Sepia-toned photo depicting Mother Gordon (left) holding Renee Gordon as a baby.

OPINION: I Stand With Kshama Sawant Because She Stands With Black and Brown People

by Renée Gordon

I stand with Kshama Sawant against the right-wing recall because she fights for all of us, especially Black and Brown communities. 

My family’s story is living proof of her advocacy — and her effectiveness.

I live in the Chateau Apartments just off Yesler Way in the Central District with my aunt, Mother Gordon, who just turned 91. The Chateau is an older apartment building, providing homes to working class families — many immigrants, and mostly People of Color. It’s been Mother Gordon’s home for more than three decades. It’s three blocks from her church, one block from her favorite neighborhood grocery store where the clerks always ask for her when I go to pick up our snacks, and a short bus ride or drive away from the neighborhood senior community center and medical care. The Chateau is her home, a place of dignity in her sunset years.

Three winters ago, on a snowy afternoon in February, we heard people knocking on the doors of our apartment building. They were organizers from Councilmember Sawant’s office. I opened my door and heard the organizers telling my neighbors that the Chateau had been sold to a big developer and that the new landlord was planning to tear the building down and build studio housing — too expensive and too small for any of our families. 

The landlord had not even told us.

This is what’s been happening for years to our Central District. My family came up here from Arkansas in the 1940s, as part of The Great Migration. They landed in a Central District that was more than 70% Black. They helped build the Central District into a vibrant community, with our houses of worship, grocery stores, neighborhood centers, schools, and parks. 

But over the last two decades, gentrification — driven by corporate developers intent on making profits — has driven working class families, especially Black households, from the area. 

Mother (Darlene) Gordon: 91 years young, a member of the Central Area since the 1940s. She came up from Arkansas with her family during the Great Migration for a better life. To be free from the long hours of sharecropping under the blazing Arkansas sun, to make a living wage, to live life as a human being without worrying about being raped or lynched. She met her husband, Leslie Gordon, while he was on leave from Fort Lewis, Washington. They married and he became a preacher. The couple were married for over 50 years until Leslie passed in 2010 from leukemia. Then Mother Gordon’s health began to falter and Renée came back to Seattle to care for her. Photo courtesy of Renée Gordon.

Our landlord, Cadence Real Estate, is typical. The company boasts on its website that it “is committed to acquiring under-utilized, multifamily assets and development sites with the mission of generating above market returns for our investors.” This is the language of racist gentrification — driving out low- and middle-income families (whose homes need repairs, not demolition) so as to generate millions in profits for investors.

Today, as a result of companies like Cadence, the Central District is less than 15% Black. Our church pews are no longer full on Sundays. Local small businesses we used to patronize have been driven away. Our local Red Apple, where we knew the union workers on a first-name basis and they knew us and our tastes, has been bulldozed and replaced by an upscale non-union Amazon grocery store.

So while I was saddened, I was not surprised on the afternoon when I heard that our building was the next target in the gentrification drive to push Black and Brown families out.

But I also heard another thing from Kshama’s socialist organizers — something that gave me hope: I heard that gentrification was not inevitable. I heard that it was possible to fight back, to not get evicted from the Central District — as long as we organized.

Over the course of the next few days, we organized a majority of the Chateau tenants to sign a petition to Cadence demanding that the landlord come clean with us. We demanded the right to remain in our homes and, in the event of the building’s demolition, a landlord commitment to find us new affordable housing in the neighborhood and pay for our relocation.

Kshama helped us organize a tenant delegation to directly confront Cadence executives. She worked with us to organize press conferences and public hearings. She brought along faith leaders, community tenant organizers, and union members to back us up. Her organizers helped us file complaints with the City, citing 63 housing safety violations, including defective smoke detectors, exposed wiring, missing handrails, a broken elevator, crumbling stairs, and malfunctioning appliances.

Through our organizing and collective action with Kshama and her office, we got the housing problems fixed. We won an unprecedented commitment from Cadence to pay for $5,000 in relocation aid on top of the City’s $3,900 in relocation assistance, which several Chateau families have used, with Kshama’s guidance, to relocate to other affordable housing in the neighborhood. And we also won a commitment from Cadence to keep the building up for several more years and to allow us to stay if we wanted to.

None of these things would have happened without Kshama’s intervention. She showed us that it’s possible to fight back and win, even against powerful corporate forces.

Pastor Gordon and Mother Gordon in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Renée Gordon.

Kshama’s been successful in combating gentrification in other fights as well. She’s joined up with the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church (one block from the Chateau) and other Black churches to win millions of dollars in funding for new affordable housing construction. She’s organized alongside people experiencing homelessness to win millions in funding for tiny house villages and life-saving services. She’s organized with other renters to roll back rent increases and eviction orders. And she spearheaded the tax on Amazon and other big businesses to fund $200 million plus every year in affordable housing and Green New Deal projects, with union jobs for local workers.

In every battle, I’ve seen that she is going up against the same forces we faced in our battle at the Chateau: developers and big businesses that want to push us out. 

So I’m not surprised at all that those same adversaries are now trying to get her out of office. She has earned their enmity time and again.

Just look at the business executives who have contributed to the recall campaign: George Petrie, the CEO of Goodman Real Estate, who also happens to be Donald Trump’s number one donor in Washington State; Carl Haglund, a landlord so notorious that an anti-slumlord law was named after him; Martin Selig, a billionaire Trump donor and landlord of Seattle’s racist ICE department; and many more. 

All told, some 500 rich Republican donors, 130 Trump donors, and more than 850 millionaires have donated to the recall campaign against Kshama.

It’s clear that corporate landlords are willing to do whatever it takes to push Kshama out of office, precisely because she’s been effective in helping people like me, Mother Gordon, and the Chateau tenants fight back, demand our rights, and win.

The business elites even manipulated the election laws to finagle a special election in December, between two major holidays, because they know they couldn’t possibly win a regular November ballot. They are hoping that voters ignore this Dec. 7 election.

My fellow Central District neighbors won’t let that happen. We are door-knocking, calling, and reminding all voters to vote NO on the right-wing recall against Kshama and to mail their ballots in by Dec. 7. 

In church we’ve heard about David and Goliath, one of the most popular stories in Scripture. The Book of Samuel tells how a young shepherd, David, confronted the giant warrior Goliath and slew him with a slingshot, against all odds. It is a story of faith and courage. It’s also a story of achieving what seems impossible. 

There’s no question that me and my Central District neighbors are confronting giants when we do battle against racist gentrification. But like David, we draw courage in knowing we are on the right side of justice and history. And we are determined to win!

Please vote NO by Dec. 7. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what’s right.” Let’s send the gentrifiers a clear message on Dec. 7: This is OUR community, and we are fighting back!

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.

Renée Gordon, born in the Central District, has cared for her Aunt Mother Gordon at the Chateau Apartments since 2014.

📸 Featured Image: Mother (Darlene) Gordon and Renée Gordon as a baby. Photo courtesy of Renée Gordon.

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