Editorials — June 27, 2014 12:49 — 0 Comments

The Monarch Drinks With Jess Spear

The Monarch Review sent founding editor Caleb Thompson, author of The Monarch Drinks With Socialism, to talk with Jess Spear about her political campaign. Below is an account of their morning together. 


The first thing I noticed about Jess Spear was her youth and unassuming air. She was dressed simply in jeans and t-shirt, backpack slung over her shoulders. As we ascended to the second level of Café Vita on Pike, I asked if she thought she’d change her dress should she be elected to office. Her response was as casual as her attire: she hoped not, she was comfortable.

Spear is running against Frank Chopp for the State House of Representatives in the 43rd district. To call her an underdog would be a gross understatement. Chopp has held office for twenty years, his fundraising base is much larger, and despite Kshama Sawant’s recent election to Seattle City Council, the Socialist brand still suffers from the stigma of the horrors of the 20th century.

When I asked Spear if she thinks we’re experiencing a zeitgeist moment in the wake of Kshama Sawant’s election to the Seattle City Council, she replied in the affirmative: “I think people awakened to the fact that we don’t live in the meritocracy we’ve been sold all our lives, that if you work hard, keep your head down, go to school and get good grades, you can get a wonderful career. You can be anything you want to be. Especially for young people, they know it’s not true. They’re graduating with record levels of student debt. The job prospects are extremely weak. Many of them are having to move back home, which is really hard for their parents who are taking care of their parents. I think a lot of people who lost their jobs in the global recession, through no fault of their own, were unemployed for a long period of time, had to take a job at a really large pay cut, lost their homes—it became quite obvious that it’s not how hard you work, but that something is structurally wrong.”

I asked Spear if the emergence of similar complaints on either end of the left-right spectrum is an indication of the obsolescence of that spectrum. “I think with the working population, people like you and me, yeah, there are a lot of issues that we are in full agreement on: when it comes to taxing the super wealthy to pay for our social services, when it comes to funding education, transportation, things like that. People absolutely are in agreement, and they’re to the left of the politicians. And the left-right paradigm really serves the political establishment, big business—it keeps us divided.”

As I listened to Spear outline the similarities in the discontent of working people on both the left and the right, I remembered hearing that Kshama Sawant had made an appearance on KIRO Radio with conservative host Dori Monson. Sawant had agreed to join Monson to talk about Seattle City Light Chief Jorge Carrasco’s $120,000 raise on top of his current $245,000 salary—something Monson also found ludicrous. I’d heard that Sawant had hung up on air after being pressed about her personal life. I asked Spear if she knew anything about the incident. She said she hadn’t listened to it, but that if Sawant had hung up, she’d probably had reason. I hadn’t listened to the audio at the time either, and was mistaken in my understanding that she’d hung after being asked about her personal life. What Monson had asked was whether or not Sawant found any disparity between condemning salary increases for top municipal officials and standing beside union leaders who make $300,000 salaries. When I listened to the audio I was disappointed. I think it was a question Sawant should have answered. I think it’s a question she should still answer. (To be fair, I also think Dori Monson is a complete tool, and merely leveraged an initial point of agreement into a sensational gotcha moment. He’s an entertainment guy, and should not be taken seriously.)

I asked Spear about the difficulty composing and maintaining a public persona. “I mean it really just depends on the audience. It’s really about the ideas you are trying to get across. Kshama’s ability to inspire people and really light a fire inside of them that these ideas matter and that their involvement in building a movement and getting people inspired to actually change the world…is a skill I very much I admire and hope to develop myself. It’s not about the person. I think in the United States especially, there’s a lot of focus on the actual candidate, who they are as a person, what makes them interesting as a person. That takes the focus away from the ideas they are trying to raise on the campaign. What are the main ideas on the platform? What issues are they trying to highlight in the campaign that usually get ignored. I think if you look at Kshama’s campaign over the past two years, and what we’re doing with this campaign, there’s a continuation of those ideas. But there’s still a focus on the person. Of course, people are interested to know why this person wants to run, what is their background. I wouldn’t call it a red herring, but most of that really doesn’t matter. What matters to us is connecting people and inspiring them to get involved in the political process.”

We talked about how humor does or doesn’t play into her political sensibility—she seemed to agree with me that it’s necessary, though she always returned to the point that it’s the ideas that are most important. I asked her if she planned on debating Frank Chopp. She said that she’d like to. I asked if she had challenged him herself. She said that her team was working to get media outlets to set up a debate. I didn’t understand why she hadn’t just made the challenge herself. I expressed my confusion. She didn’t really have a good answer, so I let it go by encouraging her to make the challenge herself, and I moved on.

Soon enough it was time to click off the analog mini-cassette recorder and wrap it up. We descended the stairs and walked out into the beautiful blue and sun-splashed young summer day. I told her that she had an ally in me, and I restrained myself from raising my hand for a high-five. Instead, I shook her hand, and we parted ways.


Jess Spear is throwing her Campaign Launch Party at Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar Saturday, June 28th at 5 pm. For more details visit her website at www.votespear.org.


Caleb Thompson is a co-founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney