Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Election Day: Emerging Class Consciousness in West Coast Tech Cities

"All politics is local" is a largely useless statement ascribed to Tip O'Neill, known in American history for being the liberal Democratic Speaker of the House during the Age of Reagan. The idea that the statement is supposed to convey is that politics boils down to basic interactions between a representative and his/her constituents. The "rubber" always meets the road in some sort of idealized speech act where the honest pol knocks on a door in his/her district and gets an earnest earful from a thoughtful, engaged citizen. Since most people have do not have any sort of basic interaction with public officials -- elected, appointed or otherwise -- it begs the question, doesn't it?

Politics in the West are elections where the "Haves" spend money, usually a lot, to elect the representative of their choice, someone who will continue the gravy train running on time, shuttling more and more wealth to the top of the income pyramid; meanwhile, the "Have Nots," assuming they bother to vote, and assuming they have a clue, struggle to find someone or something on the ballot that might steer the gravy train, even just a little bit, in their direction.

Politics is a question of "Which Side Are You On?" Are you with capital or labor? Our -- meaning basically everyone on the planet -- current impasse is based on the fact that politics increasingly forecloses a choice of sides. It is a choice between capital or capital. No labor option is allowed.

It is election day today. It is an off year. The big election year is next year, but there are high stakes on this ballot. Locally, in the Emerald City, socialist firebrand Kshama Sawant, an exceedingly rare politician who is fighting the good fight, is headed for reelection. It would be an enormous, mind-bending upset, completely off the charts, if her faux-multicultural challenger, a corporate shill, were to triumph. It is not going to happen. The Sawant campaign has been disciplined and well-funded (by individual donations as well as some labor union independent expenditures). Labor cannot lose the Sawant race, something it is well aware of. So no stone has been left unturned.

Locally the race to watch is in District 1. If Lisa Herbold can defeat Shannon Braddock, surmounting the largest independent expenditure campaign in the history of Seattle, we can pronounce with some certainty that there is blossoming old-school "Which Side Are You On?" class consciousness in one the West Coast tech hubs.

Two good articles appeared yesterday in the national edition of The New York Times providing insight into the politics of the tech-booming West Coast. "San Francisco Ballots Turn Up Anger Over the Technical Divide" by Conor Dougherty and "Battles in San Francisco, but Not in Mayoral Race" by Adam Nagourney describe a situation similar to the one in Seattle. New commercial construction spurred on by the tech industry is radically altering the cityscape and dislocating longtime residents.

Nagourney opening paragraphs pretty well sum up the situation prevalent in the metropolitan West Coast tech hubs:
SAN FRANCISCO — This city has been racked by battles over development, a homeless population that spills onto its stoops and sidewalks, rocketing housing costs and increases in violent crime. With its gleaming new buildings and influx of Silicon Valley wealth, San Francisco has the fastest-growing income inequality gap in the nation.
And on Tuesday, when voters here go to the polls for municipal elections, they will see a ballot that captures that turmoil and the deep divisions over the city’s future. There is an initiative to impose a moratorium on new construction in the Mission District and another to severely restrict short-term rentals, as well as a $310 million bond to create affordable housing. 
A Board of Supervisors race in the northeast corner of the city, which includes Russian Hill and North Beach, has turned into a war over development between the two factions that rule politics here: moderate Democrats and the far left.
The factions would be more appropriately named the "corporate Democrats" and the "popular left."

We'll see what happens. But one thing is for sure: Those canyons of new commercial construction I walk through every morning on my way to work, the ones Amazon is building to house its new headquarters, those are not going away. They will change the city forever. San Francisco and Seattle are moving in a Manhattan direction. There will be a reaction. The question is how robust and how class conscious it is. District 1 Herbold vs. Braddock should provide us an indication.

No comments:

Post a Comment