Interview With Sarah Smith, Congressional Candidate In Washington’s 9th District
On the “Unauthorized Disclosure” weekly podcast, hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola are joined by Sarah Smith, a Democratic Party candidate running for Congress in Washington’s 9th District. She recently beat the Republican to qualify for the general election against the incumbent, Democratic Representative Adam Smith.
Sarah Smith is both a member of the local Democratic Party and Democratic Socialists of America. She’s run a scrappy grassroots campaign that consists of all volunteers. She also has garnered a reputation as a rare antiwar candidate in the 2018 midterm elections because she views foreign policy as a top issue.
In Part 1 of our interview with Sarah Smith, we talk about why she decided to run, why foreign policy is so important to her campaign, and what she thinks about the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel for its occupation of Palestine.
Later, the show’s hosts get her thoughts about the war economy, Puerto Rico, and the head tax proposal in Seattle to raise funds for affordable housing, which Amazon defeated.
To listen to the interview, click the above player or go here.
Below is a transcript of Part 1 of the interview with Sarah Smith:
GOSZTOLA: Before we get into issues, some very important work you’re doing with the campaign, we’d like to begin by having you introduce yourself for people who may not know about your campaign and to also let people know why you decided to run in Washington.
SMITH: Again, my name is Sarah Smith. I’m running in Washington’s 9th congressional district, and for people that aren’t familiar with the area, that covers—these towns probably won’t mean anything to a lot of people—but it covers Bellevue and Mercer Island, which are two of the most expensive highest-income cities in the entire state and then it also covers south Seattle, Kent, Newcastle, Renton, Federal Way, and the north Port of Tacoma, which in that little cradle of south Seattle, Kent, and Renton, are some of the lowest income in the entire state.
It’s a really dynamic district. It’s super interesting. I love it. I love the 9th district. I’ve worked in it since I moved to Washington. I’ve lived in it for a while. I live 2600 feet from the district border right now, which is crushing to me because I tried really hard not to move out of it. But you do what you have to do with income inequality and housing instability.
We launched the campaign in May 2017. I decided to run because I was actually nominated to run by Brand New Congress, which is an organization I’ve worked with closely. They called me and said somebody in your community nominated you to run. And it was kind of surprising to me. I’ve always been politically active. I’ve always been politically aware.
I was involved in protests for the Iraq War when I was in high school, sit-ins, walkouts, all that stuff. My family’s very politically aware. We’re all very progressive so we have very boring holiday dinner arguments. I do a lot of volunteer work, but I was never someone that expected to go into politics. That was the biggest thing. Because it always seems like that huge unattainable thing that normal people could never do.
Working class people can’t afford politics. That’s really what it comes down to, and when they asked me to run, I had some long hard conversations. And eventually, I got asked a really important question, which was if the ballot came today, would you vote for the incumbent? I said well it would depend who else is on the ballot. And they said well then be who else is on the ballot.
I realized it was important for me to take that advice seriously. Someone in my community nominated me to run. They asked me to step up. This was the community reaching out to me and asking me to do something big for them. So I took that call very seriously. I take that obligation very seriously. So I decided set out and tried to run a longshot grassroots scrappy little campaign in the 9th district.
KHALEK: And you’ve been successful so far. I really like what you just said. You said working class people can’t afford politics. But you need money to run, and you’re not taking corporate donations. So you’ve been able to raise money from supporters I assume.
SMITH: Yes, we’ve been very successful in that actually, and I take that very seriously. I just went back to work. I quit my previous job and I got another one that is more flexible with my campaign schedule, which is awesome. But I know how hard people work for their money. I know what it’s like to put in those few hours for a couple dollars. I had a line cook that donated 300 dollars, and I know how hard those guys work. They hustle. So that was very important to me.
One of the biggest impacts about not taking corporate money and having this scrappy little grassroots campaign is we treasure every single dollar that comes into us. We take spending it with extreme care. We only put money into things that are worthwhile investments that are of direct voter contact that are going to get us in touch with the most people. So we take the charge of having grassroots money and those individuals’ money very, very seriously, and I try to just treat it as if it’s not mine to spend. It’s people’s. So it’s important that I spend it on the campaign.
I actually don’t take a salary out of the campaign. No one does. My campaign is all volunteers. But they are dedicated, and I think it’s amazing.
KHALEK: On your website, you have your issues all in order, and I’m really impressed and kind of surprised—I don’t really know if this is on purpose or not—the first thing that you see is foreign policy. The reason I raise this is a lot of these insurgent left candidates have been focusing on health care for all. You’re focused on this as well. But there’s been very, very little talk on foreign policy.
