On Aug. 20 and 21, around 125 community members gathered at the Seattle University campus to attend solidarity school, an educational event discussing stories and strategies on fighting for progressive change and collective liberation. The event was organized by the Seattle-Tacoma chapter of International League of Peoples' Struggle (ILPS), an international alliance of hundreds of progressive civil society groups that oppose imperialism around the world.
Solidarity school featured workshops from community groups such as Gabriela Seattle, which discussed organizing with women in the Philippines and the diaspora; the Puget Sound Tenants Union, which talked about building power among renters; Auburn Mutual Aid, which presented on the limitations of mutual aid work; rank-and-file members of Unite Here Local 8, who advocated for a more confrontational class struggle-based labor unionism; and others.
The two-day event also featured artists and performers, as well as a panel of local activists involved in campaigns targeting weapon manufacturers, militaries and police forces.
In a presentation, ILPS organizers defined imperialism as a form of capitalism where an elite corporate class dominates and exploits working and oppressed people, not just in their own country’s borders but also around the world. They explained that corporations such as Amazon or big oil companies cooperate with governments to create monopolies over certain resources or markets. All this is reinforced by financial systems such as the hegemony of the U.S. dollar and the International Monetary Fund, which forces poor countries to privatize public goods in exchange for loans.
According to presenters at the solidarity school, issues from mass incarceration to climate change to war can be attributed to the symptoms of imperialism and the violence that governments and private actors use to uphold it.
For Carly Brook, an organizer with ILPS Seattle-Tacoma, events such as solidarity school help bridge the gaps in Seattle’s fractured political left. After traveling to Europe on a recent anti-war delegation, Brook saw “the need to draw together our forces here and combat our sectarianism or our quarrels — to unite on political struggles that will help us to make progress against some of the major targets in our area.”
Brook said that corporations based in the Seattle area, such as Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing, play an outsized role upholding imperialism. In 2018, a coalition including ILPS Seattle-Tacoma spearheaded a grassroots campaign to draw attention to how Boeing drones made in Klickitat County, Washington, were being sold to oppressive governments such as the Duterte regime in the Philippines.
Together with student groups, ILPS Seattle-Tacoma plans to call on the University of Washington to cut ties with Boeing and direct students to careers in businesses that don’t support the military-industrial complex, Brook said.
“Now, we’re ready to push out this campaign again, with better unity and clearer direction,” Brook said.
Leftist organizing in Seattle is disparate, said Zach Andrews, another organizer involved with ILPS Seattle-Tacoma.
“There’s a lot of different groups, different interest groups, doing a lot of different things, all with their own lines, all with their own intended purposes and all not really talking to each other and doing work together,” Andrews said. “And we kind of wanted to change that.”
While leftist organizing has traditionally been siloed around individual issues — such as anti-war activism, labor organizing or environmentalism — many participants said they appreciated being able to recruit and connect with people who are newer to anti-imperialist activism.
“We think it is really necessary that we all get in a room together, we talk, we unite and we work towards a common goal, which is changing the system, which is changing our future and society at large so that we can live in a more equitable planet, that our status here in America — in the imperial core — isn’t dependent on the exploitation and death of people in the Global South,” said Andrews.
This article has been updated to reflect solidarity school's attendance.
Read more of the Aug. 31-Sept. 6, 2022 issue.