On April 30, 2011, Socialist Alternative held its annual Northwest Socialism Conference in Seattle, Washington. The conference, entitled "Dawn of a New Revolt," brought together nearly 100 union, community, and student activists from across western Washington to learn about, discuss, and debate how we can most effectively build the global movements for economic and social justice.
The conference consisted of two sessions and a debate between Socialist Alternative activist Ted Virdone and Democratic Party Washington State Senator Ed Murray on whether there is an alternative to budget cuts to solve the multi-billion dollar state budget crisis.
The first session featured two Socialist Alternative organizers, Anh Tran and Ryne Leuzinger, who had traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to support the struggle against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on working people and to build support for a one-day public sector general strike. The speakers offered an inspiring eyewitness account of the massive protests, brought to life the fighting spirit of those that participated, and explained why Socialist Alternative had campaigned for a one-day public sector general strike as the most effective way to prevent Walker’s anti-union bill from passing. They also reported on the role that Socialist Alternative had played in organizing student walk-outs against the Republicans’ bill.
The first session also featured an important discussion led by Aditi Kaushik on the root causes of the awesome movements across the Middle East that have deposed decades’ old dictators and are challenging others throughout the region. The discussion highlighted the lessons we can learn to strengthen our own struggles against oppression and exploitation.
For the second session Cindy Sheehan and Philip Locker spoke about “Challenging Corporate Control of Politics.” Cindy Sheehan is a prominent antiwar activist who won an impressive 17% of the vote as an Independent candidate against Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi in 2008. Philip Locker is a leading organizer for Socialist Alternative and an editor of Justice newspaper. Both speakers explained that the Democrats throughout history promise one thing on the campaign trail and, yet, do the opposite when they come to power.
Sheehan cited her own experiences in 2006 when national leaders in the Democratic Party promised to end the war in Iraq only to turn around, after gaining power, and commit even more resources to the war. She went onto explain that this has not changed with Obama as President, who, in fact, has continued almost all of the Bush Administration policies from troop surges to Afghanistan in 2009 and the war in Pakistan to tax cuts for the rich. The speakers concluded with the need for working people to break from the two corporate parties and support left-wing candidates independent of the Democrats who run on an antiwar, anti-corporate, pro-worker basis.
The final session was a debate on one of the most pressing issues of the day – the deep funding cuts to social programs and education being carried out across all levels of government by Republicans and Democrats alike, specifically, whether there is an alternative to budget cuts. Ted Virdone represented Socialist Alternative in the debate with Washington State Senator Ed Murray of the Democratic Party and chairman of the State Senate Ways and Means committee.
Virdone argued in favor of taxing the rich and big business to solve the budget crisis while Senator Murray made appeals to elect more "progressive” Democrats to minimize the severity of the cuts, which he felt were unfortunate but politically impossible to avoid. Senator Murray praised the record of the state Democrats despite the fact that they have eliminated hundreds of millions from health care, environmental programs, and higher education as well as billions from K-12 education. Virdone made short work of the narrative of the Democratic and Republican parties, espoused by Murray himself, of “shared sacrifice” by pointing to the obscene profits of the corporations, the lavish bonuses of their executives, and the criminal tax breaks granted to the rich and corporations.
All in all, the 2011 Northwest Socialism Conference was successful in drawing out the lessons of the historic events of the past year and preparing activists to play leading roles in the struggles to come.