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Claire Grant Brings Public Health to the Fore of Her Campaign for City Council Position 9

by Mark Van Streefkerk

Last summer, Claire Grant (she/they, interchangeably) was protesting for Black lives when she was tear-gassed by Seattle police. That terrible experience was one thing that set the gears in motion for their decision to run for Seattle City Council. 

“That made me really angry, as I’m sure it did everybody else who was there,” Grant remembered. “It was a really awful, traumatic experience … this was just incredibly disheartening — to have people who are supposed to be leaders in the community outright attack you.” 

Grant officially launched her candidacy for City Council Position 9, a citywide position, on Jan. 28, encouraged by some of her friends to run. Grant is also hopeful for what her public health perspective can bring to city leadership, especially as it pertains to housing, transportation, leadership accountability, and Green New Deal investments. Grant is a white, queer, nonbinary woman who is currently a Masters in Public Health graduate student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., which she attends virtually. They recently took time out of a busy schedule of grad school, full-time employment, and campaign work to answer some questions for the South Seattle Emerald

Read on to know more about Grant and her run for City Council Position 9, currently held by Lorena González. At 25 years old, if elected, they will be the youngest person to serve on City Council.

(Some parts of this interview have been edited and condensed for brevity.)

South Seattle Emerald: Why did you decide to run for City Council?

Claire Grant: I was asked to do so by some of my friends, but for me really it began during the Black Lives Matter protests, which I attended. I got tear-gassed and that made me really angry … I was so upset. I actually wanted to leave Seattle. I was looking at different places just to get out of the city, and then I realized I was getting my public health degree so that I could help people. I could help build up the community. If I left without at least trying to help Seattle, I was just abandoning the city. I decided it’s my civic duty and obligation to participate in the democracy of our city and to start fighting for these public health issues locally.

My motivation comes from my passion for seeing things change. Things like the Green New Deal, we’re staring on it, and it can be great, but it can be made better. Seattle is making these incremental changes [to fight climate change], but I think it can be even greater than it is.

SSE: On your website you talk about The Path Forward. Tell me about that and what the key points of your platform are.

C.G.: I think that going through the traumatic year we all had in Seattle, we really need to start looking toward the future, and we need to be building a stronger community. I think what COVID has opened our eyes to is the way things were, we can’t go back to that. I think that’s really what progressivism is about too. It’s about, how are you going to get better? How are you going to make things better for everyone? 

These issues like transit, housing — these are all public health issues. That’s really where I’m trying to bring my background to. Transit is a top priority for me. I think that $2.75 is too much to pay for the bus. I think we need to be moving towards free transit. 

Housing needs to be first. I don’t think that people should be denied housing because they use drugs. I don’t think they should be denied housing because they have pets. 

Something that I haven’t seen a lot of candidates talk about yet is I think Seattle needs to pass a $20 minimum wage. We did do a great job on the $15 minimum wage, but as we talk about $15 being the federal minimum wage, Seattle’s the seventh-most expensive city. It’s not livable here [on $15 per hour], and I know because I’ve tried to. It was very paycheck-to-paycheck, lots of roommates, no money left over at the end of the month, sort of thing. At my current job I’m making $20 an hour, and I still have roommates. I still don’t think $20’s enough, but that’s what’s needed if we want to lift people out of poverty in the city.

SSE: Tell me about your experience with organizing or activism. 

C.G.: Most of what I do is more addressing gaps with gender equity, primarily in outdoor spaces. I’m a rock climber, and I’ve worked a lot with local organizations in getting women more opportunities to get outside. That’s a passion project of mine. I’ve done a little bit of legislative support with Washington Conservation Voters and 350 Seattle. I helped in this previous legislative session reach out to our state senators and representatives regarding certain bills that would help with climate justice. 

SSE: On your website you talk about accountability. If you were a City Councilmember, how would you promote this idea of accountability? 

C.G.: Accountability with elected officials is a huge issue for me. We need to make sure that we are paying attention to what they do, and they need to be doing what the population wants. That’s how democracy works. I think that it’s really important for people in leadership to admit when they were wrong, and I think this is also a public health-aligned concern. Public health in this country has historically not been helpful for People of Color, especially. Public health was at the forefront of a lot of redlining practices, a lot of really violent research against Women of Color, and we have to acknowledge that and we have to reckon with that if we’re ever going to be able to move forward. 

