Q&A: District 4 candidate Shaun Scott discusses democratic socialism and campaigning while Black

by Carla Bell

The Emerald sat down with Democratic Socialist candidate Shaun Scott who recounted his advancement in the King County Primary Election for District 4, edging out competitors Cathy Tuttle and Emily Myers in August. This is his first run for public office, which he said was funded substantially by democracy vouchers, a taxpayer-funded citywide program that allows voters to give up to $100 to their candidates of choice.  Before running for election, Scott worked for U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal’s campaign, as well as Jon Grant’s 2017 run for Seattle City Council, and other campaigns.

Scott will run with Alex Pederson in November’s General Election on a platform that includes public housing, a Seattle Green New Deal, a new tax code, a Freelancer’s Bill of Rights, and other issues.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Carla Bell: You’ve done a lot of work on other campaigns, so you stepped into the race with good experience. What did you bring to this effort?

Shaun Scott: I think the thing that I gained most from those experiences of being on those campaigns was just a familiarity for the ebbs and flows of an election cycle. Because there’s a lot of emotional ups and downs where, you know, you get a big endorsement, and you feel like you won the race, but it’s only Monday, and you have like a whole week of stuff that you need to be doing or, you know, you see your opponent one of your opponent’s doing pretty well. And you can have the tendency to go into a little bit of a tailspin when things are not going the best, or get a little too high when you really haven’t accomplished anything yet.

I think the number one thing that being a part of two election cycles in the two years previous to this – it kind of helped me to just take some off the top a little bit and make sure we have a higher floor emotionally too, so instead of going like this [making a wave motion with his hand], we’re just a lot more consistent emotionally.

CB: A lot of the work your team has done will continue and, no doubt, you’ll be studying your winning strategies. What else is your camp doing between now and November?

SS: We want to make sure that we stay out of running an anti-campaign because being negative it’s just, first of all, not what we really need more of in politics. 

We’re running a campaign that’s affirmative on the values of public housing, we’re affirming the values of being a climate leader. We’re affirming the values of building more social housing in this city. 

Right now, it’s about looking at precinct maps and figuring out what we need to do for our field plan for the general election. I didn’t have the opportunity to go back and re-watch a lot of my debates. Many of those were filmed. You can develop very good habits, and also very poor habits as a public speaker, when you’re doing so much public speaking, like we were at all these candidate forums. I need to see what went well, what was not going so well, where was I bored and showing it, where was my use of language maybe not as tight as it as it could have been. 

CB: Tell me about your campaign team and the work they’ve done. How have they held up through the process?

SS: Our whole staff was amazingly proficient in everything that they did, and we wouldn’t be where we are right now if it weren’t for them, but in particular, I think Corina Yballa, our field director and Sorana Nance were really kind of the rock of this campaign. 

By being a mostly person of color staff in these majority White spaces, there was a lot of stress that we were all absorbing. On the scale of people with privileges on our campaign, in the oppression lottery, as a straight Black cis male, I have more of a capacity. Plus, it was my idea to run. I can’t wait to just make sure that, for the General, we’re compensating them at the rate that this work deserves, because it’s not easy.

CB: Assuming that you have a physical office, where will you be?

SS: It’s all it’s all really presumptuous. I mean, for us, you know, we do think about that and we talk about it as a team, as far as like the vision and what that could potentially look like, but we have a really, really tough general election ahead of us too, so I don’t want …

CB: You don’t want to get ahead of yourself.

SS: Yeah, I don’t want people to get the impression, you know, that we’re sitting here sitting here drinking Bloody Marys, measuring the drapes. We’re going to have to maintain the same energy that we’ve had on our campaign, actually, being in office and making sure that we’re, you know, as accessible as possible to the people that want to talk to us.

CB: Here’s something that I think a lot of us don’t know –– and I’m always kind of pretending that I do –– but are ashamed to ask. What would you say are the differences between democratic socialists, liberals, and progressives?

SS: I think a democratic socialist is somebody who thinks that institutions that work for the people run best when they’re run by the people. 

I think the role of socialist is in United States has always been to be that of a catalyst. We adopt ideas before they become profitable to adopt them. We talk about universal health care, and tenant protections, and increasing the minimum wage, and, basic income, weekends off.

I don’t necessarily know that, if you’re a liberal or progressive, you always think that, but one thing I do know about what it means to be a liberal or progressive is that it’s not fixed in the same way that being a democratic socialist, I think, is more fixed. Which is to say, there are a lot of people who have in the last few years adopted democratic socialist principles without knowing that’s exactly what they were doing. I think we’ve been pulled a little bit to the left without realizing that’s what’s happened.

CB: Do you see yourself going on to something else, maybe a higher public office?

SS: I never thought of myself as like a career politician. I am a politician by virtue of running for this office. But I guess I don’t think of this in terms of like… these elections are hard enough.

CB: Talk about the Freelancers’ Bill of Rights. What would it mean for those of us in the gig economy?

SS: I think that just because you don’t want a formal union doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve more for promotions. And there are unique hurdles to building worker power that freelancers face in the gig economy. It has to do with the fact that we don’t get paid on time. The fact that employers use our contract status as a reason to not pay us benefits, it has to do with feeling like we’re going to suffer retaliation if we exercise the few rights that we do have. We have to have representation that came from the freelance world to understand a lot of this, as I did. I was also a freelance journalist, and filmmaker for many years.

CB: You were called [the n-word] when you were out canvassing in District 4. Tell me about that.

SS: I wasn’t called that in my capacity as a candidate as far as the person knew, who came up to us. We were canvassing one day in Ravenna, I think it was, and there was me, there was my field organizer, and maybe a volunteer. [He] said something really casually about ‘Hey, buddy, do you have a cigarette I can borrow?‘ –– or something like that, and I was like ‘No, I don’t have one,’ and then he went on some kind of mini rant that I don’t remember, and it ended with, you know, ‘You’re an effing n-word’. And he just said it pretty casually and just kept walking.

I really don’t think this person knew me from the next person. I wasn’t knocking on somebody’s door, I was just standing, getting ready to go canvas, like standing in a park with a few other people of color and one white person, and there it was – BOOM. 

 [It was] 12:30pm and my high functioning depressed [butt] would go home and go to sleep. That’s what I would do. But I can’t. I can’t do that. We have doors to hit. I had a number of great conversations with people later that day, who we’re excited about our platform, so the day turned around but I mean, in that moment, where do you go from there? It’s not even 12:30pm and you’ve been called the worst… like, can I get brunch first? It was crazy.

CB: You’ve handled stress pretty well while remaining focused on your responsibility to, potentially, a growing number of people. Talk about that.

SS: I think there’s more [stress] in my life than there is for the average person, especially now, but maybe even generally, I mean, racial stress is a thing that happens in Seattle and in the Northwest for Black people, so I think there’s definitely more of it for us than there are for the average [person], and then you have on top of that the stressors of running for office. It’s kind of water off a duck’s back at this point, in a lot of ways.

My main focus is just on winning this seat and making sure that [other] people that also have racial stressors with respect to being low-income renters and people of color in the city and not feeling safe or welcome all the time [have] somebody that’s sticking up. So, that’s what it’s about.


Editor’s Note: Scott’s oldest sister, Nichole Natasha Scott, passed away in late August, shortly after this interview. She was 42.

Featured image courtesy of Shaun Scott.

Carla Bell is a Seattle native and freelance writer with local bylines at YES!, City Arts, Seattle’s Child, Parent Map, Crosscut, The News Tribune, The Stranger, Real Change News, South Seattle Emerald; and nationally, at The North Star, Ebony, and Essence.