End the Political Repression Against Standing Rock Protesters

Thursday in North Dakota, a police force backed by corporate paramilitary agents and armored vehicles moved against indigenous people and other activists courageously protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Organizers were beaten, maced, shot with rubber bullets, threatened with automatic weapons, and more than 100 arrested for having the audacity to stand up and protect indigenous treaty rights, the region’s watershed, and the climate.

This is a war zone!” declared a filmmaker at Standing Rock, who had previously reported on the ground in Iraq. Native News Online noted, “those arrested and detained are not allowed to post bail. Government officials have stated that they will no longer communicate with those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

Authorities are responding to the biggest united action of Native American tribes in modern history with militarized repression, with the support of North Dakota’s governor and attorney general. Meanwhile, President Obama has refused to condemn this brutal attack on civil rights, much less taken practical steps in defense of protesters. This stunning failure to act is a damning indictment of Obama’s administration, as well of as North Dakota authorities and the Democratic Party leadership.

A month and a half ago, with the leadership of indigenous activists who spearheaded the introduction of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2014, I brought forward a resolution in the Seattle City Council calling for solidarity with Standing Rock. The statement, which condemned past violence and called on North Dakota authorities to drop all charges against protesters and journalists, was passed unanimously. But our demands and the voices of so many others in the U.S. and internationally have gone unheeded.

I again join with indigenous people, environmentalist activists, progressive labor unions, and the broader left in condemning these abominable acts by North Dakota authorities, and call for an immediate end to political repression and the release of arrested activists.

On the Paris Climate Conference and the Trial of the Delta 5

On January 12, 2016, we held the first meeting of the Energy and Environment Committee. The committee, in my view, is mandated with providing leadership on environmental policy and energy and allied technology policy. Below are my introductory remarks, regarding the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris and the beginning of the trial of courageous climate activists known as the Delta 5.

I intend to make this committee available to environmental activists to discuss and build their movements. In most meetings, I hope to have an agenda item to discuss environmental news, time permitting. At which time we will discuss issues like the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

As we all know, representatives from 196 nations across the world converged in Paris in December to discuss the climate crisis. While capitalist world leaders and the media largely came together to celebrate Paris and the call to halt warming at 1.5 degrees as a victory, environmental activists were quick to note, and correct to note, that this victory was hollow. James Hansen, one of our nation’s foremost environmental scientists, called the agreement signed by the leaders of nations “a fraud… There is no action, just promises.”

Naomi Klein, famed environmental activist, said that, “there is just such a tremendous gulf between what politicians are saying, and what their policies will deliver, which is a world of catastrophic warming. The targets add up to 3 to 4 degrees of warming, which is incompatible with anything that you could call organized civilized society.”

So we should discuss these issues in more detail, and in subsequent meetings. As far as the actual results of the conference, it’s the usual lethal mixture of insufficient market mechanisms and an over-reliance on technological solutions to address pollution after the fact. The 31 page agreement does not even mention the phrase “fossil fuels.”

I also wanted to extend solidarity to grassroots activists who are showing courage as we speak. Five of them are Abby Brockway, Mike LaPointe, Patrick Mazza, Jackie Minchew and Liz Spoerri,who are famously known as the Delta 5, who went on trial just yesterday here in the Pacific Northwest for taking nonviolent action to prevent a mile-long oil train from departing Everett. These organizers are just ordinary people – they are parents, a small business owner, a writer, and a labor activist – and they will make history in court by presenting a so-called “necessity defense,” citing climate change. A “necessity defense” allows a jury to decide that the defendants legitimately felt their actions were done to mitigate a greater harm to society.

To quote the Delta 5, “The defendants feel that our democracy is so corrupted by corporate political power and money that normal legislative solutions to climate change are no longer a viable path for change, and that it is time for a massive, non-violent social movement to force our government to take the actions that scientists say are necessary to restore our earth’s energy balance.”

As many here are doing, I am watching this case closely. The fact that the judge is allowing a necessity defense to be presented on climate change really reflects the times we live in, and is a clear indication of the impact that nonviolent direct action has had in pushing forward the struggle on sustainability issues.

Solidarity with students rallying for free public transit!

Tonight, October 22, 2015, students, teachers, staff, parents, and community activists will be rallying at Rainier Beach High School to demand free bus passes for ALL public school students that need or would like to use Metro to get to school. Currently, students who live two miles or less away from their schools are ineligible for the free bus pass program.

This is a wealthy city. We can build a truly world-class public transit system. To do that, we must organize our movement to tax corporations and the super-wealthy to generate the revenues necessary. For more, please read the letter that I sent to address the struggle before us, and express my solidarity with the student transit activists.


Sisters and Brothers,

I want to thank you for organizing this event tonight, and extend my apologies for being unable to join you in person. Young people need to take leadership of movements for social change, and you are demonstrating that through your work.

We all know that the cost and limited access of transit in this city is a major obstacle for Seattleites.

We can build a world-class public transit system in Seattle. We can massively expand our bus and light rail services. And we can make transit truly affordable, by reversing fare hikes, and providing free transit passes for students, low-income Seattleites, seniors, and disabled riders. We need 24 hour service. We need more feeder route connecting with major bus lines. The people of Seattle want all of this.

