Freelance journalist Arun Gupta has posted a long FB comment (and now article) comparing the twitter presence of Alexandra Ocasio Cortez of the DSA and Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative. His take on SA prompted someone to link to an article I had written in 2016 that was critical of SA’s practice of placing political candidates before social movements and gave an account of the rise of Sawant and the fight for $15Now.
Gupta tagged me in that thread, criticized my article, disparaged my credibility, and then deleted some of my posts and blocked me from the thread. I’m writing here in response.
Gupta’s main claim is that my 2016 article confused the basic facts of Sawant’s campaign, that I failed to properly research as would a professional journalist, and that my analysis of SA and Sawant is therefore not trustworthy. He claims that a list of union donations made to Sawant that I use to argue union influence were made in 2014, not in 2013 when she was first elected to office. The key offending phrase for Gupta is when I argue that unions “gave big and give early” to the Sawant campaign. Gupta writes, “The report shows they all gave in 2014. Months AFTER the election! This is why there are professional journalist and editors who know how to gather evidence, write clearly, and fact-check. Your analysis can not be trusted because you get basic facts wildly wrong. Honestly I encounter this all the time for the Left. The blithe disregard for basic rules of evidence is not just astonishing. It is one sign of” why the “Left” is so small, he writes.
Gupta would know if he had taken care to read the evidence I provided linked in the original article that the facts in the article are correct. In addition to the list I provided in the article, numerous labor groups and individuals gave to the campaign in 2013 and 2014 before Sawant’s election and the city vote on Seattle minimum wage bill.
The same source that Gupta uses to attempt to discredit the article show donations from the Electrical Workers PAC of $240 in July and another $440 in September of 2013. Union presidents, organizers, and well connected union political leaders, some of who would go on to work with the AFL county council and elsewhere all gave well before Sawant’s November election. Gupta tries to make use of the April 2014 contributions as if they don’t support union influence, but they do. The union contributions came in the crucial months right before the Seattle city council had a vote on the minimum wage, and were part of an all out effort by Seattle area unions to pass their number one legislative priority. These unions gave big, early, and were designed to build support for their minimum wage law.
In his analysis Gupta would have us believe that campaign contributions and endorsements are not politically significant, that numerous union donors maxing out their allowed contributions is not giving big, that union PACs, officials, and leaders giving in July and throughout the summer of 2013 is not giving early, and that a disruptive campaign by unions for $15 including “strikes,” demonstrations, blockades with arrests, and media events in May through August of 2013 is not important. His belief that collectively these did not have an impact on Sawant’s election campaign with the same demand is unlikely. The labor movement gave big and gave early to Sawant and the minimum wage effort, and their work was the key in the passage of the law and her victory. If Gupta had cared to look at the record or think about the arguments he was making he wouldn’t have erred so egregiously in his criticisms.
Instead if we look at Gupta’s work we find claims without evidence and analysis that doesn’t bear up to scrutiny. In his recent Counterpunch article he argues that Sawant is able to tweet from a more left position because she has a movement base. He writes “SAlt is more effective (at tweets) because its candidates advance the strategy of building working-class power.” But this is contrary to the evidence. In the most recent political contest in Seattle with Sawant over the Amazon head-tax, Sawant and SA lost very big. They attempted to mobilize demonstrations to build public pressure to pass a more robust head tax on employers. Their major protests had maybe 100 people, hardly a significant base in a city of 700K, and not enough to overcome the opposition of corporate giants like Amazon. The council passed a watered down version before even that was repealed.
The point is that Gupta’s claims that Sawant and SA are “building working-class power” or “building a movement” has no evidence, and are based solely on the claims of SA themselves. If we look at the evidence, we see the opposite, SA has difficulty mobilizing people and has not built a movement, but built a candidate at the expense of movement building, exactly as my initial article argued. Here Gupta’s reports act as a mouthpiece for elected officials, and ask the wrong questions. Instead of seeking to explain the differences in tweets, serious analysts and journalists seek to explain policy outcomes. In this Gupta’s recent journalism is more a stenography of power than an investigative tool for movement building.
After posting these and similar comments in response to his criticisms Gupta deleted some of my replies and blocked me from his post. He did this without explaining to those on the thread that he had blocked me, and now refuses in personal messages to engage further. When I prompted him that I deserved a response, he attempted to bully me based on his status as “a professional writer.”
Gupta’s behavior is somewhat inexplicable given his record, but not without precedent. We’ve seen lone academics, writers and journalists turn against what they deem the “Left” for spurious reasons in the past. Without formal ties to social movements and engagement in collective organizing to keep them honest it seems easy for these types of commentators to defend power over a basic commitment to the facts, reason and justice. It’s sad to see Gupta make this turn, and I sincerely hope he drops his bogus claims and bullying tactics and gets back to the good journalism we’re all used to from him. (This is especially surprising given his support for my article early on.) At minimum, when he tags someone in a post only to disparage their work and credibility he has a responsibility to allow them the right of response. To do otherwise is to act as a coward and a bully, not characteristics I typically associate with professional journalists or with Gupta.