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Join Jean Swanson in fighting for the city we need

Lisa Descary

June 14, 2018

It’s that time of year in Vancouver when warm weather is here, and municipal political parties have begun to announce their candidacies for Vancouver city council. But long-time anti-poverty activist and COPE city council candidate Jean Swanson did things quite differently by holding a kickoff rally in Shaughnessy, Vancouver’s most affluent neighbourhood.

For those who followed Jean’s campaign in the 2017 by-election, this shouldn’t be a surprise. When it comes to class consciousness, Jean knows where she stands: with working people, especially renters, against the landlords and the mansion owners of the 1%. And that is why her 2017 campaign mobilized large numbers of numbers of people, and stands to do so again this year.

Swanson’s launch rally was fun and entertaining—featuring a giant Kleenex box of ‘Jeanex tissues’ (for the tears of mansion owners complaining about proposed tax increases), a skit involving Jean’s “therapy tent” for one-percenters needing counseling for their “cognitive dissonance” as they perceive more progressive taxation as somehow unfair to society, as well as speeches.

But Jean’s campaign isn’t just witty and creative; it’s a true grassroots movement that is inspiring people who wouldn’t normally get involved in municipal politics to join in the fight for the “city we need.”

Jean Swanson has run for city council several times since the 1970s, but most recently her 2017 by-election campaign gained a wave of popular support by tapping into popular anger around inaction on Vancouver’s housing crisis.  Her campaign called attention to the acute lack of affordable housing in Vancouver, which has the highest rents and lowest vacancy rates in Canada. Jean’s call for a four-year rent freeze and a “mansion tax” of an additional one percent on houses valued at over $5 million were concrete demands that people could rally around. Jean was almost successful in gaining a position on council, she came close to winning despite her shoestring budget.

But in a statement that echoes the best of Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn, Jean was adamant that her campaign is not just about her, but is really about a movement. At her launch rally, speeches from Swanson and running-mate Derrick O’Keefe mentioned that they don’t see just getting a seat on council as the goal of their campaigns.

As O’Keefe explained; “Jean Swanson really embodies a very, very different type of politician.…we don’t just want to get Jean on council, although that’s goal number one. The goal is also to build the social movements in the city: to build the tenants’ union, to build the power of tenants and renters across the city to give the progressive politicians in office the power, the authority behind them from a mobilized citizenry to make the changes [we need].”

As socialists, we agree that building strong social movements in the city is the only way to win the city we need. If only the NDP would take a page from Swanson and O’Keefe’s campaign book, we would be in a much better position to fight for the world we need as well.

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