Op-Ed: Yes, Kshama Sawant Understands Our History of Oppression

by Gerald Hankerson

I don’t take the decision to weigh in on an election lightly. Yet when I see our community become divided, confused, and misled, I feel an obligation to speak up.

It’s important for people to know that the views I’m expressing are my own. I am not speaking on behalf of the NAACP or any of the other organizations that I work with. Instead, I am speaking as a member of our community—someone who has firsthand experience with the various challenges our city faces and has a strong understanding of the type of candidate we need in order to move our city toward justice.

One of the things that has come up repeatedly in the District 3 City Council race between Pamela Banks and Kshama Sawant is the program Career Bridge.

Career Bridge began as a community-led, collective effort by deeply committed members of our community. It has made a real difference—connecting formerly incarcerated men with career path options—changing the lives of many that were looking to find a new start.

I can still remember our first meeting. It was held in Janet Preston’s home a couple of years ago and there were 20 to 30 people there. Myself, Janet Preston, Dustin Washington, Mary Flowers, John Page, Danette Smith and others came together with a commitment to support our loved ones in finding hope amidst the devastating and destructive impact of our criminal justice system.

I still remember the first five people that I helped sponsor through that program, and the impact it had on their lives.

Over the years, and since the Urban League began to finance the program with city dollars, it has shifted into something else. It’s now more a machine that shuttles people through the doors, with an emphasis on using the program to raise more money, not helping change people’s lives. The emphasis has shifted to numbers, with little regard for what happens to people after they’re done with the program. And the jobs aren’t there on the other end like they used to be. It’s turning into a false promise that’s being run for profit instead of people.

It’s frustrating to hear people call Career Bridge an Urban League Program. It’s a program that belongs to the community—to the brothers and sisters that go through the program, and the original group of people that had a vision for how we can create a better future for our community.

When I think about the issues that matter most to our community: jobs, healthcare, affordable housing police reform, juvenile justice, and the minimum wage, among others, there’s only one clear choice for me. Kshama Sawant has been an incredibly vocal and strong advocate for the range of issues important to our community, and she hasn’t used people as stepping stones to get more power.

She’s shown us that she’s a dedicated leader that will fight for the needs of our community and our city—without backing down to corporate interests. In fact, Kshama was the only elected official to vote against the New Youth Jail and the consequence over incarceration of our children.

Recently, Pamela Banks made a statement in an interview with Erica Barnett about Kshama Sawant: “I don’t know that she understands the history of slavery, the Jim Crow laws, and the impacts that has had on our community. If you’re not from here and you don’t understand the history of this country…”

This statement really crossed the line for me—purposefully and maliciously driving a wedge between the immigrant community and the black community. The only way we’re going to move forward together as a city is if we bring everyone along with us. While African Americans have a distinct and horrific history of racial persecution in our country, that doesn’t mean that people who aren’t originally from here don’t understand our oppression. Many African immigrants in our community face the same brutality at the hands of our police as our black brothers and sisters.

This is an important race for our city, but also for our future. Let’s make sure that we’re choosing the candidate that’s willing to sit down with us and determine what kind of a city we want to live in together.  Let’s make sure we support the candidate with the proven progressive track record, that doesn’t take campaign funds from the Seattle Police Guild and gentrifying corporate forces.

We don’t need someone who claims to know all the answers. We need someone who’s willing to truly listen and create room for us in the discussion—one that we’ve been purposefully left out of for generations.

It’s time to find the elected official that will take our concerns and champion them on our behalf. And we have that in Kshama Sawant. She’s shown it time and time again—through action, not talk. I urge you to re-elect Kshama Sawant.

Gerald Hankerson is the president of the Seattle/King County NAACP and the former Executive Director of the Main Street Alliance

Photo: Creative Commons Wiki

7 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Yes, Kshama Sawant Understands Our History of Oppression”

  1. Thank you Brother Gerald for this op-ed.
    I’ve been in different rooms with both Kshama and Pamela over the last two years. I’ve heard more action planning from Kshama than Pamela. The plans, ability to take our needs both from the Black community and City to counsel for becoming action are a few reasons I support Kshama.
    One

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  2. Kudos to Mr. Gerald Hankerson for this insightful and thoughtful opinion piece. It’s safe to say he has helped me make up my mind – I will be voting for Kshana Sawant. I also hope that this will have a positive impact on the future of the Career Bridge – a must needed program. Looking forward to casting my vote on Tuesday.

