She's the first socialist elected to the Seattle City Council in 100 years, and she campaigned on a platform that included rent control, a revenue-raising tax on millionaires and a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Now, Kshama Sawant is raising eyebrows well beyond the Northwest.
As of this week, more than 20,000 people — many of them presumably Donald Trump supporters — have signed two Internet petitions demanding her impeachment after Sawant called for disruptive demonstrations at Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20.
Sawant, an India-born, second-term council member who was once arrested during a march to support the $15 minimum wage, had told a post-election crowd that Trump is racist and that demonstrators at the inauguration should "shut it down."
Within days, her office was flooded with "several thousand" calls, emails and texts, many sent by self-declared Trump supporters, Sawant reported.
"Get the hell out of my country while you can," wrote one detractor. "Stop being a terrorist here! You need to go back where you came from," wrote another. Yet another typed: "Drop dead and go back to turbanville."
Sawant, a controversial leftist even in liberal Seattle (where Hillary Clinton won 87% of the November vote), sees threats and recall efforts as part of the job description. Elected officials have a "moral duty" to speak out on injustices, she said. In a piece she recently wrote for CounterPunch magazine, Sawant, who campaigned for Bernie Sanders and later for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, wrote:
"My first grim thoughts as I saw some of the [recent] horrifying emails was that I will be far from the only person targeted after the dangerous rise of Donald Trump.
"We must bring together millions of progressive workers and young people to build a wall of mass resistance against Trump and to defend immigrants, women, Muslims, LGBTQ people and all others targeted by his presidency."
That mid-November commentary apparently inspired more emails and helped propel the petition drives.
One petition, started by an ex-con in Southern California, has gathered more than 3,000 signatures in recent weeks. Jameyson MacDonald, a Trump supporter from Whittier, says he started his petition on change.org after reading about Sawant's call for protests at the inauguration.
"As she clearly has no respect for the Constitution of the United States or the laws of this nation, she is not fit to hold an office whose sworn duty is to protect such," he says in the petition.
As of Friday afternoon, 3,225 had signed up in support of having her resign or face impeachment — though the petition has no legal power and will merely be handed over to Seattle's mayor in hopes he might take action, MacDonald says.
The petition is doing better than his 2015 effort to end legal discrimination against reformed ex-felons in the workforce. MacDonald, who served 15 years for a drug conviction, says he's still having trouble getting a job 25 years after his last crime. The petition, however, got only two signatures.
Over at thepetitionsite.com, meanwhile, 19,044 have signed a petition to remove Sawant from office. It was launched by a Seattle-area woman, Carron Chernobieff, who could not be reached for comment. It, too, will end up in the hands of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who has worked with Sawant on a number of legislative initiatives, including tenant rights and the successful effort to set a $15 minimum wage.
"Let's send a message to our local Mayor," the petition states, "that she should step down from her position or be impeached. It is not appropriate for elected officials to call for protests."
A petition signer from Iowa agreed the councilwoman must go, but wanted Sawant to know that "Trump voters are not evil people." That was followed by several others who suggested Sawant be deported.
Sawant's office said she was not available for comment on the recall petitions. But she's been through this before, and has weathered the political storm. Three years ago, a petition to oust her for supporting a "special interest group" — poverty-level workers seeking a $15 minimum wage — drew 352 signatures and then faded.
This time around, petition signers are calling her a "terrorist," a "danger to our society" and a "criminal" who should be locked up.
It seems no perceived offense is overlooked. On Friday, one petition signer blamed Sawant because in Seattle "Parking was nonexistent and [lacks] public transportation on Sunday."
Anderson is a special correspondent.