I know that sounds grandiose, but I'm really not exaggerating. I know it smacks of the glorification of an individual, something Sawant herself would probably not approve of. And I know my tone is a little bombastic. I can't help that. It's deeply ingrained. But I don't think I'll hurt my own case by stating it loudly and clearly, or by simply speaking up about what progressives need to hear--and what they need, at long last, to act on.
In her address, Sawant's tone was assuredly not bombastic. It was superbly rational, concise, and clear. She called for:
1) Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (who was seated beside her on the dais) to run for President as an independent, not as a Democrat.
2) Nationalization (her phrase was "public ownership") of the U.S.-based fossil fuel corporations.
3) The formation of "a new party" dedicated to representing the interests of working people.
She introduced No. 1 with a qualification, explaining that she did not agree with Bernie on everything, particularly some of his Senate votes on foreign policy. (This may have referred to his failure to object to a "unanimous consent" resolution in the Senate in support of Israel's attack on Gaza this summer, among other lapses.) This brought a yowl of support from many in the crowd, which must have somewhat unnerved Sanders and his well-wishers.
On No. 2, Sawant's straightforward presentation was a breath of fresh air. We're accustomed to hearing "progressive" politicians (read: Democrats) call for big reforms in loud, ringing tones"often followed by equivocations, double-talk, and excuses. Not Kshama Sawant. She was doing more than just critiquing U.S. policies. She was offering a concrete solution to the problem. This apparently won the audience's respect. Many people in that capacity crowd were obviously sick to death of all the meaningless promises they hear from "progressive" elected officials. Now people were finally hearing someone who really means what she says. It was liberating, exhilarating.
I was even a bit surprised at my own reaction. When Sawant declared that we need public ownership of energy resources, another roar went up from the crowd, and I was roaring right along with them. Not that many years ago, I might have smiled at such a declaration--not because I would have disagreed with the idea of nationalization but because I wouldn't have taken it seriously as something we could achieve. But coming from the woman who got the $15-an-hour minimum wage law passed in Seattle, "public ownership" sounded like more than just a slogan. It sounded like an attainable goal. She stated it so simply--without bombast, without equivocation--that I immediately thought, Yes, she's right. Why are we, the public, always asked to give these gargantuan corporations the benefit of a doubt? Why are we expected to go along with their ownership and control of a commodity that seems to be deranging the global climate? Why are their holy property rights more important than our democratic decision-making about a matter as crucial as the health of the Earth and our prospects for survival on it? Our whole screwed-up culture is so used to hearing the standard laissez-faire dogma that even we enlightened radicals tend not to challenge it, or even think about it very much. And here was an activist inviting us to take action on what we claim we really want. The country--the world!--needs this kind of candor and courage very badly.
Naturally, on hearing such bold words, some progressives in that audience probably rolled their eyes and muttered that public ownership of any major U.S. industry is a fantasy, just pie-in-the-sky. All right, then--for the sake of argument, let's grant that. What, then, might be the compromise position? How about a substantial increase in taxation on the big oil, coal, and natural gas companies? A capital idea! But who in Congress will fight for such an idea? The Republicans? Probably not. The Democrats? Probably not. Will all the progressives threaten to withhold their votes for their Democrats in the House or the Senate in the next election unless they get some action on taxing Big Oil?