by Brian Stout
With worsening dysfunction at the federal level, it is increasingly clear that any hope for large-scale progressive change must come from cities and states. Confronted by a Trump agenda that seeks to sacrifice critical social and environmental protections on the altar of corporate profit, the next mayor of Seattle is uniquely positioned to demonstrate that there is a better path.
We are fortunate this year to have a number of qualified candidates facing off in the August 1st primary election. But last Monday’s mayoral debate made clear that Nikkita Oliver and Cary Moon stand out in a crowded field for their clarity of vision, advancing an unapologetic agenda that emphasizes building civic health over corporate wealth.
The crises we face – in Seattle as in other cities across the country – arise from a common cause. One that I have seen firsthand in my international development work, and increasingly here in our own country. Namely, an economic and political system that prioritizes economic growth above all else. A system that abdicates democratic accountability to the mythical wisdom of the “free market”, letting decisions about issues as fundamental as basic health care and affordable housing be decided by distant shareholders instead of affected community members.
We tell ourselves that the crises of unaffordable housing, homelessness, opioid addiction, failing public education, and mass incarceration are unintended consequences rather than inevitable results. We pretend not to see the role of race, gender, income, or disability in the policy decisions that produced these outcomes. We prefer not to acknowledge that the “invisible hand” in fact has always belonged to wealthy white men who thumb the scales in their favor (redlining here in Seattle being but one prominent example).
In last Monday’s debate, Oliver and Moon were the only ones to acknowledge the root causes driving these seemingly disparate crises, and to emphasize the damaging role of rising income inequality. Among the six progressives gathered on stage, they were alone in recognizing the disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on communities of color, and in calling out a justice system that criminalizes poverty.
Perhaps most important: Oliver and Moon are unique among the candidates in offering strategic visions adequate to the challenge. Yes they have strong policy positions on the key issues. But they differentiate themselves in their commitment to returning power to the community, explicitly rejecting the plutocratic politics that got us to this point. Each offers a compelling vision that elevates human wellbeing to its rightful place as the primary focus of government: by the people, for the people.
In Seattle as in America, the time for incremental reform has passed. We know the status quo is not sustainable. We need leaders capable of imagining – and then creating – a new and better world. Leaders who recognize that it’s not only the policy that matters, but how we engage those communities most affected in defining and implementing that policy.
Nikkita Oliver and Cary Moon have each outlined a vision for our city that can serve as an important counterpoint to a toxic agenda emerging from the other Washington (D.C.). Something more than a laundry list of progressive policies, or even the important but insufficient work of “resistance.” It’s not enough to oppose negative change: we must also promote positive change. And do so in a way that invites those who made a different choice last November to join us in creating a new model. Many of our sister cities in places like Texas and North Carolina have no choice but to focus on defense. We in Seattle have the luxury, and the responsibility, to go a step farther.
We have an opportunity in this primary to send a clear signal – to Seattle and to the country – that we stand for something better.
Brian Stout is a Seattle-based independent consultant, former U.S. diplomat, member of the Truman National Security Project, and board member of Humanity in Action. Current professional interests include progressive politics and combating income inequality. You can follow him on Twitter and Medium @CitizenStout.