Photo depicting a protest action outside of Seattle City Hall. Banners and spotlights display the words "Solidarity Budget."

OPINION: Which Side Are You On?

by JM Wong

The Solidarity Budget, proposed by a coalition of more than 200 organizations in the city, has a vision of Seattle that matches the times we face — from the climate crisis and calls for Indigenous sovereignty to the collective need for more resources dedicated to child care, digital equity, and more. The Solidarity Budget reminds us that a city’s budget — in deciding which issues are worth investing in — becomes a moral document of its people’s priorities, a document that attempts to concretize the values and visions that brought us protesting into the streets not too long ago. As the Seattle City Council concluded budget season last week, with a councilmember majority that last year publicly pledged to invest in community over police, it is crucial to uplift and support the Solidarity Budget’s timely demands.

Which side are you on?

This was a question that resonated as multitudes took streets and precincts across the country only a year and a half ago. George Floyd’s murder by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin could easily have become just another of the many little-known Black deaths by agents of state violence that take place #every28hours, if it were not for Floyd’s friends, neighbors, and community rising up in rage and protest. If it were not for these protests against state-sanctioned Black death as a staple of American life, from Minneapolis to Seattle, then the Seattle Police Department (SPD) would have continued its warfare on Black people and other Communities of Color with its arsenal of militaristic technology, like tear gas, flash-bangs, and drones — all without recourse. 

Yet here we are, a year and a half after one of the largest uprisings in U.S. history, and the status quo is once again forcing us to second-guess ourselves and undermine our collective humanity and care. At the moment, the status quo is attempting to present Kyle Rittenhouse as a poor child victim of the uprising in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His supposedly cherubic tears are being used to mask his August 2020 violence when, armed with an AR-15, he patrolled the streets as a vigilante agent of white supremacy and murdered two protesters, Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum. Recently, in the courtroom, Judge Bruce Schroeder refused to acknowledge these men’s victimhood, instead engaging in victim blaming by referring to Huber and Rosenbaum as “rioters” and “looters.” Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all counts.

American amnesia, the willful erasure and reconstruction of traumatic events in public memory to match the ideals, standards, and needs of white supremacy, is nothing new. It has been happening for the past 500 years, beginning first with the genocide of Indigenous people. How quickly the amnesia continues to happen today and how swiftly the status quo attempts to exorcise any attempts toward an alternative vision is jarring and unsettling. 

Here in Seattle, we are currently seeing the status quo’s effort to expel alternative visions manifest in the debates around the City’s public safety priorities. 

“Public safety” is often used as a shorthand to describe a range of disturbances and activities deemed threatening, especially by property owners and businesses, to a presumed collective well-being. But in stratified, race- and class-divided Seattle, there are critical differences in how well-being is measured, how threat is experienced, and how solutions are offered. For example, the presence of unhoused people in public spaces and the disturbances they are often associated with, such as mental health crises and substance use, are often cited as everyday threats by bodies such as the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. The subsequent use of the police, especially in the form of encampment sweeps, to restore a sense of “public safety” is presented to us by Mayor Durkan and her pundits as a viable solution. And yet, there is no substitute for the necessity of long-term affordable housing and a progressive stream of revenue to fund it. 

Travonna Wiley and Jess Wallach at the Solidarity Budget action on Tuesday, Nov. 16, outside of Seattle City Hall. Photo courtesy of Solidarity Budget.

In its introduction, the Solidarity Budget imagines a city where “everyone has the support and community to thrive, and where anti-Blackness is addressed,” thus offering a different vision of public safety. One that does not ignore the salient lessons of the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter uprisings, which call for the City to center the well-being and safety of poor people over expanding the already bloated budget of the police, jails, and the courts. The Solidarity Budget asks us to address the root causes of everyday violence and disturbances through housing, education, transportation, and other wraparound services alongside a progressive revenue stream. People with disabilities, especially Black and Brown people, are often victims of violence, both interpersonally and by the State. People with disabilities are also disproportionately unhoused. The Solidarity Budget’s vision of public safety names and honors the violence that people with disabilities and unhoused people face daily. 

