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Washington state’s democratic socialist House candidate Sarah Smith says progressives must prioritize anti-war activism, as she challenges hawkish neoliberal corporate Democrat Adam Smith, who is funded by the arms industry

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BEN NORTON: A Democratic Socialist candidate running for the House of Representatives in Washington state has made antiwar politics a key part of her platform, and she wants other progressives to prioritize antiwar activism.

Sarah Smith is a working-class insurgent candidate running against a centrist corporate Democrat who voted for the Iraq war. She was inspired to run for office after Bernie Sanders’ groundbreaking 2016 presidential campaign.

SARAH SMITH: I started- like a lot of people, I got most motivated during Bernie’s campaign because in my head I was like, finally, a politician talking about the things that mattered to me; the material issues that I see and face every single day. And after Donald Trump got elected, I did what most people did. I promptly threw up, and then decided, how can I help change the world?

BEN NORTON: But unlike Bernie Sanders and other progressives who often shy away from foreign policy issues, Sarah Smith has strongly emphasized antiwar politics in her campaign. In fact, foreign policy is at the top of her platform. She argues that progressives must make this a top priority because, as she puts it, the military-industrial complex and the financial industry have been prioritized over the working class for far too long.

SARAH SMITH: Being antiwar is being progressive. They’re interlinked. They’re inextricable together. This is something we have to prioritize. We can’t find the money to participate in progressive policies and fight for progressive policies without also talking about ending our very expensive wars that we’ve been running for 17 years. We can’t talk about finding money for debt-free education without also talking about auditing the Pentagon and the DoD. We can’t really have those conversations without linking them with an antiwar stance.

And I know most progressives are very much so antiwar, but they don’t really know the full scope of what that means. And so because I do and because my campaign has gone out of our way to make sure we are well-rounded in that area, we push it really, really hard so other progressives can look to us as an example. And if they’re lacking in that area they can use us, and they can use our references and my platform and things I said and our tools. We try to help the progressive community grow in that area wherever we can, because I think it’s important.

BEN NORTON: Sarah Smith is running in Washington State’s 9th Congressional District, where she is challenging Representative Adam Smith, who as a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee has established himself as a hawkish Democrat. Adam Smith has been in Congress for 22 years, and in 2002 he voted to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Sarah Smith, on the other hand, was protesting against the Iraq war at the time.

SARAH SMITH: For me, I’ve been an antiwar activist since the Iraq war started. In high school I was participating in sit-ins and walkouts. I’m still an antiwar activist about a war going on in the exact same region. And for me, being antiwar is being progressive. They’re interlinked, they’re inextricable together. When we prioritize war and violence we create this economy of violence where in order for us to prosper we have to kill people to do it. And I don’t believe in that. I buried friends from the Iraq war. I have friends that are veterans that have come back with PTSD from the wars in the Middle East. And nothing will sober you up to the realities of what it means to be antiwar than spending a Fourth of July huddled under a table with a friend of yours who is having a flashback, trying to calm them down. Nothing will sober you up.

But I think that a lot of progressive candidates are nervous to wade into those waters, because when you talk about geopolitics, when you talk about foreign policy, when you talk about all the different very complicated threads that go into it, it’s really daunting for a lot of progressives. But just because something is daunting doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thread to chase. The least we can do is be well versed on it as progressives. And I think we talk about, you know, how complicated geopolitics are, and so people are kind of nervous to get into it.

But I kind of just dove in. I focused on learning the history behind these wars, learning about the specifics behind these wars. And then I got to know more about America’s involvement in all of these wars, like our destabilization in the ’80s of Honduras, which is what’s pushing the migrant caravan up here. People don’t realize that that was us. We did that. We created the violence that they’re fleeing, so it’s only right that they come to us to seek asylum. And it’s complicated explaining that to people, because their memories aren’t that long. A lot of this stuff, too, with foreign affairs, it doesn’t happen in a two to five year window, so a lot of people don’t think about it. It’s spread out over time.

BEN NORTON: Sarah Smith has been endorsed by a variety of progressive organizations, including several branches of Democratic Socialists of America and Our Revolution. Her incumbent opponent Adam Smith, on the other hand, is a prominent member of the neoliberal New Democrat Coalition; a pro-corporate group that is funded by Wall Street. Unlike Adam Smith, Sarah Smith refuses to take corporate money, and she wants to get money out of politics. Sarah Smith supports increasing the minimum wage to a living wage that is tied to inflation, and she also wants a federal jobs guarantee and free tuition for public colleges. Sarah Smith argues that unlike her opponent, progressives do not need corporate money to win elections.

