by Jenny A. Durkan
We are living in unprecedented times: a pandemic, an economic crisis, and a civil rights reckoning ignited by the murder of George Floyd. All have shown the undeniable and devastating impacts that systemic racial inequities have had on Black and Brown communities for generations. The disparities are reflected across all systems, including housing, access to wealth, education, policing, the criminal legal system and health care.
Millions have taken to the streets across our country to demand change. We must heed their calls.
Much of the debate has centered on the call to divest and invest. Many believe we should defund the police by 50 percent or abolish the police altogether. I have been honest in saying I do not agree. But I do strongly believe we must significantly redefine community safety by reimagining the role of police, build up community-based alternatives, and most importantly, actually invest in parts of the system that have failed our communities for far too long.
There should be no disagreement that we need, as a City, to commit to significant, new long-term investments in Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities. In June, I promised $100 million of new investments that would be centered around and guided by community.
In recent months, I have worked to make this promise real, and my proposed budget will create a new $100 million Equitable Communities Fund to address the systemic racial inequities in our city. This funding will be in addition to existing programs that are crucial to building opportunities and community health. I believe we must commit this level of resources each year over at least ten years in order to make the generational investments needed to build healthy, resilient, and safer communities.
Our City has been working to address systemic inequities and institutional racism through many proven programs. From the Seattle Preschool Program, to the Legal Defense Fund for immigrants and refugees, to laws protecting wages, we know what works.
But we must do more, and proven solutions come from community itself.
This is true of free transit and free college. The idea came from the young people at Rainier Beach High School and South Seattle residents. Access to transportation and college are equity issues. Partnering with the people of Seattle, the School District and Seattle Colleges, we were able to ensure funding so every public high school student has a free ORCA card and two years of free college.
We also listened to community in building support and funding from our Equitable Development Initiative for projects like the Filipino Community Village, Africatown’s Midtown Plaza, Byrd Barr Place, and Chief Seattle Club’s ?ál?al. Each of the projects were achievable thanks to years of work from community-based organizations fighting displacement and gentrification.
In the coming months, the City Council will consider my budget. There is no shortage of challenges, and to address our declining revenues, we have had to freeze hiring, use our emergency and rainy day funds, and delay some capital projects. There is no shortage of good projects that our City could do with $100 million.
But history is demanding that we fundamentally reshape our budget priorities to invest in communities of color in a new way. We haven’t looked holistically at solving the deep disparities that exist in our city, and we have never given this historic level of funding to begin to solve these disparities.
As Council is considering my budget, I will launch a community-led task force comprised of individuals from BIPOC communities. For too long, City Hall has been the gatekeepers of dictated solutions. Together, the task force will engage communities in a collaborative process to prioritize how the funding can create opportunity and an inclusive economy; build community wealth and preserve cultural spaces, ensure community wellness, and achieve environmental and climate justice. Communities must be empowered and resourced to determine what solutions may best address deep, systemic issues. Some may think this approach involves too much ‘Seattle Process’ for the urgency of the moment. Some may have other ideas, but we should capture this moment with a process, plan, and path forward.
That may mean trying new programs or new systems. It may mean scaling proven community-based programs like those safety programs pioneered by Rainier Beach youth, and building more capacity in the many effective community-based organizations.
Or it might mean increasing direct assistance programs like our Small Business Stabilization Fund, Seattle Promise, or Child Care Assistance Program that are all helping families directly, primarily residents and families of color.
Or crafting something like San Francisco’s new guaranteed income pilot which creates a monthly income supplement of $1,000 to approximately 150 Black and Pacific Islander women for the duration of their pregnancy and for the first six months of their baby’s life.
Any of these solutions will have a range of funding mechanisms and programmatic structures, including participatory budgeting, grants, request for proposals, and loans, but we need an honest assessment and recommendations of the City programs that we should expand, build, and scale to better address disparities.
The task force won’t only focus on funding. We know there must be new policy and legislation to help workers of color and fundamentally change the lives of our residents and businesses. Policies changes like the transfer of properties or addressing the disparities of workers of color through new standards like the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights or new wage standards for rideshare drivers – these two bills collectively impact 75,000 workers.
Our community is hurting right now – from the pandemic to continued injustices. None of the challenges that we’re trying to solve will be solved overnight. But we can start making progress.
We can show the country what it means to invest in Black Lives Matter and embark on something big together.
Jenny A. Durkan is Seattle’s 56th Mayor – and the first woman to lead the City in nearly a century. She entered office on November 28, 2017, with a commitment to making Seattle affordable and inclusive for all who call Seattle home.
Mayor Durkan is a proud Seattle-area native. She graduated from high school in Seattle, went to college at the University of Notre Dame, and earned her law degree from the University of Washington.
She and her partner, Dana [DAN-uh], have two sons.
Featured image by Susan Fried