Sawant, an Indian American member of Seattle City Council, speaks to the American Bazaar about the recent anti-CAA resolution passed by the council.
For Seattle City Councilor Kshama Sawant, standing at the Pike Place Market, a major tourist attraction in the “Emerald City,” on a cold and rainy December day last year, was a pivotal moment. She had joined hundreds of Indian Americans, who had gathered there to protest against India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA.
CAA, enacted in December, imposes a religious criterion to fast-track Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, and Christian refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but excludes Muslims.
“Most of the people gathered at the protest were Americans of Indian origin, many were Hindus like me, seemingly unaffected by CAA, but still they braved the weather to be there in solidarity with millions of Indians, thousands of miles away,” she says. “Many chose to join the march, even though they admitted, they had never been political all their lives.” It was at this point, Sawant says, she realized that the protests had brought together people in solidarity against divisiveness, and something had to be done about it.
Earlier this month, Sawant got the city of Seattle to pass a new resolution opposing CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC).The only socialist currently serving on the Seattle City Council, she became the first politician in the United States to introduce a city council resolution condemning the CAA and demanding its rescinding.
On February 3, the city council unanimously adopted the resolution after a vote and hearing. Even though, getting the resolution passed was not easy for Sawant, who had to overcome criticism and strong opposition from the Indian American community, she says it shows the willingness to fight the divisive policies. A host of Seattle area civil and minority rights organizations came along to support the resolution.
In an interview with the American Bazaar, Sawant, who grew up in Mumbai, talks about the resolution and its global impact.
Tell us about the resolution against CAA passed by the Seattle Council. What message does it send to the Indian government?
This resolution denounces the dangerous National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by the right-wing BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi. The resolution is in solidarity with the massive protest movement in India against the NRC-CAA, and with workers, who held the largest one-day general strike in global history on January 8th.
People around the world are standing up against this religious persecution and Islamophobia, the discrimination, scapegoating, and oppression of Muslims, poor people, and marginalized communities by the Hindu fundamentalist regime.
Many South Asian American organizations, who have been supportive of the resolution, say that it is not just a symbolic win, but will have far-reaching impacts. How do you think a resolution from far away Seattle has an impact on Delhi or on the world?
That is a very fair question and a question that one may ask before going to every protest as to how would one march or one protest change things? But the bigger idea here is it is these many marches and many protests that come together to build up a bigger narrative. We understand that it is a resolution passed by Seattle City Council. We are not delusional and know it has no legal jurisdiction on the Modi regime, but today it begins with one city. We have put a historic marker that the city of Seattle condemns CAA and NRC in India. Imagine 200 cities across the US doing the same. Or imagine if European Union succeeds in passing such a resolution. Also, resolutions are not just pieces of paper. It is an entire movement, a process, where people from various faiths and beliefs come together and reject what is wrong. Resolutions energize people to know their rights and this is what this or every other resolution that follows has the power of doing.
Seattle has become the first American city to denounce CAA. Tell us why you continued with conviction to work against the controversial CAA and NRC?
There are ominous similarities between the NRC and the CAA, and the early Nuremberg laws enacted by the Third Reich in 1930s Germany. There are credible news reports that the Modi regime has already put many people in the state of Assam in detention centers, and that new detention centers and prisons are being built as we speak.
Before the concentration camps and the death camps, the Nazis enacted the Nuremberg Laws, including the Reich Citizenship Law, which redefined German citizenship to exclude Jewish people. The result was the isolation of Jewish communities, making them an increasingly easy target for scape-goating. The CAA and NRC have ominous echoes.
These bills are also similar to the attacks Trump has made — from the Muslim Ban, to the detention of immigrants. Trump and Modi even held an odious joint rally last year in Texas called, “Howdy Modi.” If the NRC-CAA goes through, this will only further embolden the right-wing here, and internationally. Similarly, if we defeat the NRC-CAA, that will inspire people around the world to fight with renewed confidence against religious persecution, racism, Islamophobia.
As a socialist and as an elected representative of working people, it is my political and moral obligation to help build movements to fight the far right.
It was a long day at the Seattle City Council when the resolution was passed, with protests and counter protests. Tell us the kind of challenges you all had to face to come till here?
The Modi government knows the impact that this resolution could have. We heard reports that people were watching the Seattle City Council vote in public squares in India. We got calls from New York, Salt Lake City, and other cities from people who want their city councils to pass similar resolutions. So, it is not surprising that the Modi government used its weight against our resolution. The Consul General of India in San Francisco, Ambassador Sanjay Panda, sent in a letter opposing our resolution, which directly quotes from the Modi government’s statements on the CAA and NRC. This was clearly meant to put pressure on the city council to abandon this resolution, and was a major reason why the vote was put on hold for a week.
This victory is an example of how, when we build fighting movements that unite working people across religion and nationality, and we have our own elected representatives as we do through my socialist council office, we can push back against the political establishment and win!
With Seattle showing the way and now Cambridge also passing a similar resolution do you feel more American states would do the same? Can it have a global impact?
International attention can be powerful when it can bolster local movements against oppression, and I hope that this resolution will set an inspiring precedent. The BJP regime recognizes that, which is why we have seen such pushback from India’s Consul General, and other parts of India’s BJP political establishment abroad.
But our movement will need to fight to get such resolutions passed by other legislative bodies around the country, just as we had to fight to get this one passed here. Working people will need to urgently begin building movements in other American cities like the one we built here in the Seattle area.
We need to organize a serious left alternative to the ruling parties both in the United States and in India, which have failed to address even the most basic needs of working people, and have created a political vacuum that has been seized upon by the far right. We will need to build a new party for working people, a party that will represent the interests of the majority, not the super-wealthy and the elite.
We will not defeat the xenophobic forces behind Trump and Modi with the same old corrupt political establishment tied by a thousand threads to Wall Street and the billionaire class.