SSE: What do you think accountability can look like? 

C.G.: Acknowledgement first, not trying to cover up the issue, not trying to pass it on to someone else. Actually pointing it out would be step one. Step two is meeting with communities that were harmed by these policy practices and really centering their voices. In Seattle specifically: Duwamish communities, Black communities, and trans communities. [What are] the really awful things that have happened in this city, and how we can work together to do what they need to feel safe and be strong in this city?

SSE: What is your stance on defunding SPD?

C.G.: I’m pro-defunding the Seattle Police Department by half. 

At the end of the day, and I think a lot of police officers would agree with me on this, the police aren’t equipped to handle certain situations. Twenty-five percent of violent police encounters are with somebody who is mentally ill. We need to be having crisis counselors responding to these calls. We cannot keep calling the police on somebody who’s having a mental health crisis. 

The police respond to issues, but they don’t prevent crime from happening. We really need to be investing in communities that are hurting right now and helping them get the resources they need.

SSE: With your background in public health, what are some ways you think the city can help people meet those needs? 

C.G.: Housing first, definitely. We need housing-first policies. We need to use FEMA reimbursement funds to help us house these populations. Harm reduction sites also, so people who use drugs can do so safely without risk of contracting other diseases. Implementing crisis counselors is something I really, really would like to see more of, and having them respond to mental health calls instead of the police.

With housing first I also want to clarify that congregate shelters, where there’s like eight people to a room, aren’t really effective. They can also be traumatic to people. A lot of people don’t have access to them. I really want to see actual apartments, tiny homes, or hotels rooms for emergency use, and not congregate shelters. I wouldn’t consider that housing. 

Also funding mental health support and drug rehabilitation if someone chooses to use that service, and having those things both accessible both in terms of people’s knowledge of those resources, and in terms of cost. AKA, they should be free.

SSE: Tell me more about the specifics of how you envision helping Seattle’s housing crisis? 

C.G.: I really think Seattle needs to move away from their obsession with the single-family dwelling, and start moving more towards apartments. That ties into my policies around single family zoning. I really want to see more apartments being built because they’re better for the environment and they’re better for the community. You can put things like shops underneath for more economic development, and make the area more walkable as well. One of the key indicators of a healthy community is the walkability of the community. 

Everything needs to be within a 15-minute walk, and those are the communities with the best health outcomes. And it’s better for the environment, you don’t have to drive places.

SSE: You wrote on your website that one of the leading causes of pollution here is transportation. Tell me some more about that.

C.G.: Even if you’re not the most environmentally conscious person, you hate sitting in traffic. It’s the worst thing ever. If you can drive there and it costs you $3 in gas, or you take the bus and it costs you $3, what are you going to do? You’re going to drive instead. It makes sense to make the busses free because it incentivizes people to take the bus. People who are typically taking the bus tend to be lower income people. Seattle does have low-income fare availability, but that’s not always accessible.

In terms of climate change — climate relief is COVID relief. We have people who live in areas that have worse pollution in terms of transit pollution. Right now, the Duwamish Valley, and Georgetown, has really high rates of pollution due to traffic, diesel trucks, and shipping yards that are polluting the community and giving people asthma, which affects their risk in terms of COVID as well. 

SSE: Why do you think people should vote for you?

C.G.: If we’ve learned anything from COVID, it’s that we need to start listening to public health officials. We need to start listening to people who have that background and that knowledge, and I do. 

SSE: Anything else you’d like people to know about you or your platform?

C.G.: I encourage people to reach out to me if they have any questions, or if they want to have a Zoom meeting, I’m more than happy to chat. I’m super excited and honored to be running.

Find out more about Claire Grant, including how to reach out to her, at claireforcouncil2021.com.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s Arts, Culture, & Community editor. He often writes about restaurants, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter at @VanStreefkerk.

Featured Image: If elected, Claire Grant, a public health grad student, will be the youngest person to ever hold a City Council position. Photo courtesy of Claire Grant.

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