Statistics of rising gun violence in the past year are cited by the pundits as a justification to increase the police budget. Never mind that we are in the middle of an economic crisis and that COVID-19 has left our unemployment rate at 5.4%, compared with the pre-COVID-era high of 3.5%, creating insurmountable hardships for many communities locally and nationally. The hardships that extend from and amplify the preexisting structural class, race, and gender inequities that leave many people struggling are easily swept away.

The Solidarity Budget is a valiant effort by community organizations and members to shift the conversations of public safety toward that of building up institutions and visions that are life-affirming and supportive. This work reminds me of Black abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s words, that “abolition is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions.”

Life-affirming institutions can look like building up alternatives to police. A recent report commissioned by the Mayor’s Office on SPD’s 911 responses led to findings that at least 49% of calls could be handled by a non-police response. The report, from the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, found that a civilian response team could handle most of these cases, though its study reveals a number higher than SPD’s own admission that 12% of its cases could be better handled alternatively.

In the recent “Protect Our People, Protect Our Wins” presentation organized by the Solidarity Budget, Nikkita Oliver, a member of the coalition and recent electoral candidate for City Council Position 9, reminded us that nearly half of the people who voted in the recent elections embraced an abolitionist vision that includes a more just and equitable future; that includes not only addressing public safety but also safeguarding our planet and home.

The Green New Deal proposed by the Solidarity Budget attempts to address the climate crisis and its inequitable impact on marginalized BIPOC communities. 350 Seattle’s Jess Wallach emphasized the need for $13 million to transition low-income homes off oil heat and support impacted workers in transitioning into work outside of the fossil-fuel-led industries. 

The need for sustainable and equitable responses to the climate crisis is interwoven with Indigenous sovereignty. The call for enhancing the climate resiliency of the Duwamish tribe through Indigenous-led clean energy and cleanup projects overlaps with the calls for citywide climate justice initiatives.

Duwamish Tribal Councilmember Oivia Johnson reiterated the push for Seattle to address the long-standing injustice toward Indigenous people. The Solidarity Budget calls for $1.5 million in funding toward mental and behavioral health services for members of the Duwamish tribe, as well as their immediate and extended family members. “These investments will benefit every citizen in the City of Seattle,” said Johnson at the presentation. 

“One of the very first laws ever passed in Seattle in 1865 was a municipal ordinance that criminalized the presence of the Duwamish,” Angélica Cházaro, a member of Decriminalize Seattle, said at the presentation. She reminded us how the criminalization of houseless community members is steeped in the racist colonial legacy of the City. “The Duwamish were the first people to be homeless on these lands.”

And the Solidarity Budget does not stop there. The coalition further attempts to address the inequitable way high-speed internet is distributed across Seattle. The vision of community technology that the Solidarity Budget calls for includes a pipeline of community-based technology projects that train community members in tech skills, to expand access and offer job skills in the process. Jonathan Porter from the Black Brilliance Research Project’s Digital Equity and Internet Equality team highlighted how “tech for the people, not cops” can be reflected in allocating resources for a digital navigator program in BIPOC communities to address the racial digital divide (disparities that are further aggravated by the pandemic). The ability to “access health services, food safety net, and therapy sessions” is dependent on internet access, he reminded. 

If the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter rebellion in Seattle last summer was the catalyst that broke down the silos between different organizational formations, the Solidarity Budget is a glimpse into the brilliance and resourcefulness of community members in envisioning a different city that reshapes our definitions of public safety, a city where basic needs are met through activating community connections, initiatives, and a sense of purpose. This vision calls on us to embrace a Seattle that is not reliant on dangerous, deadly force, for a collective sense of safety and well-being. 

Support the Solidarity Budget’s demands for divestment from the police and the criminal punishment system, to invest in community needs and infrastructure. Follow Seattle Solidarity Budget on Facebook and @decrimseattle on Instagram for more updates.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

J.M. Wong (they/them) is a queer child of the Chinese diaspora living on Duwamish lands (Seattle) via Malaysia/Singapore and many cities in between. They are a healthcare worker, policy analyst, and community member. They write about their time working in health care in “caring: a labor on stolen time.” They believe in the power, brilliance, and resilience of the global working class. They do outreach and organizing with the Massage Parlor Outreach Project (MPOP) based in Chinatown-International District.

📸 Featured Image: Solidarity Budget action on Tuesday, Nov. 16, outside of Seattle City Hall. Photo courtesy of Solidarity Budget.

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