Our biggest obstacle is the “business as usual” political establishment, both at the city and state levels.

Washington is the most regressively taxed state in the nation. That means that low-income working people bear the brunt of all taxes. Another consequence of regressive taxation is that it simply does not raise the revenues needed. And the Republican and Democratic Party establishments have proven time and again that they aren’t willing to fight for funding alternatives.

It’s not just transit. The legislature has been censured for criminally underfunding K-12 education, and has long ignored social needs, ranging from mental health services to housing. At the same time, they don’t hesitate to answer when Boeing executives call. How can the establishment find $8.7 billion for Boeing in three days, but find itself at a loss when it comes to transit, education, and social services? It’s a question of priorities.

The struggle to win high quality transit is thus tied to the struggle to force the establishment to tax corporations and the super-wealthy. We build that fight, we can secure real victories. The most immediate place to build that fight right now is at the city level. We can’t settle for lip service. We need to hold them accountable to win.

Over the last two years, on three different occasions, Councilmember Licata and I put forward a business head tax and an increase in the commercial parking tax to increase transit funding. But every time the conservative majority of the Council voted no. We have a number of options – a business head tax, a commercial parking tax, an excise tax, a millionaires’ tax. We have no shortage of options. What we lack are representatives with the political backbone to fight for them.

Currently, the Mayor’s proposed budget does not provide nearly enough funding for transit. With pressure, we can secure amendments that will dramatically strengthen our transit services, and put us in a much better position to win full funding for transit next year.

I encourage you all to come to City Hall this upcoming Tuesday at 6 pm on October 27th to speak to our transit needs at a People’s Budget Town Hall. Together we can lay the foundation for a budget that fully funds all of our city’s basic human needs. Let’s make this city a livable place for all, not a playground for the rich.


Kshama Sawant – 15 Months Later, Alaska Airlines is Still Refusing to Pay $15/hr

On February 19 2015, I attended a pretrial rally in defense of workers and fellow organizers who are standing up to Alaska Airlines and the corporation’s refusal to follow the law and pay workers the $15/hour minimum wage SeaTac voters approved more than fifteen months ago. I was proud to stand and speak with my fellow “jail mates,” Reverend John Helmiere and airport worker Socrates Bravo. Check out video and text of my speech below. 

Transcript of Speech as Delivered

Sisters and Brothers,

Thank you for being here. I also thank members of the media for being here, for covering this very important working class issue.

As we all know, Alaska Airlines already made their case to the people of SeaTac, and they lost.

This was a democratic vote by a majority of the people.

Alaska Airlines alone spent over $100,000 to try and convince voters not to approve the $15/hour minimum wage, but, in the end, the people of SeaTac correctly voted for $15/hour in November 2013.

Now, it is now February 2015 – 15 months since the people voted for it – and still Alaska Airlines refuses to pay its workers.

They are blocking the democratic will of SeaTac voters to protect their big profits. Denying a pay raise to hundreds of airport workers and their families, as Claudia mentioned: people who are not only struggling for their own needs, but struggling for their families, for their children. This is an inter-generational poverty issue.

Alaska Airlines should be on trial, not us! They should be on trial for blocking voter’s decisions, and paying poverty wages, not the workers and activists who stood up to Alaska Airline’s criminal violation of our rights!

We did precisely what the SeaTac’s courts should have done!

When will Alaska CEO Brad Tilden going be arrested for breaking the law passed by the people?  When is his pre-trial going to be? Do the courts have an answer on that?

Let’s be clear about what today’s court appearance is about:

Despite what the courts may say, despite what Alaska Airlines may say, this is not about disorderly conduct.

Does anyone truly believe that a hard working baggage handler, a pastor – a leader of the faith community – and a City Councilmember, are not able to conduct ourselves appropriately in public?

This is not about disorderly conduct, this is about the minimum wage.

This is about worker rights.

This is about Alaska Airlines, a company that has brags about raking in $571 million in profits last year. It is making these profits off of the backs of low-wage workers.

This is about the workers who do all the work to make this world run, and who are falling ever farther behind, not because they are not working hard enough or smart enough, but because companies like Alaska Airlines think they can buy elections and ignore the laws that they weren’t able to buy.

So I am proud to stand here today with all of you, with the Reverend John Helmiere, with Socrates Bravo, and with every other worker and activist who, in all these years, have joined this struggle, because together we have the power to defeat even the intransigence of Alaska Airlines.

And let’s make not of the fact that we are winning!

Workers won the vote in SeaTac.

We won the minimum wage struggle in Seattle.

Since then, we won in San Francisco where they overwhelming passed a $15/hr minimum wage last election and the 15 Now campaign is gaining ground in many cities, like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis.

We have a Delta worker for Minneapolis, Kip Hedges, as a testament to how much our struggle is going.

We know what side of history Alaska Airlines will find itself in.

We are on the right side of history, but we also know that without our fight, without our struggle, we would never win our rights.

Thank you for coming out to support the minimum wage in SeaTac today and for all the effort you have put into this struggle.