Finally, we get to hear this man’s anti-war song again. Seattle Channel screenshot
Non-binding symbolic resolutions put forward by Councilmember Kshama Sawant were heard in the Seattle City Council chambers today.
The one to oppose both any war with Iran and the discrimination against Iranians in Washington (and share this opposition with the Washington State congressional delegation) was passed unanimously by the council.
A vote on the other Sawant resolution, this one opposing India’s National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act, inspired more than an hour of heated public commenters and was delayed until Feb. 3.
Despite the long debate in the public comment period and frustration at the news that the vote would be delayed, the biggest drama came from within the council itself.
Earlier on Monday, during the council briefing, Councilmember Alex Pedersen said he intended to put forward a resolution “broadly condemning all forms of oppression in the world” because the council doesn’t have the “bandwidth to manage our growing city and track every growing issue” nationally and internationally.
What Pedersen was getting at is Seattle City Council’s tendency to year after year pass symbolic resolutions about national or international issues over which the council has little to no sway.
There was the resolution against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the approval of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, the non-binding resolution about the city’s commitment to gender pay equity, the non-binding resolution in support of Washingtonians being able to opt out of junk mail, the one supporting Occupy Seattle back in 2011 (two months late), the symbolic ban on circus animals back in 2000, and many more.
Pedersen said that his resolution wasn’t meant to take away from Sawant’s resolutions at the full council meeting on Monday but to act as a “Yes, and” measure, citing the popular refrain heard in improvisation comedy classes around the world.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold worried that “this will serve as a catch-all and will serve as an excuse not to act.” Sawant said that the purpose of these symbolic resolutions is “not to pretend we have any legal authority… but to respond to hundreds of our constituents.” She likened it to the international protests against Trump.
Pedersen’s reasoning was that there is a litany of instances of oppression that could be opposed at any given moment—just go to the ACLU web site, he urged—and the council couldn’t possibly respond to them all. So his resolution would express opposition to all oppression in one broad brush stroke.
In the full meeting today, Pedersen’s resolution was not on the agenda. Before the final vote for the anti-war resolution, Pedersen spoke about his concerns.
“Please allow me to ask that we try to not craft a city council resolution for every horrible thing that our president or any world leader does,” Pedersen said after stating that he agreed with his colleagues’ concerns around these issues and would be voting yes on the resolution. “I believe we can do the most good and deliver the best response as elected city councilmembers by proving how well a government can be run and by government I mean the city government of Seattle.”
Pedersen went on to say that these kinds of resolutions take time away from city issues. “We must speak out against these injustices,” Pedersen said. But, the time would be better spent through sending “letters of support” to congressional delegates or the Port of Seattle.
Sawant bit back at Pedersen saying that the “city council is in danger of passing a resolution on every issue is a strawman argument.” The purpose of the resolutions, Sawant went on to say, isn’t for her “as an elected representative to take a pro forma or in name only stance” but to help “inform and empower social movements.”
She also rejected the sentiment that these resolutions were stalling council action on pressing issues like homelessness and affordability. “It is not because we’re passing too many resolutions,” Sawant said, “it’s because of the lack of moral and political courage to do what is needed urgently which is to tax big business and to fund a major expansion of social housing.”
Councilmember Andrew Lewis weighed in that he didn’t “run for Seattle City Council to opine on matters of international relations” and “certainly didn’t run to comment on the internal politics of India.” However, the public interest in this matter showed him that it was “important that we take it up.”
The vote to delay the vote on the India resolution until Feb. 3 passed 5-2. Ironically, Sawant and Pedersen were the no votes but for different reasons. Sawant would rather have voted immediately. Pedersen, not at all.