It’s very, very powerful what you open with. You say you’ve spent we’ve spent our entire lives at war. I was 13 years old when we went to war in Afghanistan and to Iraq for the second time, and then we’re still at war. Then you also mention Yemen, which no one ever talks about, as well as Afghanistan and Iraq. Is that on purpose that foreign policy is one of the first things that is on there? Foreign policy seems to be important to you. Why?
SMITH: Yes. It actually was on purpose. Foreign policy is extremely important to me. First and foremost, it strongly affects not just my district, but it affects the whole country. I mean, we live in a globalized society. We live in a society, where you can’t just go and sell cluster bombs to one country that they use to perpetuate the genocide and famine in another country and just walk away from that and not notice.
This whole concept of antiwar—Everyone keeps introducing me as an antiwar candidate, but I think all candidates and any progressive candidate worth their salt needs to be an antiwar candidate. We’ve spent so much time abroad and trillions of dollars on things like dropping MOABs and sending our troops into random countries that we decide need to be democratized. We’re trying to dictate the parameters of the world, and it’s hurting our impression on a global stage. It’s hurting our impression on the global stage. It’s hurting our relationships with our allies.
Honestly, this multi-trillion dollar war spending and this exacerbated spending on the military and the DOD, that’s what causing us to not be able to afford things like debt-free college and single-payer health care. So if you really want to talk about things like single-payer, if you really want to talk about things like education for all or infrastructure investments, you have to tie that in to what we’re doing abroad. Because what we’re doing abroad is where we’re spending our trillions and trillions of dollars that we could have had focused on ourselves.
When I talk about foreign policy, I talk about things that are humanitarian and humane. Because we’ve spent so much time at war. We’ve spent more years of my life at war then not at war, and that’s crazy to think about. I mean, it’s the story of most young people right now. They don’t remember a time when we weren’t at war. So I take the charge really, really seriously that we need to shift to a humanitarian military.
One of the reasons that we are seeing this perpetuation of terrorist organizations is because it’s really easy to hate someone that keeps dropping bombs on civilians and is contributing to genocide and perpetuating war in other countries and getting involved in civil wars. It’s really easy to hate those people, but if we go out there and we’re the country that is focused on helping countries provide clean water, helping countries build up their green energy grids, we’re the ones who go out there and we stop injustice. We protect women from domestic violence in foreign nations. We go in and provide humanitarian efforts first and foremost, and we put that front and center. We cultivate positive relationships with people, which is really what’s going to determine whether other countries want to continue to go to war with us.
But the fact of the matter comes down to you can’t talk about progressive policy then gloss over foreign affairs. It’s hugely important. It’s incredibly relevant. We have to cultivate and build up positive relationships around the world. We have to stop blowing trillions and trillions of dollars. I think it’s something, like what was the figure recently? Nine trillion dollars on wars.
KHALEK: There was the National Defense Authorization Act recently passed. I believe it was $717 billion given to Donald Trump to continue endless war without even so much as a discussion. So I’m really happy to hear you say all that. We don’t hear it enough. And before we get to more domestic stuff, there’s one more thing I want to ask you about, which is always a bit of a controversial topic. But you do have a little section on Israel-Palestine.
First of all, are you a member of the Democratic Socialists of America?
SMITH: I am a dues-paying member of the DSA. I also am a dues-paying member of the local Democratic Party as well, which people hear that and think that is impossible. But you can be a Democrat and a Democratic Socialist. You can be both.
KHALEK: Right. Absolutely. So, DSA has endorsed BDS. I know that doesn’t necessarily mean anybody who is a part of it has endorsed it. What is your position on BDS? There is this act in Congress, the Anti-Israel Boycott Act, that seeks to suppress BDS. A, do you support BDS or not? And B, regardless of what your position is on BDS, do you support these measures to try and suppress boycotts?
SMITH: Of course. I’m so glad you asked. Nobody ever asks. I was asked early on, and then it just kind of faded out. I was like let’s go back to that. I want to talk more about that.
I do support BDS. I support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. Because I think that if people want to decide to boycott another country for human rights violations, that’s the purview of those individual people. The anti-BDS bill would make it illegal for you to boycott Israel, which I think is an absolute egregious violation of our right to protest. This is a basic constitutional right. We have the right to protest with our dollars. We have the right to decide what we spend our money on. We have the right to protest nations that are committing human rights atrocities and human rights violations, which as much as we want to avoid the ugly truth that’s what’s happening over in that area.
