On July 5, the Washington Secretary of State Elections Division validated the nominating petitions for Gloria La Riva and Eugene Puryear, the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
This will be the third time that the PSL has appeared on the Washington State ballot since 2008.
Teams of dedicated PSL volunteers collected 1900 signatures at the NorthWest Folklife Festival and the Fremont Solstice Parade and Festival. At these large public gatherings, they met many people who had been inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign who were interested in supporting a socialist candidate for president.
Washington is a state of about 7 million residents, with the majority living along the western I-5 corridor. The largest city is Seattle, which is located in Martin Luther King County, the most populous county. The state, and the Seattle area in particular, came out strongly in support of Bernie Sanders.
Party for Socialism and Liberation Washington State Chair Jane Cutter explained, “We found that many Washingtonians resonated with socialism and our candidates’ 10 point program. We met many who have become strongly aware of the rigged nature of the capitalist elections. Determined not to vote for Hillary Clinton, they want a real alternative on the ballot. They are angry at the state Democratic Party establishment superdelegates, who continue to back Hillary Clinton, despite the overwhelming support for Sanders in the caucuses. Many have concluded that the current electoral system is inherently undemocratic and that the two party system is a failure. All this spurred peoples’ interest in the La Riva/Puryear campaign.”
The events at which PSL petitioned were festive cultural events, appealing to a broad range of people. However, what was often a selling point for people to sign was the campaign’s proud solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
PSL campaign volunteer Devlin Kennedy explained, “Washington state has had anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people since 2006. The state has recognized domestic partnerships since 2007 and has recognized same-sex marriage since 2012.
“However, this spring, reactionary bigots sought to put on the ballot an anti-trans “bathroom bill” initiative in an attempt to turn back the progress that has been made. While we were petitioning, these forces were also attempting to collect signatures to qualify their initiative. These bigots had been caught outright lying to people about their petitions, claiming the initiative was in favor of transgender rights, so it made sense that progressive people would want to make certain that any petition they signed was pro-LGBTQ.” (Since the conclusion of petitioning, the initiative failed to gather enough signatures to qualify, a victory for the LGBTQ movement.)
Housing, healthcare, education
Another campaign demand that strongly resonates with Washington voters is the call to make free healthcare, housing and education Constitutional rights. PSL volunteer Doug Vitaly explained, “In particular, housing costs in the state have been rising dramatically, especially in Seattle and Tacoma, where rent increases are currently among some of the highest in the nation. Rent control is illegal in Washington State, meaning that landlords can raise the rent as much as they want, so long as they give adequate notice. Many long time tenants are being forced out of their homes so that landlords can get a higher rent from new tenants.”
State PSL chair Cutter added, “The struggle for free education as a Constitutional right is very much ongoing in Washington State. The state constitution actually states that funding public education is a ‘paramount duty’ of the state. However, in part due to the extremely regressive tax system, public schools have faced repeated cuts in funding. In 2012, the State Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that the state was not fulfilling this duty. At present, the Court has found the State Legislature in contempt for failing to address the funding crisis for public schools.
“Meanwhile, billionaire education “reformers” like Bill Gates of Microsoft funded a pro-charter school initiative that passed due to massive and misleading advertising. The State Supreme Court ruled charter schools unconstitutional because they are not run by publicly accountable elected bodies; however, the legislature has found ways around this ruling to continue to support these schools which have not been shown to do a better job of educating children than traditional public schools.
“Last spring, teachers’ unions across the state engaged in a series of rolling strikes to demand adequate funding, while in September 2015, the Seattle Education Association militantly walked out in its first strike in 30 years. Not only did they win their first cost of living increase in 6 years, they fought for and won mandatory recess for elementary students, the creation of committees to work on racial equity issues at 30 schools, and an end to the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.
“Our campaign will lend our voice to these struggle, showing what a socialist approach to basic human needs looks like.”