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  3. Sounds to me like Mr. Hankerson has a personal issue with Ms. Banks, the Urban League and Career Bridge. Is this Op-ed about supporting Sawant or spreading untruths about Ms. Banks and the Urban League?

    After all Ms. Banks has done for the community, the Urban League, and Mr. Hankerson himself (pretty sure she supported his clemency) I think it’s disrespectful, unprofessional and sets a horrible example to the community both inside and outside of District 3. The accusation that Ms. Banks is “purposely and maliciously driving a wedge between the immigrant community and the black community” is absolutely ridiculous! I’d consider Hankerson’s attack on Ms. Banks as “purposely and maliciously attempting to drive a wedge between the immigrant community and the black community”. When it’s convenient for Hankerson to refer to Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, he does, but when Ms. Banks does, she’s dividing the community?

    Career Bridge is not a machine shuttling people through doors! Mr. Hankerson states that “The emphasis has shifted to numbers, with little regard for what happens to people after they’re done with the program.” That is completely untrue and unfounded. Just because he says it doesn’t make it true. Let’s talk facts!

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  4. Sawant is a great advocate for the East African Community, White middle and upper-class residents, and the self-serving self-appointed leaders of the African-American community. But representing the working class, quickly diminishing population of African Americans at or below middle-class? No, not so much. High crime and death rates associate with the children of that class of people? Not a concern for Sawant. She’s happy to sit on the sidelines and let those people be pushed out by gentrification or by killing off the next generation. Her record is in black and white, and since you know what you’re getting you have no excuse if you vote her back into office. Not me, I put a higher value on the lives of kids in my community.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sounds to me like Mr. Hankerson has a personal issue with Ms. Banks, the Urban League and Career Bridge. Is this Op-ed about supporting Sawant or spreading untruths about Ms. Banks and the Urban League?

    After all Ms. Banks has done for the community, the Urban League, and Mr. Hankerson himself (pretty sure she supported his clemency) I think it’s disrespectful, unprofessional and sets a horrible example to the community both inside and outside of District 3. The accusation that Ms. Banks is “purposely and maliciously driving a wedge between the immigrant community and the black community” is absolutely ridiculous! I’d consider Hankerson’s attack on Ms. Banks as “purposely and maliciously” attempting to drive a wedge between the immigrant community and the black community. When it’s convenient for Hankerson to refer to Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, he does, but when Ms. Banks does, she’s dividing the community?

    Career Bridge is not a machine shuttling people through doors! Mr. Hankerson states that “The emphasis has shifted to numbers, with little regard for what happens to people after they’re done with the program.” That is completely untrue and unfounded. Just because he says it doesn’t make it true.

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  6. Thank you Mr. Hankerson for your thoughtful and passionate OpEd. I am a 50 yr old African American male who fully supports (and has voted for) Kshama Sawant for re-election! Her first campaign charge of $15 hr has done more for the economically disadvantaged than any politician in King County over the last 15 years. Her opponent, Pamela Banks, has yet to show she can be more impactful than Ms. Sawant. However, I believe this campaign will give Pamela the necessary “chops” to potentially win her next election as long as she is candid, authentic and passionate about Seattle. She has the backing of the corporate establishment. Hopefully, she will parlay that support into an infinitely stronger Urban League of Seattle before her next political race. BTW, I also support Bruce Harrell (he’s earned it and has 4 years to dramatically improve), Tim Burgess (yes, he is in the pocket of corporatists and yet has supported and passed progressive legislation), Deborah Juarez in D5, Lisa Herbold in D1, and Mike O’Brien. Sally Bagshaw has been a disappointment. Peace and Love to all my black, brown, and off white brothers and sisters. – EK

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  7. Shama has lived in a country where everyone looks like her. Bank’s point rings true. How can someone who grew up where she is the majority, voluntary came to the US, and was raised in a middle to upper class cast understand the struggle of African Americans? Hankerson does himself a disservice with this piece. How can you lead the NAACP and not stand behind one of only two African Americans running for City Council this year? Shame on you for being a Sawant wedge further driving the black community apart.

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