We are seeing human rights violations against Palestinians by Israel, and no one wants to talk about it because it’s incredibly uncomfortable, and people hear you say that. It is a really nerve-touching issue. But we’ve talked with Jews for Peace. We’ve talked to a lot of different organizations. We’ve talked to a lot of different pro-Palestine organizations, a lot of different pro-Israel organizations. And pretty much everyone agrees the most harmonious solution to everything going on over there, the perfect solution is we really only can support a single state that’s governed by a secular democratically elected government that recognizes the equal rights of all people. That’s Palestinians, that’s Jewish persons, Muslim persons. That recognizes the rights of all people to self-govern and self-determination.
When you talk about the single-state solution, you really have to look at the land that would be available to Palestine if we did a two-state solution. It just isn’t there. There’s not enough land for them to have any kind of competition with Israel. They have to be able to be competitive with Israel at the very least or at least be able to have some kind of bargaining power. And if we create a two-state solution, they’re not really going to have any kind of bargaining power and it’s not really going to be any kind of true solution.
That’s why if you read the platform, and if you read the position on it, that’s why I support a single-state secular government that’s been democratically elected and recognizes the rights of all people.
But as for BDS, I firmly support any American’s right to protest in whatever way they see fit. I don’t think the government has the power to turn around and tell them who they can and cannot protest for what reasons.
KHALEK: Well said. I’m really impressed because I know that’s a difficult issue to talk about, especially when you’re going into politics. So I appreciate your honesty and your boldness and your braveness.
SMITH: Thank you. It really is a hard conversation to have. I think people just they don’t want to talk about it. They’re not comfortable so they don’t like to state their positions. So you know I have my position. I’m ready to defend that position. I think I have solid reasoning for it. And I mean the fact is we cannot turn a blind eye to what’s happening in Israel when we’ve invaded other countries for doing the same thing. We can’t do that. It’s hypocritical.
GOSZTOLA: In your foreign policy platform, you do mention that your opponent, Adam Smith, the Democrat—Just to be clear while we’re doing this. You qualified in something called top two in Washington. So you’re not running against a Republican. You’re running against an incumbent Democrat. So it’s a different race than a lot of other places where the Democratic Party might come after you and say you’re too left-wing. You’re going to not be able to beat the Republican, and that’s not something we subscribe to on this show but that’s a favorite line that establishment Democrats like to use against candidates like you.
But the thing I want to focus upon is how you call attention to his support for the authorized use for military force. I think what’s really good with what you’re doing with your campaign—and there’s a few others that are doing this as well—but what’s really good about your campaign is making that connection between war and the sort of priorities we have and how they’re misplaced.
I’d like to hear from you, as far as you’re district and the local area—How might the war economy going in Washington? Because it’s a status quo. The endless war, the nature of how we become entrenched in these open-ended commitments, makes it possible for a whole system to arise. You’ve seen it with the new military spending bill that had John McCain’s name on it, where there’s all these different military contractors that are going to benefit greatly. But a lot of them are programs that are really wasteful and don’t do much at all.
SMITH: That’s a huge thing to me. To touch on a couple of things in there, my incumbent likes to—
So the top two vote-getters go on to the general election in Washington. It doesn’t matter if it’s two Democrats, two Republicans, a Republican and Democrat. It doesn’t matter. We’re a pretty unique system, which is cool.
One of the things that my incumbent has been doing is he keeps talking about Russia, and he keeps talking about Trump and how Trump is the number one threat to America and we have to push back on Russia. He’s not wrong on those accounts, but here’s the thing: If he really felt that was true, he would be doing absolutely everything to get the trigger away from the itchy trigger finger of the narcissistic megalomaniacal moron we have in office right now.
[Smith] does a lot with words. He says, oh yeah, I’d love to see an audit of the Pentagon. Sir, you’ve been in office for 22 years. You could have pushed for it at anytime, and you haven’t pushed for it at all. So I find it really tough to believe that he actually plans to do anything about this. What’s frustrating about this is he’s a ranked member of the Armed Services Committee. He takes a ton of money from the military industrial-complex. Lockheed Martin is one of his biggest donors, and it was Lockheed Martin bombs that were dropped on Yemeni children. He had the opportunity in 2016 to vote against selling those bombs to Saudi Arabia. He could’ve voted to stop selling them to Saudi Arabia, and he didn’t. He chose not to. He chose to vote in favor of selling them to Saudi Arabia.
