On the afternoon of Tuesday November 21st, over 500 anti-war activists and working people, including Arab and Muslim American community members, crowded into Seattle City Hall to demand the City Council pass a resolution introduced by socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. Socialist Alternative and Workers Strike Back members joined those who spoke in favor of Sawant’s resolution, which included demands for an end to US military funding for Israel and an end to the Israeli state’s occupation of Palestinian territories. These demands constitute the strongest ceasefire resolution introduced anywhere in the US. The resolution also condemned the deadly Hamas attack against Israeli civilians – Jewish, Arab, and other ethnicities – on October 7, and pointed towards united mass action by working-class people on both sides of the fence and internationally as the only way to achieve real, lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians.
Seattle City Hall became a sharp battleground between Councilmember Sawant and activists demanding the resolution be passed in its full form, and the Democratic Party politicians who make p the rest of the City Council either outright opposing the resolution or attempting to water it down. The same Democrats refused to allow even a discussion on Sawant’s resolution at a Council meeting two weeks prior. While they banded together in removing some of the demands from the resolution’s text, faced with intense pressure from hundreds of angry anti-war activists the majority of Democrats were ultimately forced to vote YES. By winning this major resolution, Sawant and Socialist Alternative along with hundreds of anti-war activists have made Seattle the largest US city to date to pass a ceasefire resolution.
A big reason why the Democrats felt emboldened to bring amendments to remove strong clauses from Sawant’s resolution was the cover they received from some self-appointed Muslim, Palestinian, and Jewish community and NGO leaders, who tried to insist Sawant withdraw her resolution and let their groups work with Democrats to come up with an alternative (weaker) version. When she refused, these leaders had private meetings with the self-described “progressive” Democrats and made an agreement to support their amendments removing the demand to end US military funding to Israel and the occupation of Palestinian territory.
At best, the approach of trying to work behind the scenes with the Democrats is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how social change can be won. However, more often, it is based on careerist motives of not wanting to alienate elected Democrats in order to maintain funding for one’s own organization or personal career advancement. Such an approach inevitably leads to selling out working and oppressed people, regardless of professed good intentions on the part of leaders.
The fact that the Council Democrats chose to remove the crucial demands before passing the resolution makes it clear that they would rather protect the Biden Administration and their own positions within the Party than be part of a real solution to the crisis. Restraining the demands of the movement to what Democrats are willing to pass is a recipe for stagnation, when what we urgently need is escalation. It’s clear that the mass protests across the US and around the world are having an impact. Without them, the temporary pause in fighting would never have happened. More and more elected officials and prominent individuals are being forces to come out in support of a permanent ceasefire.
Biden’s approval ratings heading into the 2024 election have never been lower – he can’t afford to lose any more support, which means the movement has real leverage it can use to try and force action towards a permanent ceasefire and against additional military funding for Israel. The launching of the #AbandonBiden campaign by a coalition of Muslim community groups in swing states on the basis of Biden’s opposition to a ceasefire is a striking example of how this leverage can be wielded. But this brings up the question of a left, anti-war political alternative to both Biden and the Democrats, and Trump and the Republicans. Socialist Alternative urges the coalition to take a bold approach including fighting around the demands of ending US military funding to Israel and ending the occupation of Palestinian lands, organizing rallies and door-to-door canvassing so supporters can get involved, and more.
Some #AbandonBiden supporters have indicated openness to supporting an independent candidate. We strongly urge them to endorse and campaign for the strongest, independent left-wing challenger rather than a figure like RFK Jr.
To grow the antiwar movement, we need a serious assessment of which strategies work and which don’t. Seattle’s ceasefire victory clearly demonstrates that more can be won by organizing ordinary people in support of bold demands that maximize pressure on elected Democrats than by deferring to the leadership of members of the same party that has sent more money and arms to the Israeli military than any other worldwide. It also demonstrates the need for our movements and for working people to have our own political organizations, independent of the two parties of imperialism.