“We desperately need women of color to stand up! That is what tonight is about,” said Erin Jones, the first black woman to run for State Superintendent of Public Schools last year, and who would’ve been the first black woman elected to statewide office. “I’m proud to share this stage with so many amazing black women, especially right now and, to be honest, in Seattle…we’re progressive in some ways here, but not when it comes to race.”
I had left work Friday afternoon walking through a grey and drizzly rush hour to one of Seattle’s historic spaces–The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute–named after the African American writer who was one of the important literary figures of the 1920s, a primary contributor to the Harlem Renaissance.
My walk took me from my TeamChild office in the International District, a few blocks north to the Central District. It’s an area of the city which was once a center of Seattle’s black community and black-owned businesses. But, it’s a neighborhood that has changed rapidly as folks are pushed out of the city with rising prices and gentrification.
Since it was my first time to the Langston Hughes Institute, I wasn’t sure I was in the right place until I saw a sign that looked like this:
I had come to Secrest’s campaign launch event and a guy my age I’d met at a direct action training several weeks ago greeted me from behind a table. “Do you want to sign this? We need signatures and 400 donations of $10 or more each so Sheley can qualify to receive Seattle’s Democracy Vouchers.”
Democracy Vouchers are new and could be a big deal. Seattle is the first city in the country to try this type of public funding for campaigns. Basically, the way I understand it, voters receive paper vouchers in the mail and they can use them as if they’re cash and send them to political campaigns of their choice. The campaigns then get to use the vouchers as if they’re money. I still have a lot to learn about them as they are a brand new tool. Here’s a diagram showing how The Seattle Times explains them.
I signed my name. I made a donation. Then, I walked down a hallway and into a room that I thought was the main campaign launch event for Sheley Secrest. Turns out I had shown up an hour early, this was the pre-event backstage with close friends, supporters, and family members.
Black women leaders from the city and state were there to welcome us. Erin Jones, Nikkita Oliver who’s running for Seattle Mayor (and who would be Seattle’s first black woman to serve as mayor), and Sheley Secrest herself talked briefly about how this campaign is about bringing a community’s voice to the conversation, especially communities of color.
I was there to learn. I’d barely heard of Secrest. She’s one of 10 candidates in the crowded race for Seattle City Council Position 8, which belongs to no particular district, it’s at-large, and the seat does not have an incumbent.
Secrest is bold. She’s been a public defender. She’s the local NAACP Vice President. She’s pushed for police reform. She opposes our current Mayor Murray’s plan to hire more police officers. She opposes King County’s plan to construct a new youth jail in the same neighborhood we were standing in.
She’s told the Seattle Times,“I’m running because we need jobs, not jails. You want to know the solution to crime? It’s a job. What we need is more young people with jobs.”
The race she enters has other inspiring leaders too including Mac McGregor who I met two weeks ago at a happy hour for Victory Fund, an organization that funds LGBTQ candidates across the country. I was instantly inspired by McGregor’s passion, his reason for running and his drive. McGregor would be the Seattle City Council’s first transgender member, and he says the first elected transgender person in the state. He sits on Seattle Police Department’s LGBTQ Advisory Council and has been a leader in the Seattle LGBTQ Commission.
McGregor told the Seattle Times that Trump’s election motivated him to seek office, “We’re not going back in the shadows. They want us to be silent, but we’re not going to do it. I’m going to stand for all marginalized people.”
The man some call the front runner, at least in the fundraising race, is Jon Grant. He’s a
housing activist and former Tenants Union of Washington State executive director. I have not met him or learned much about him yet, shamefully. However, some of our friends strongly support him.
I also have not learned about the other seven candidates in this race. I have work to do.
Nikkita Oliver and Jones proudly backed Secrest as she launched her platform of affordable and accessible housing, growing small business, job creation and racial justice.
I’m especially excited about Oliver’s race for Mayor of Seattle. I met her in boxing class at Arcaro Gym and have been inspired since the moment I met her. She decided to challenge incumbent Mayor Ed Murray after Trump’s election. She’s running a very non-traditional campaign. For one, she’s continuing her work teaching in public schools, performing art and doing work on social justice movements all while she’s running for office. She’s running as the voice of a newly formed party called the Seattle People’s Party. She’s also not accepting any corporate money. She said this to Secrest’s crowd about her approach to office, “There’s a difference between saying ‘I’m going to advocate for you’ and ‘I’m going to advocate with you’.”
Here are some more pictures from the event that included performances from Kutt’N’Up and Josephine Howell, and talks from The Honorable Nina Turner, among others:
In the crowd, I sat next to two women who were celebrating a huge win from just a few hours earlier when, at the last-second, Republicans in D.C. pulled the Trump administration’s healthcare bill from being voted on because it wasn’t going to pass! The women I sat next to were happy about the news, but also wanted the Democrats to now move forward with trying to make our current plan single-payer.
Here’s what the headline looked like in the Washington Post:
Another leader and neighbor who’s inspiring us is Ximena Velazquez-Arenas, who is a GRO Organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU). I’ve talked about her before since she’s one of the main organizers of the Greater Seattle Neighborhood Action Coalition. Here she is leading a recent action:
Within the past week, she led a direct action against Trump’s proposed healthcare bill outside Seattle in the small town of Issaquah. She and our friend Daniel Goodman worked with others to bring hundreds of folks to a candlelight vigil to mourn the hundreds of deaths in our state that would occur soon after the health bill’s passing. They even delivered a coffin to U.S. Representative Dave Reichert’s office. Here are photos of their actions:
Speaking of Daniel Goodman, a friend I’ve talked about before, it’s been encouraging watching him evolve as a leader. He’s turned a lot of focus to an initiative to reform our tax system in Seattle. He’s spoken to City Council and he’s spoken at town halls on the issue. Not to mention, he’s a main organizer of an upcoming candidate forum with Mayoral and City Council candidates.
Daniel does all of this in his free time, on the side of his full-time job!
I’m also seeing various other folks we know step into activism roles when I was not expecting it. Here are two of the messages I’ve received lately on Facebook and via text. I’ve removed names to keep confidentiality:
Other friends are getting so involved that they’re worrying they might alienate friends who are not so into activism. One friend wrote this to me in a Facebook message:
And finally, I want to share something that I think speaks volumes about where we find ourselves. Most every person I know, queer, straight or somewhere in-between, uses some sort of dating app on their phone whether it be OKCupid, Tindr, or if you’re gay you likely have Grindr on your phone. This app allows you to see photos and profiles of folks who are near you and looking to go on a date. The home screen might look like this (this is a generic screenshot I stole from the internet, it’s not mine as I haven’t had these things on my phone since Nick and I met):
A friend reports to me that now even Grindr has entered the resistance. He texted me this:
This is where we are.