The way I look at it, he thinks money doesn’t buy his vote. Well, it sure as hell bought that vote. And it’s frustrating because people in this district—We have Boeing, and we have a couple of these different industries here, and everyone is tied up in this idea of the war economy. They’re tied up in the idea that we can only be involved in a war economy. That’s our only option. That’s our only choice as aerospace engineers is to keep making planes and bombs and things like that. The fact is that’s just a lie. That’s a gaslight that we’ve been given by our government to believe that we must stay at war because that’s the only way to make profit, and it’s not. Absolutely, it’s not. That’s just such a lie, and it frustrates me.
We have so many brilliant minds here in this district. We have so many brilliant tech companies. We have so many brilliant tech folks. We have the ability of to be on the forefront of things like green energy and things like infrastructure. We have the ability to put our engineers of all these rail projects people keep talking about. We have so many opportunities beyond just this war economy that it’s heartbreaking to me to see people feel like their hamstrung and they must keep doing these things to keep their livelihoods.
I don’t want to put people out of work. I don’t want to put people out of jobs. I want to put people in jobs that they feel good about. I want to put them in jobs that are improving this country and jobs that are improving the world. And I think that they’ve been so limited because we’ve been at war for so long that it’s hard for them to see that it’s a real possibility that we could pursue here in this district. We don’t have to be on the forefront of the war industry. We can be on the forefront of the green energy industry, of the modern rail industry. We have so much opportunity, and we just need a representative that’s not afraid to seize it.
And that’s what I want to be for this district. I want to be a representative that’s not afraid to take bold stances. That doesn’t walk back my statements, that stands by my beliefs and my values and my morals. And I truly believe that we have huge opportunity for these kinds of things in this district, and we have a huge opportunity to booster not just our economy here in the 9th district but across Washington state and across the country. We have an opportunity to do better and feel good about the work that we’re doing, and we should take that opportunity. We need representatives that are going to push us to accept it.
GOSZTOLA: Another thing you have on your issues page that doesn’t get talked about enough, and I believe that, given what you said about foreign policy, that it’s probably deliberate that it shows up as number three. But that’s the issue of Puerto Rico and the way in which it has been impacted by U.S. colonialism. I think it’s so important what you lay out. I’d like to hear you talk about why you make this a top issue.
SMITH: Of course. Because you’re absolutely correct. It ties right into foreign affairs. We have this imperialist nature about us, and we’re pretending it’s not there. We’re pretending that it’s not a form of imperialism to go in and overthrow governments and install the ones that we want. And the best example of that imperialism is what we’re doing with Puerto Rico.
These are U.S. citizens. Essentially, it’s an honorary state is the way I look at it, and it’s been a year and they just got electricity back. A good friend of fine lives down in Puerto Rico, and he’s like oh no I got another rolling blackout coming in. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. And they’re just so casual about it now.
There were crates and containers of supplies that were rotting in a shipyard because nobody bothered to do anything about it. The fact that they’ve had to wait so long for basic things like clean water and electricity is ridiculous, and it’s indicative of this kind of bulldozing nature that we have on the foreign stage.
One of the biggest problems that I have too is with the PROMESA Act [Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act]. It took away Puerto Rico’s ability to self-govern. It suppressed the minimum wage of workers in Puerto Rico. It’s like we’re doing our best to keep Puerto Rico poor. But at the same time, they’re United States citizens, but we’re not treating them like it. And that’s, for lack of a better word—I’m trying to find a more gentle word, it’s disgusting.
The fact that they’ve had to wait so long for aid, the fact that we’ve robbed them of their autonomy, the fact that we’ve dictated to them how they’re supposed to be run—We’ve stripped them away of absolutely every basic right they should be entitled to. And it’s one small picture of exactly how we’re treating the rest of the world on the global stage. It’s more abhorrent that we’re doing it to our own people.
GOSZTOLA: Now there’s a battle that has unfolded in Washington, and I know it’s not exactly in your 9th District but I do think that it’s probably relevant to what you’re doing with your campaign and probably of interest to your constituents, particularly. So when you talk about income inequality and you talk about these several economic issues that you’re dealing with through your campaign, one thing that’s been a problem in Seattle is that the city council mobilized to make corporations, particularly Amazon, to pay to support affordable housing, to address the homelessness crisis.