I absolutely believe we can reject it entirely. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her primary. Adrienne Bell won her primary, Lindsay Fagan won her primary, I won my primary without the help of corporations and without the help of corporate PACs. Not only did we get into the general election, we also are running a hard, competitive campaign. My incumbent that I’m running against has spent more money on this election than he did fighting against a conservative Tea Partier when redistricting happened. That means we are fighting the good fight, and we’re doing it the right way. It can be done without corporate money, and it should be done without corporate money.

BEN NORTON: Earlier in 2018, most of the Democrats in both the House and the Senate joined Republicans in voting for a bill that would give theU.S. military a staggering $716 billion budget. This is increased by $82 billion more than 2017’s budget, and that was even larger than what the Donald Trump administration had requested. Washington Congressman Adam Smith was one of the Democrats who supported this enormous military spending, but Sarah Smith argues this money would be much better spent helping people here at home.

BEN NORTON: My incumbent, the guy I’m running against, was one of those Democrats that voted in favor of that expanded and bloated military budget, and they actually wound up giving Donald Trump more money than what he asked for. And there’s a million excuses that they give you why, and none of them are bad excuses, but they’re all still just that; they’re excuses. Because if we had banded together as a party and voted no, we could have forced a renegotiation of that bill. We could have forced them to redraw those boundaries. We had the power to do it, and we didn’t.

And we need to take a step back from all that military spending, because right now we’re using it as a justification. Like my incumbent says, oh, well, you know, the military, they’re the ones that are pushing green energy the most. We need to give them more money. And that’s when I like to push back, and I’m like, well, no, why don’t we end the fossil fuel subsidies and put those into green energy companies? It doesn’t have to be the military that does it, but we’ve boxed ourselves in because they have so much of our regular governmental budget that we have to give them more money to do it, because we’re not enabling anywhere else in our government to work on that stuff.

BEN NORTON: Sarah Smith also emphasized that a significant chunk of this bloated, skyrocketing military budget in fact goes into the coffers of private contractors and mercenary groups who turn taxpayer dollars into corporate profits, greasing the gears of the military-industrial complex.

SARAH SMITH: But we’re spending all this money on our military. Sixty percent of the military budget goes into the pockets of private contractors. That means that it’s lining the pockets of my incumbent’s top donors. His top three donors are all military-industrial complex. So he never talks about getting rid of that 60 percent that’s being spent on those private contracts, because that would deeply disadvantage his donors.

But it all comes back to corporate money. Like I said before, we’ve, we’ve created this economy of violence where in order for us to profit we have to kill people, which means that the primary donors for a lot of the, a lot of the Republicans, who joke about being the party of the billionaire class, are the same exact donors that give to Democrats and establishment Democrats, too. And people forget about that. That’s why the reputation of being the party of capitulation exists. That’s by design. That’s not by accident.

And Ocasio Cortez’s- she said it the best. It’s time for the Democrats to come home. It’s time for the Democrats to stop partnering up with those donors who donate to both the Republicans and to themselves. They need to take stock of themselves in the mirror, and they need to say we have to end this economy of death that we’ve created for ourselves. And it’s frustrating, because we’ve poured so much money down into the hands of the military-industrial complex because it’s incredibly profitable because of that corporate money that’s being given away; it’s our tax dollars going to line the pockets of mercenary groups.

There was just an article that was written about the mercenaries that are running hit squads in Yemen, and they are private companies that are receiving U.S. taxpayer dollars to go and do those things. There was outrage not that long ago about there was a full fleet of Navy ships that were escorting a privately-owned oil tanker from Somalia. And this is what’s happening, are these private donors have become so wound up in our political system and so interwoven with the establishment Democrats that capitulate all the time to make sure that they still get their bonuses every year that it’s literally taking food and healthcare away from the people. And it’s just because the priorities of the party have just gotten so lost. When we tried to have this Third Way thing that we did for a little bit, we lost our own way. And that Third Way pulled us and farther back from what our true purpose was as a party.

And Alexandria is right. It’s time for the Democrats to come home. There is no Third Way with healthcare. There is no Third Way with education. There is no Third Way with the climate. We need to elect representatives that are going to eschew that corporate money, that are not going to make excuses for their continuing taking it, that are going to actually stand up and fight for people and put people first, because we can’t keep using our tax dollars to line the pockets of private war companies and then try to paint ourselves as the good guys. If we’re going to show people we’re the good guys we have to prove to people that we’re the good guys. It’s time for the party to come home and be the party of the working people, and not just say we’re the party of the working people.

BEN NORTON: Reporting for The Real News, I’m Ben Norton.

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Ben Norton is a producer and reporter for The Real News. His work focuses primarily on U.S. foreign policy, the Middle East, media criticism, and movements for economic and social justice. Ben Norton was previously a staff writer at Salon and AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.