I Watched as Nikkita Oliver Transformed Seattle’s Mayoral Race

Five weeks ago, I hadn’t imagined myself at Nikkita Oliver’s mayoral campaign launch—giving money and volunteering. In fact, Nick and I had been at a fundraiser for Mayor Ed Murray’s re-election campaign, before Nikkita announced she was entering the race. We heard Murray, Seattle’s first openly-gay mayor, speak to a small group in a bar. We donated to his campaign. Over the past year, we’d been at a couple small, casual fundraising events for Murray in folks’ backyards. Many of our friends have generally supported him.

Truth be told, five weeks ago I was only lukewarm about Murray’s re-election. Yes, we’re both gay, and there’s something to be said for that in leadership. But now he has a contender who is transformational and there is something much more to be said of her. 

So, there I was at Nikkita’s campaign launch on Sunday. I wore a red, square tag on my jacket that read “Event Volunteer”.  I stood, looking at hundreds of people lining up, wrapping around the building and down the block. Washington Hall in Seattle’s Central District is home to an incredible history. Among those who’ve taken its stage are W.E.B. Du Bois, Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix and Billie Holiday. There were so many people in line for Nikkita’s campaign launch that folks asked me, anxiously, if they were going to be able to get in. Their eagerness seemed a sign that this was yet another historic day for the Hall.

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Photo credit: Naomi Ishisaka

As I’ve talked about in other posts, Seattle has taken the lead more than once in resisting Trump and this Republican administration’s agenda. For nearly two years now, and especially as we enter this period of our history, I’ve looked to one person online, at rallies, and in the community more than any other as a role model for activism and leadership, and as a teacher of the inequities that plague our systems: Nikkita Oliver.

A couple weeks after we’d been at Murray’s fundraiser I saw the breaking news headline:

Vowing a Transformative Campaign, Artist-Organizer Nikkita Oliver Enters Mayoral Race

I instantly thought, “I want to be part of whatever she’s building.” Without skipping a beat, I posted the article announcing her candidacy to my Facebook page. I messaged my friends. I couldn’t help myself from feeling truly excited.

Sharon Chang

Photo credit: Sharon Chang

Nikkita’s name was one I already knew well. I’d heard it in the hallways during my early days at TeamChild in 2015. My job is to identify and cultivate leaders to help scale TeamChild so it can one day end youth incarceration in our state. My colleague across the hallway, an attorney who represents kids, mostly of color, who are expelled from school or incarcerated said to me, “There’s someone I work with at Creative Justice who you should reach out to, her name is Nikkita Oliver.”

I said, “Nikkita? Is this the same Nikkita who boxes?” My colleague replied, “Oh yeah, that’s her.”

Nikkita is someone I’d said hi to, someone whose drive, bravery, and leadership I’d admired for months as I’d started to become a regular at Arcaro Boxing Gym in the late Summer 20170405_070344of 2015. Nikkita is someone I’d heard Coach Tricia Turton talk about. I’d seen Nikkita’s name on the gym’s whiteboard which meant she was training for competitive boxing matches (this week’s whiteboard at the gym, pictured here, had her campaign news). But, I had known little of who Nikkita was outside the gym, until my colleague filled me in saying, “You need to know Nikkita.”

After that, I added Nikkita on Facebook and I started following what she was doing. For almost two years I watched her leading rallies downtown, in City Hall, at the youth jail, and at the airport when Trump attempted to ban refugees. I saw her calling out the Mayor for not walking the walk. I saw her teaching in schools in South Seattle. I saw her sharing her poetry to audiences both locally and nationally. At one point she performed with Macklemore on the Colbert Show.

Just like for so many of us, Trump’s win on the night of November 8 inspired Nikkita and her neighbors to engage even more with each other. She told the South Seattle Emerald, Screenshot_2017-04-03-13-17-54“After the presidential election, a bunch of us in the community started having dinner with each other and talked about what we should do going forward. We decided that if we wanted to make sustainable change it would have to be done at the local level and involve local politics in terms of a transformational election process.”

So, she’s running a campaign that does not take money from corporations. She’s running while she continues her work as a teacher. And, she’s running on the ticket of a party that’s just been created called Seattle Peoples Party. The party has focused its platform on housing, education, police reform and ending the school-to-prison pipeline. Nikkita would be the first woman to lead the city in 91 years and she’d be the first black woman ever to lead it.

Her priorities and leadership in the community had Washington Hall bursting at its doors, at capacity for her campaign launch. Nick and I stood toward the back with some of our friends who didn’t know much about Nikkita but who were open to our invitation to volunteer and get to know her.

The series of artists who performed at the event, described by those on stage as “black girl magic”, included poets, a DJ, an opera singer, and a dance troupe. You could hear performances all the way down the block. The walls shook.

Then, as part of her speech, Socialist Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant shouted to the crowd, “We need a mayor who has the courage to point out the obscenity of having two of the world’s richest people in our area when we have so many homeless!”

This is the video I shot as Nikkita came out:

And, another video I shot as the crowd kept going, turning to this chant:

Nikkita outlined her platform, which is more progressive than that of the current Mayor. She called out the Mayor and developers saying, “We can’t just be pro-density. We have to also be anti-displacement!” Here’s how The Stranger newspaper describes the race:

“Elected in 2013, Murray has presided over a Seattle where revenues are up, unemployment is down, cranes dot the sky, and city officials set progressive milestones. During his time in office, the minimum wage rose to $15 and ride share drivers secured unionization. (Just how supportive Murray was of any of those milestones behind closed doors depends on who you ask.)

“That’s not all that’s happened during Murray’s tenure, though. Homelessness reached crisis levels, increased development flamed tensions over displacement, and the Seattle Police Department continues to operate under a 2012 Department of Justice consent decree. Plans to hire new cops and build a new police station in North Seattle drew protests that have shut down Seattle City Council meetings.

“Now, 31-year-old teacher, lawyer, boxer, poet, and well-known Black Lives Matter activist Nikkita Oliver is challenging Murray. While Murray would like to focus on his role as a foil to President Trump, Oliver will force attention back to city issues.”

By the time Nick and I were home, some of the friends who had come with us not knowing much about Nikkita were sending me these text messages:

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This is The Seattle Peoples Party core campaign team:

Screenshot_2017-04-02-20-49-45

Here are some other photos from Nikkita’s campaign launch taken and shared by Naomi Ishisaka:

Oliver 8oliver 1crowd great!Oliver 6dancecrowd 3crowd greatcrowd 7Oliver 2oliver 7Oliver 5crowd

 

performance

Photo credit: Sharon Chang

dance 20

Photo credit: Sharon Chang

And, here’s a look at a few of the national headlines from The Washington Post that have crossed my phone in the past few days:

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