But they were blindsided. Amazon basically engaged in a kind of extortion, turned it around on people, and they had to reverse course and not pursue the sort of affordable housing agenda they had in mind to raise taxes on them to fund measures in Washington. I assume that is not just a problem on the west coast but in all parts of the United States — that these corporations are pushing back in these ways.
So I want to get your view on all this and why it is so important to push back on this status quo.
SMITH: Sure, of course. I am a supporter of—It’s called the head tax but the colloquial term is the Amazon tax. I’m a supporter of the Amazon tax. I think Amazon has been pretty irresponsible in how they treat their workers. I think that Jeff Bezos wealth-hoarding and saying, people want to launch cars into space. They don’t want health care, is just indicative of a cultural practice endemic to companies like Amazon, who just don’t feel like they need to take responsibility for their part in the environment.
The fact is that these big corporations come in, and it’s great because they have job-creating opportunities. It’s amazing. It’s awesome, but they have an effect on the communities, and they fail to take any responsibility for their effect on those communities. So when we see an increase in the homeless population, a lot of it’s because of skyrocketing rents that nobody can afford. Amazon refuses to pay livable wages to their employees. So some of them are living out of their cars.
We’re seeing this skyrocketing problem with housing costs and housing prices, where no one can get into the market. They’ve been completely priced out. Neighborhoods are being gentrified. Entire communities are being displaced, and Amazon just says, oh that’s not our problem. We didn’t do that. But the fact is they did. They just want to pretend that they did not, and it’s frustrating.
When the Amazon tax first came up, I thought it was a great way to hold them accountable for their effect on the community around them. Amazon was the loudest. They certainly weren’t the only corporation that was affected. We actually had a lot of local large businesses that were affected by it too. But Amazon was the one complaining about it.
Because the businesses in Washington—Props to the state of Washington. We know that we are responsible for our communities, and our businesses know that they are responsible for our communities. Amazon does not seem to realize that they are responsible to their communities too. They have a responsibility to the people around them. They’re generating a ton of wealth that seems to be going back into Jeff Bezos’ pocket and not into the city of Seattle, not into the surrounding counties, not into any of the surrounding cities, barely into the state of Washington.
That was a way to hold them accountable for their effect on it, for their effect on the community, for their displacement of people, for the things that they’ve done to skyrocket our rents. That was a way to hold them accountable, and rather than just say, okay, we have an effect on the community. Ok, we’ll pay the head tax and move forward. They pitched a fit about it and said we can’t afford this. This is ridiculous—at the same time while posting record profit.
It’s ridiculous. It’s almost like a sleight of hand. It’s kind of gaslighty. I use that word a lot because it feels like that’s what’s happening every single day that I wake up. But I mean, they’re talking about record profits and then they’re saying, oh no, we can’t afford to help solve the homelessness crisis and we refuse to take ownership that we created this.
And I was really proud when we initially passed the head tax. Of course, I wish it were more comprehensive. I wish it had a little bit more leniency with the local businesses that we have here. I wish that it was kinder on our local businesses that are being responsible. Basically, what I’m trying to say is I wish it were more specifically geared toward Amazon. But I was really happy, and then when that vote came up about a month later and they repealed it except for Kshama Sawant was the only one to dissent and say absolutely not. We’re keeping the tax.
It was devastating to me that our city council would let themselves be strong-armed by a corporation instead of the will of the people. The people of Seattle, the people of Washington, they were excited about this tax. They were ready for it. It was a real way to help cover the homelessness issue. It was a real way to help deal with it and to hold Amazon accountable whether they want to accept responsibility or not.
And it was really disappointing that instead of listening to the people of the city they let corporations like Amazon whisper in their ears and make the decision for them. To me, it shows the impact of corporate greed, and it shows the impact of corporate influence even at a local level. I thought that was a great demonstration of how corporate influence affects even as far as city council. But I was really frustrated by it because I was supportive of the Amazon tax. I’m still in support of it. I hope that the fight comes back into Seattle, and I hope that it’s something they’re able to pursue.
But I have other feelings about Seattle as well, like $148 million stadium doesn’t strike me as responsible when we really need to create thousands of more beds for a homeless population. We just have different priorities I suppose. It’s frustrating, and we’re better than that. And Seattle is better than that, and that’s what’s so heartbreaking I think. Our city is so much better than that and so much bigger than that. And we can do better, and to see them get strong-armed in what’s supposed to be one of the most progressive areas of the country was really really devastating to me. So I hope the Amazon tax comes back. I hope that they bring it back.
*Part 2 of the interview with Sarah Smith will be posted on August 22.