Seattle Councilwoman Sawant Visits Oakland to Discuss the Fight Against Caste Discrimination

After being elected to the Seattle city council in 2014, Kshama Sawant worked on labor reforms such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 and banning caste discrimination in the city. This led to other states, like California, to look into passing their own bills in regard to the caste system.

On May 6, more than 50 people gathered at the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library to hear from Seattle Councilwoman Kshama Sawant at a rally.

The organizer of the event, Socialist Alternative Bay Area, invited Councilwoman Sawant to participate in an open forum about the ongoing labor issues in California. The diverse audience talked about their experiences as socialists partaking in these growing issues like the teachers’ strike in Oakland and the unionization efforts in California universities.

Erin Brightwell, a speaker and long-time member of the Socialist Alternative, explained Sawant’s presence at the open forum.

“We wanted to highlight some of the work her council office had been doing around caste discrimination,” said Brightwell.

Sawant first made waves in 2014 when she was elected to be a city council member. She quickly began to start labor reforms in Seattle such as fighting to increase the minimum wage to $15 and ban caste discrimination in the city. This victory would lead other states, like California, to look into passing their own bills in regard to the caste system.

The caste system is a hierarchical system historically found in several South Asian countries. This system impacts South Asian communities in the United States when it comes to discrimination in the workforce.

Last month, the California Senate Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 403, which aims to add caste as a protected category in the state. Senator ​​Aisha Wahab, who brought forward the bill, represents District 10 in California which includes the cities of Hayward, Union City, Newark, Fremont, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, San Jose and Santa Clara. These cities are part of Silicon Valley, where the South Asian population makes up a major part of the tech industry. Tech, as a result, has played a large role in the conversations around caste discrimination, which according to Brightwell, was a major reason the Socialist Alternative invited Sawant to speak on this subject.

When asked about her involvement with the California bill, Sawant mentioned that there was no communication between her and the California democratic party.

“The Democrats haven’t reached out to us, actually. But whether they admitted or not, the truth is that no such bill would have seen the light of day in California unless we had won in Seattle. And that bill in Seattle would not have been won had we put faith in the Democrats because they were doing everything to undermine it,” Sawant said.

At the rally, Sawant emphasized that the caste issue is not isolated from other labor movements in California.

“We are not gonna be able to win. If we are isolated if we are all compartmentalized, we have to bring everyone together on a principled basis,” Sawant said. “The ability to see that the fight against economic exploitation is linked with the fight against specific oppressions, that is very important.”

Shayna is a recent UCLA graduate with a degree in English and Film. While at UCLA, she worked at a boutique talent agency and edited student films. She was also a popular reporter for UCLA's HerCampus online publication, where she wrote on love, sex, and relationships, and worked on tv pilot scripts and features which explored the perils of young womanhood, and delayed coming of age stories. Shayna's friends know her for her devotion to multiple aspects of modern nerd culture, when not otherwise engaged in passionate rants about intersectional feminism or how the superhero genre is corrupted through corporate and military influence. Shayna grew up in San Diego, CA, and had the privilege of attending San Diego's Comic Con and Shakespeare plays at the Old Globe each summer, which deeply influenced her. During her experience at UCLA, she learned she had two loves: entertainment and politics--and came to recognize how, in modern American society, both are too often one and the same. Shayna hopes to find a middle ground between the two passions after completing Stanford's Masters in Journalism program, and remains ardent about learning to use new media technologies to boost narratives of those that are less seen in our society.

Tracy Zhang graduated from Northwestern University in 2022 with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Economics with a minor in Film & Media Studies. On campus, she worked on the video desk at The Daily Northwestern, as well as writing and editing for NU Asian Magazine. During the year of remote school, she went back home to Beijing, where she interned on the editorial team of Vogue China while freelancing for Portrait, China's top feature writing magazine. At Stanford, she hopes to hone her skills in investigative journalism and explore her interest in storytelling through innovative digital techniques. After experiencing the snow days in the Midwest, she is ready and excited to be in the sun of California.

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