In the bowels of the Melrose Market Studios on Capitol Hill, the socialists celebrated. Music and idealism filled the air.
After a months-long campaign that saw Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant take Seattle by storm, it came down to this. The doorbelling and sign waving were over. The confrontational publicity events were over. The attacks on incumbent Richard Conlin’s record were over.
One way or the other, it was time to finally see the results of a grassroots campaign that raised over $100,000 and attracted over 300 volunteers.
Would Sawant’s efforts – and the efforts of her motivated, progressive, $15-an-hour-minimum-wage-pushing followers – pay off? Or would this go down in history as an unusually loud statement from an ultimately unsuccessful third-party candidate?
In the corner of the room two kids blew bubbles, oblivious to any anxiety that the rest of the gathered throng might have been feeling. They weren’t the only ones smiling.
“Regardless of the outcome, this is the place to be,” Sawant told me with a broad grin as she entered the rapidly filling room, about an hour before the first batch of election results were set to drop.
In a secluded back room behind the stage, campaign spokesperson Geov Parrish ate chicken and talked about what Sawant had accomplished.
“I think we’re feeling optimistic,” Parrish told Seattle Weekly before the results hit, attributing the optimism to “strictly a buzz kind of feeling.” With chicken grease on his hands, Parrish offered that he “can’t ever remember a city council race defining a mayoral race.”
He spoke, of course, about the traction that the issue that in many ways defined Sawant’s campaign - the fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage – had gained on the back of the socialist’s tireless fight. Both of Seattle’s mayoral candidates, McGinn and Murray, had endorsed the idea by the time November rolled around. (Later in the evening we’d learn that SeaTac’s Prop 1 was passing – a development that elicited huge cheers from the crowd.)
“Whatever happens,” Parrish went on, “it’s clear that we’ve won this race.”
According to campaign political consultant Calvin Priest, who also worked on Sawant’s campaign to unseat state house speaker Frank Chopp, one of the victories on display was “shattering a lot of the misconceptions and stereotypes” that people have about socialism.
“Socialism is back on the agenda,” said Priest. “There’s a growing recognition that capitalism isn’t working. … [The campaign] has created a discussion about what socialism means for people.”
“If we get 47 percent of the vote, that is an earthquake,” Phillip Locker said later from the stage, about a half hour before the outcome would be known.
If that’s to be believed, Seattle should probably break out the Richter scale.
Moments before 8:15 p.m., when results were scheduled to go live on the King County Elections website, Sawant staffers began scurrying and looking at their smart-phones. Their candidate was down, and likely electorally out, but only by a little over 7 percent. With two thirds of ballots left to be counted, Sawant stood at 46.13 percent to Conlin’s 53.56 percent.
Despite the apparent loss, the party only continued to roar. In the world of third-party politics, what Sawant accomplished was seen as an unquestioned success.
“Richard Conlin has the lead, but it is still too early to tell,” said Sawant from the stage, not conceding defeat while later promising to come after Conlin again in the future if his lead holds up. Making it clear that her work – and the work of the Socialist Alternative party - was not finished, Sawant also promised to champion a 2014 ballot initiative for a $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle.
“The victory is ours, because we have shown what working people can do when we rise up. … The future of the 99 percent is very bright, if we so choose,” she told her followers.
Sawant left the stage to chants of “We are unstoppable/A socialist world is possible.”
From Capitol Hill on Election Night, it was hard not to believe ... at least from the bowels of the Melrose Market Studios.