Jan 12, 2014

Gay/Socialist: the people's choice!

It’s been called a watershed moment in the US history. And it happened this Monday. Seattle’s first out gay Mayor and it’s first socialist were sworn in to office. To me, I must say the latter is more surprising.

In my photo show Away is Home Home is Away, which I produced on commission for The Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle 2002, there is a pair of pictures called Love.

One of them is from my Swedish village, picturing the hands of my beloved neighbors Alida and Värner at that time 85 and 92 years old. The other one two tall and fit macho men in tanks, one of them black the other white, holding hands, looking at each other. I caught them from behind at a red light on Broadway. It’s a street shot and they are not aware of me. To me the Seattle gay community is a signum for the city.

Mayor Ed Murray took the oath from former governor Gary Locke (the first Asian governor on the US mainland) on a Gaelic bible held by his husband. Socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant’s oath was administered by Washington State Labor Council Vice President Nicole Grant, after which both women turned to the audience raising clenched fists.

I must say, I have never seen a raised clenched fist in Seattle. Perhaps I need a new set of photos juxtaposed, one fist in Umeå and the other one in Seattle.

The event was moved from more or less closed chambers to the City Hall, which was packed with about 1000 people. Reporting happened in national and international news outlets including CNN, Fox News, The Guardian of London, The New York Times, The Times of India and Al-Jazeera International.

Seattle is a liberal American city, no doubt about it. Certainly all my friends are. A couple of years ago I had a meeting with a friend of an acquaintance who was a Republican. I had never even met a Republican before. Driving there I felt like I was meeting with someone from a different planet. It turned out he was a nice person, and we didn’t discuss politics.

I would say my friends are not only liberal, but very liberal indeed. They are opinionated and on top of the political debate not only in Seattle, but national and international. We have never discussed the subject but I doubt that anyone of them would call themselves a socialist though. That’s why I am amazed I have to say, to find a raised clenched fist in the City Council.

Kshama Sawant is known for her uncompromising stands and idealism. She is a former Seattle community college economics instructor, and in her remarks at the ceremony she denounced the “glittering fortunes of the super wealthy” in the city, saying they came at the expense of working people, the poor and unemployed whose lives, she said, “grow more difficult by the day.”

Ed Murray is the architect of the state’s marriage-equality law, which made same-sex marriages legal in December 2012, and one of the country’s longest-serving gay politicians. Murray and Sawant come from different places, but I am thinking those places might be befriending. And this far they agree on a very specific subject: the raise of the minimum wages.

The minimum wage in US is 7.25 dollars per hour. State of Washington has the highest minimum wage in the country, 9.19 dollar by 2013. Now, Kshama Sawant is set on making 2014 the year of the minimum wage 15 dollars in Seattle. Ed Murray chose to make a $15 minimum wage for city employees the topic of his first official press conference. And the pledge by both Murray and Sawant to propose a $15 minimum-wage ordinance to the City Council by April has fueled national interest.

The buzz around the Monday inauguration seems to be an extension of Seattle’s progressive reputation around the country. Washington State already was in the national spotlight for its recent legalization of gay marriage and marijuana. Seattle also was the third city in the country to adopt a paid-sick-leave ordinance that primarily benefits low-wage workers. Since then, three more cities including Portland and New York City have followed suit, putting Seattle at the forefront of liberal initiatives.

Growing up in the Umeå area in the sixties and seventies a raised clenched fist has been more natural to me than same sex marriages. Although Sweden was the seventh country in the world making same sex marriage legal, it didn’t happen until 2009. Umeå has been voted Gay City of the Year twice, but I wouldn’t say gay is a major signum for the city as I feel it is for Seattle; hey, Seattle recently sailed past San Francisco as the most gay city in the US! I would say though that Red Umeå, an epithet from the sixties, still has an accurate ring to it.

Anyhow. Anyway. I am wishing Ed Murray and Kashma Sawant good luck serving the people and City of Seattle, and I am looking forward to what will come out of it! 

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