaster.”

By Patrick Ayers, originally posted at SocialistAlternative.org

“Two crises – one solution.” This was the slogan of the People’s Climate March in Seattle on September 21. Organized in solidarity with the historic march in New York City, the event in Seattle highlighted how the the environmental crisis and the economic crisis could be addressed together with bold policies like a green jobs program.

“The false dichotomy between jobs and the environment must be rejected,” declared the event announcement on Facebook. “Let’s stand together – environmentalists, native tribes, and labor to demand investment in renewable energy not fossil fuels.”

The event gave a glimpse of the potential to build a powerful movement against the corporations and politicians that stand in the way of tackling climate change. More than 2,000 people packed Westlake Park, a traditional location for protest in Seattle. Nearly every environmental and social justice group in Seattle participated, including Idle No More, 350.org, Divest University of Washington and Seattle University, the Sierra Club, Rising Tide, and more. Even NGOs that don’t normally mobilize for such events did so.

Importantly, there was unprecedented support from the labor movement, including IBEW Local 46 and the Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA). Jeff Johnston, the president of the Washington State Labor Council spoke at the event giving life to the real possibility of a powerful alliance between labor and the environmental movement in Washington. Importantly, Shelly Secrest of the NAACP also spoke and endorsed the event.

Jess Spear, Socialist Alternative’s candidate for the Washington State Legislature in the 43rd district was one of the central organizers of the event and chaired the coalition meetings that brought together nearly every environmental group in Seattle. She spoke at the beginning of the rally, calling for a united movement of labor and environmental groups.

“Let’s rebuild the economy around green technology,” Spear said in her speech. “This could not only start addressing the damage of global warming, but would create millions of jobs expanding public transit, retrofitting our homes, installing millions of solar panels, and building a new electric grid.”

Many people in the crowd cheered when Spear called for reigning in the power of the fossil fuel industry and building a society where resources are used democratically. “Fossil fuel corporations that stand in the way of taking action on climate change – EXXON, Mobile, BP, Shell – these corporations threaten our future. They should be taken out of the hands of the billionaire CEOs and into public ownership. And we should be able to decide democratically whether our society spends billions on coal export terminals or clean energy jobs.”

Direct Action

Mike Lapointe, a former union leader and an environmental activists who recently ran an independent electoral challenge against the corporate Democratic Party congressman Rick Larson, gave voice to the urgency many felt in his speech. “I’m excited and proud to to be here!” began the speech by Mike Lapointe, “But that doesn’t explain why I’m here. I am here – just like you – because I have to be here!”

Lapointe and other speakers called for direct action to stop dirty fossil fuel projects, like the proposal to build North America’s largest coal export terminal in Bellingham, Washington. Just last week, Lapointe and several other protesters were arrested for blocking oil and coal train tracks, in a protest against the dangerous movement of mile-long oil trains through highly populated areas.

In fact, just two months ago an oil train derailed in Seattle. Nobody died in that derailment, but it highlighted the immediate danger posed by these trains that have exploded in other derailments, and in one case killed more than 40 people. Since then, there have been at least three separate attempts to block the train tracks between Seattle and Bellingham to protest oil trains.

It was out of one of these blockades that the whole idea for a march in Seattle in solidarity with the NYC People’s Climate March originated. Jess Spear was arrested along with two other activists from Socialist Alternative at the end of July for blocking oil train tracks. This was just one week after the derailment in Seattle. Spear’s protest forced the city to admit there was no emergency plan for oil train derailments. Meanwhile, Spear and Socialist alternative used the moment to put out the call for the September 21 action.

In the end, Jess Spear and Socialist Alternative brought together nearly every environmental group in Seattle. This was not just due to the energy we put into the mobilization. But, more importantly, the new period we are in. There is a growing recognition that the political establishment has completely failed to address the challenge of climate change. Millions had hopes that President Obama would boldly take it on, but instead we have seen the expansion of fracking, coastal oil exploration, and mountaintop removal removal mining.

Blockade victory

This mood found a powerful expression at the end of the People’s Climate march in Seattle. After marching from Westlake Park to Seattle’s waterfront, chanting the entire way for green jobs and stopping oil trains, hundreds of activists stopped on the train tracks and blockaded a them for almost three hours. The protests around Keystone XL have helped foster a growing mood that it’s time to take matters into our own hands, to build a mass movement, and to take direct action.

This mass direct action, lead by Spear, appealed to a far more youthful and combative layer of the protest. The action had all the elements of an Occupy Wall Street event. There was a people’s mic, a people’s assembly, and non-stop chanting with chants like:“It you build it, we will stop it! If you ship it, we will block it!” and “Oil, coal, gas! none shall pass!”

For most of the blockade, there was a tense standoff between the protest and a BNSF oil train engine that we refused to let pass. Meanwhile, 60,000 people were about to leave a downtown stadium following the NFL football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. Thousands would take a commuter rail home and need to pass through our blockade.

Socialist Alternative member Ramy Khalil lead protesters in a discussion about what to do. In the end, we gave BNSF two options: they could back the train up and move it off the tracks allowing the commuter rail train to pass, or they could allow the commuter rail train to pass on the opposite tracks. But, we made it clear that we would hold our ground against the oil train engine.

Clearly, BNSF was trying to avoid arresting hundreds of people. In the end, they were forced to back down and they moved the train off the tracks to allow the commuter rails through. It was a powerful victory for our protest, and showed the potential for even larger mass direct actions to win real victories for working people and the environment.

The rally and march of 2,000 people along with the blockade by hundreds represent a huge step forward for the environmental movement in Seattle. Over the next weeks and months we have the potential to build on this success with more mass oil train blockades and direct actions. But also we have the opportunity to put a climate scientist and working class activist in the Washington State house with the election of Socialist

Alternative candidate Jess Spear.Clearly, BNSF was trying to avoid arresting hundreds of people. In the end, they were forced to back down and they moved the train off the tracks to allow the commuter rails through. It was a powerful victory for our protest, and showed the potential for even larger mass direct actions to win real victories for working people and the environment.

After yesterday’s actions, it’s clear to many environmental activists in Seattle: Jess Spear is no ordinary candidate. When was the last time there was a candidate in Washington that was willing to risk arrest twice in two months to help a movement stop dangerous oil trains from coming through our communities? In reality, we need more candidates like Kshama Sawant and Jess Spear – candidates from our movements who fight uncompromisingly for what working people need, not what is acceptable to the corporate bosses. Everyone inspired by the march and blockade in Seattle should get involved in the Vote Spear campaign, volunteer, and donate today.