A living wage
PSL’s demand for a $20/hour living wage and/or guaranteed income spoke to many. PSL volunteer Devlin Kennedy explained, “The city of Seattle has adopted a phased-in $15/hour minimum wage, even though this is not really enough to enable someone to afford the rent on the city’s median one bedroom apartment at $1750/month. Many workers now commute into Seattle for minimum wage jobs from outlying areas where rents are slightly lower. The state minimum wage is one of the highest in nation at $9.47/hour, but again, that is still not enough for workers to survive. On July 6, activists with Raise Up Washington turned in hundreds of thousands of signatures to qualify for the ballot statewide initiative 1433 to raise the Washington minimum wage to $13.50, which also would be phased in over several years.”
Campaign volunteer Doug Vitaly added, “The crisis of homelessness in the state reflects the current failure of capitalist society to resolve the contradiction between high housing costs and low wages, and highlights the inability of capitalist politics to take real action.
“This year, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared homelessness to be an official state of emergency, as the January One Night Count identified more than 10,000 homeless people, of whom more than 4,500 were without shelter.
“While bourgeois politicians talk about “housing first” policies, nothing is really done. The policies proposed include ‘sweeping’ unauthorized encampments while simultaneously smearing and defunding shelters and formal encampments operated by the organization SHARE/WHEEL, which are democratically run by the residents addressing the immediate need for safe shelter and without which homeless people can die on the streets. We know that a socialist approach to housing and employment would solve this pressing problem.”
Racist police brutality and mass incarceration
Another part of the PSL 10 point program that speaks to Washington voters is the call to end racist police brutality and mass incarceration.
Cutter stated, “The Seattle Police Department has been so blatant in its abuses that in 2011 it came under investigation by the Department of Justice, and was found to have engaged in a pattern of Constitutional violations in its use of force. Incidents included the police killing of Native woodcarver John T. Williams, the punching of Black women and girls in the face, the videotaped stomping on the head of a detained suspect while the cop shouted racist slurs, and numerous brutal beatings and other abuses. Police brutality of course is not limited to the city of Seattle, and is prevalent in other cities as well, notably in Spokane in the eastern part of the state where police involved killings are very frequent.
“Currently, communities in Seattle and King County are engaged in struggles against mass incarceration and the further militarization of the police. Activists have been fighting to stop the expansion and renovation of the county’s youth jail; attention has also turned to plans by the Seattle Police Department to build a massive fortress-like station in North Seattle.
“As socialists, our candidates understand the role of the police in upholding a racist system of exploitation. Both Gloria La Riva and Eugene Puryear are veterans in the struggle against racism and police brutality. On July 9, La Riva was arrested along with over 100 other people in Baton Rouge while videotaping a peaceful community demonstration demanding justice for Alton Sterling in front of the police department.”
Save the planet – End capitalism
Another issue of great importance to many in the region is the environment. The PSL 10 point program states: For the earth to live, capitalism must end. Last year, hundreds of “kayaktivists” mobilized to stop Shell Oil from using the Port of Seattle as base for new oil drilling in the Arctic. Led by Indigenous longboats, the kayaktivists put their bodies on the line to stop Shell--and won. Others militants have blocked coal trains.
Meanwhile, in the upcoming election, activists are currently working to put a state carbon tax on the ballot. In addition to being a well-respected reform that has been shown to reduce emissions, the carbon tax initiative 732 will also address the state’s notoriously regressive tax system, in which there is no state income tax; all funding comes from sales and property taxes, tolls and registration fees. Rich corporations like Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks are getting massive tax breaks from the state while their CEOs are among the wealthiest people in the world.
“The federal government claims there is not enough to provide basic necessities for the people, yet there is never a debate over the annual military budget of at least $1 trillion for weapons and war,” La Riva said after the party announced she had qualified for the ballot in Washington State. “This is why so many people in this state suffer from homelessness and lack access to adequate healthcare. That is why education, from kindergarten through college, is so underfunded. This is a system that serves the interests of the capitalist class instead of meeting the needs of the vast majority. Our campaign is raising the critical issues that Trump and Clinton won’t touch.”