Joe Szwaja has broken the silence of local progressives and thrown his hat in the ring against Seattle's multiterm incumbent Congressman Jim McDermott. More power to him.
Szwaja is a former Madison, Wisconsin, City Council member who has for the last few years been teaching at NOVA Alternative High School in Seattle's Central District. He is best known in political circles around town for—aside from his tricky last name (it's SWY-yah)—being the pillar of the local advocacy group ETAN, the East Timor Action Network. Joe has been unrelenting in his support work for that embattled, victimized (with the complicity of US weapons and money) corner of the world. On Madison's City Council, he spent three and a half terms as a Labor Farm Party rep, and was an impassioned voice for basic city services, sanity, and social justice, before moving to Seattle in 1993.
It's about time someone challenged Sunny Jim. I outlined in a column last year (Impolitics, 8/12/99) all the symptoms that point to McDermott's having become arrogant, complacent, and out of touch. His championing of free trade—he helped bring the WTO to Seattle—has been abhorrent. He's been running Congressional favors for folks like Boeing and the makers of Claritin (Remember health care reform? He doesn't) in exchange for campaign money he has not needed. He has, in a joyous paean to Clintonism, become a happy supporter of US military intervention in places like Yugoslavia. His leaking of Newt Gingrich's cell phone tapes was plainly illegal. In short, he has strayed from what first got him elected and is indistinguishable from the Republicans on a distressing number of issues.
Szwaja has an uphill, if not impossible, battle; any challenge of longtime incumbents in the US system is made far too difficult by the legalized bribery known as campaign finance laws. But it's the first time in a decade McDermott has faced a challenge of any sort. Maybe, just maybe, it will be the spur that's needed to get some distance between McDermott and his cozy corporate buddies, on whose behalf he is helping condemn much of the world to further poverty and misery.
"Enemy of the animals!"
A friend passed along a copy of the Spring 2000 issue of Animal Lib NW, the newsletter of the Northwest Animal Rights Network ("Extremism in the Defense of Animals Is No Vice.") In it, somewhat hilariously, I am criticized as the one person among all Seattle media who hates animals.
I welcome criticism, even idiotic criticism, but the inaccurate stuff bugs me. In an unsigned (naturally) article entitled "So Why Is the Seattle Left So Anti-Animal?" (Hint: It's not. One could as easily write an article entitled "So Why Is the Animal Rights Movement So Bitter and Paranoid?" but that wouldn't be accurate, either, would it?) I'm listed first among the "problematic" lefty antianimalists in Seattle. Judge for yourself: "Geov Parrish of the Seattle Weekly and Eat the State!—This ultra-left [moi?] columnist has never hesitated to always side against animal issues and to also more importantly attack anyone who stands up for animals."
Also listed are The Stranger (for its typically infantile yet kinda brilliant Meat issue); Senator Ken Jacobsen of West Seattle (who is a standard Seattle Democrat, not a "leftist" by any stretch) for trashing the cougar hunting initiative; Peter Steinbrueck for being one of five votes to stop the circus animal ban (why not harangue Jim Compton? He was the one who caved to the circus lobby and switched his swing vote); and various socialist groups for—I'm not making this up—calling animal rights activists bad names at a rally.
But I digress. "Never hesitated?" Huh? Of the 150 or so columns I've written for local papers over the last three years, I count all of six occasions on which I've mentioned animal issues. Those six include two columns on saving salmon; two columns advocating preserving the Off-Leash Areas at Magnuson Park (for which I got endless grief from people who hate dogs); one column that was ambivalent (finding merit in both sides) about primate testing at UW; and one that was sharply critical of Sea Shepherd leader "Captain" Paul Watson while being sympathetic toward his issue, stopping the Makah's whale hunting—I just think the messenger is a discredit to his movement.
So that's six animal columns: four positive, one neutral, one supporting the issue but hostile toward the advocate. Not a clean sweep, but hardly the enemy of the animals I'm purported to be. I didn't even weigh in on the most recent issue, the circus animal ban. For the record, I favored the ban but thought it was faintly ridiculous; there are, what, a half-dozen touring circuses that use animals in North America? Tops? Using fewer than a couple dozen animals each, I'd guess—they're expensive to feed, handle, and ship. And exactly one of those circuses makes one appearance a year in Seattle. So why was the City Council wasting breath on the issue? Why not, say, pass a ban on contracting with vendors supplied by factory farming, which harms far more animals in any given minute than a circus ever does? That would change the way real companies do business. Maybe the problem is that people enjoy circuses. Can't have that.
Anyway, I guess I've got a reputation to live up to now. So I promise to continue to "attack anyone who stands up for animals." (Just kidding. Maybe.) Thanks for making my job so easy. It's a shame such a worthy movement doesn't always have more lucid advocates.