Movement Should Decide Next Steps Democratically and Build Fight to Win Defunding of Police by at Least 50 Percent

June 22, 2020

Councilmember Sawant: “The Movement Should Decide Next Steps Democratically and Build Fight to Win Defunding of Police by at Least 50 Percent

This is the movement’s decision and NOT Mayor Durkan’s or the establishment’s, and our movement will politically defend itself from any attempted sweep by the police. However, as socialists, we recognize that capitalism is a deeply violent system, and that an occupation in a few city blocks cannot form a society separate from the violence, trauma, and ills of capitalism.

SEATTLE – Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, issued the following statement about the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), after consultation with community members and activists in Seattle’s movement against racism and police violence.

“There was, sadly, additional gun violence last night near the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP). As with the tragic incident on Saturday morning, it is still unclear what happened. From the information available so far, the violence last night does not appear to have been politically motivated, and early reports that the Saturday incident was politically motivated appear to be incorrect.

“Many in the movement are concerned that the resources and attention required to maintain an ongoing overnight occupation at the CHOP could take away from a focus on getting organized to win the demands of the movement. This is a key moment to keep building our movement’s power, and to win far-reaching change to stop racist policing and invest in our communities, such as:

  • Defund the police through cutting the budget by at least 50%, and use these funds instead for social services.
  • Immediately release all protestors, with all charges dropped.
  • Transfer the East Precinct to permanent community control, through a City-funded community center, affordable housing, or and/or other community-driven initiatives.
  • Establish an independent elected community oversight board, with full powers over the police, including hiring and firing.
  • Immediately invest in 1,000 publicly-owned affordable homes in the Central District, and expansion of affordable housing and priority-hire jobs citywide, paid for by taxing big business, to address the ongoing crisis of racist gentrification.
  • End the inhumane and ineffective sweeps of homeless neighbors, and invest millions of dollars in Tiny House Villages.

“Some of the leaders from the CHOP have themselves recently suggested that the protest should focus its activities on the hours between 8am and 8pm. Socialist Alternative and my Council office support that proposal. This can allow the daytime hours of the CHOP to continue to be a focal point for the movement and our demands.

This is a decision for the movement to make democratically. It would make sense, in my view, for general assemblies to be scheduled during the coming days, announced in advance, so that activists in the movement can debate and discuss this issue. While many campers have obviously participated in important general assemblies and urgent discussions of strategy over the past days, our movement would best be able to map out its next steps through well-planned, pre-announced general assemblies to allow a full democratic discussion by all. The general assemblies can take a vote on what form the organized protest takes going forward, including whether the occupation should have an ongoing overnight encampment, and if so, in what form. Scheduled weekly several assemblies going forward could also have a crucial role to play at CHOP and in our movement. 

The decisions regarding CHOP are the movement’s decisions and NOT Mayor Durkan’s or the establishment’s, and our movement will politically defend itself from any attempted sweep by the police.

“We completely reject the characterizations – by the right-wing and corporate media, the Trump administration, and the president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild – of the CHOP as a violent place, and the claims that the presence of police would have prevented either shooting. The first shooting at the site, on June 7, took place when the police were present in full riot gear and weapons against the peaceful protest action; neither that shooting, nor last night’s shooting, appear to have been committed by a protester. 

“However, as socialists, we recognize that capitalism is a deeply violent system, and that an occupation in a few city blocks cannot form a society separate from the violence, trauma, and ills of capitalist society as a whole. The structural poverty and daily miseries generated by this system have only been deeply exacerbated by the decades-long neoliberal cuts to social services, public jobs, mental health counseling, and the gutting of the broader public services including education and affordable housing. All of this disproportionately affects black and brown communities.

“Our movement is fighting for publicly-owned affordable housing because we do not want people to have to live in tents, and because the for-profit housing market has completely failed us. We are fighting for fully-funded social services, not a bloated police budget, in order to proactively address the social problems resulting from deep poverty, systemic racism, and inequality. We are fighting to tax big business, not working people, to pay for an expansion of social services and affordable housing, not just to play defense against austerity, which we completely reject.

Our movement should be enormously proud of what we have achieved, and of the example we have set, and are continuing to set, in Seattle. After having courageously fought back repeated nights of violence instigated by Seattle police armed with riot gear, chemical weapons, and rubber bullets, the protest movement at 11th and Pine forced the police and establishment to leave to East Precinct. A week ago, we won a historic victory, making Seattle the nation’s first city to ban the use and purchase of chemical weapons and other barbaric “crowd control” weapons. We also won a ban on the use of chokeholds by the police. Our movement succeeded in forcing Mayor Durkan and the establishment from ending the minimal existing federal oversight on Seattle police, keeping the consent decree in place. Rank-and-file members of the MLK King County Labor Council voted in a majority to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild for their racist practices, because an injury to one is an injury to all. 

“There has been a tremendous show of solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement through workplace action: on June 12, a march and rally of over 60,000 included many workers walking off their job sites, including Trader Joe’s workers who were locked out of work in retaliation. On Juneteenth, the International Longshore Workers Union shut down the port. Labor should join the organized general assemblies to help build more coordinated workplace action to support the protest movement. Our labor movement has a crucial role to play in the protest movement, and should provide people and resources to assist in the defense and organization of CHOP.

The activists and community members who have led the protest at CHOP should be proud of the work they have done in organizing the Capitol Hill protest and in capturing the attention of the world in the struggle for equality and liberation. Throughout the history of struggle, occupations have played an important role of strengthening our movements. In 1936, striking UAW members used sitdown strikes to occupy their factories. This struggle meant GM could not just replace workers with scabs once they left the building, but importantly, it operated as a space for discussion and debate among the workers about next steps. In our own city, indigenous communities organized an occupation at Fort Lawton to win what became the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. El Centro de la Raza is a Latinx community center forged out of struggle and the occupation of an old school building. All of these struggles share a common thread: occupation as a tactic toward a goal, demanding key resources for the movement. Occupation is an important tactic in the arsenal of movements, but it cannot by itself be a replacement for building our movement, including organized workplace action, for radical reforms and for a fundamentally different kind of society based on solidarity and equality. 

“My office is organizing a People’s Budget mass meeting this Thursday to bring our movement together to discuss how we can win defunding of the police by at least 50 percent, fully fund social services and defeat austerity, and fight for the other demands of our movement.”

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