by Jadenne Radoc Cabahug
The 2023 Seattle Solidarity Budget’s focus this year is a “Budget to Live, Budget to Thrive.” Self-described as “a collective call toward a city budget that centers the needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable Seattle residents,” the Solidarity Budget coalition formed after the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Their proposed budget for 2023 was intentionally released in September 2022, one week prior to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposed budget for the City of Seattle.
The Solidarity Budget has allowed organizations to collaborate on the biggest issues they feel Seattle is facing. The 2023 budget is broken down into two major sections: “Budget to Live” calls for measures to end jail and policing deaths, traffic deaths, and deaths of houseless people; “Budget to Thrive” calls for an increase in participatory budgeting, wages for public workers, strategies that prioritize support services over policing and courts, funding for affordable housing, and climate investments.
“The City budget is a really brilliant way for us, the people of Seattle, to be engaged in our city government, because how we’re allocating our funding is a really strong determinant of where our elected leadership priorities lie,” said Clara Cantor, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways community organizer and member of the Solidarity Budget coalition team.
The Solidarity Budget is endorsed by a coalition of community-based organizations and nonprofits dedicated to intersectional change. They include but are not limited to: advocacy organizations like Real Change and CID Coalition, climate justice organizations like Puget Sound Sage and 350 Seattle, abolitionist organizations like Creative Justice, Community Passageways, and CHOOSE 180, and many more.
“Coming together and making sure that we were advocating in collaboration with each other, and that we weren’t being pitted against each other and broken apart, makes us all stronger and considerably more effective,” Cantor said.
Due to the City’s lack of progress on the coalition’s 2022 proposals, they will remain the backbone for the coalition’s 2023 budget.
Cantor says the coalition has been in communication with many of the City Councilmembers to talk about how they can support the Solidarity Budget and its specific asks. The Solidarity Budget has also received public support, with people sending emails to councilmembers, promoting it on social media, or going to events.
“We don’t actually implement folks with lived experience’s actual policy proposals,” Tiffani McCoy, Real Change advocacy director and campaign cochair for Yes on I-35, said. “We just put them on boards, on commissions that are nonbinding, and pat ourselves on the head and say that’s enough. But [the coalition’s demands are] from people that are experts in their fields and who have lived experiences.”
In 2021, approximately $30 million was allocated by the Seattle City Council for participatory budgeting, which is a process that allows Seattle residents to vote on where public dollars should be invested. Building off the work of the Black Brilliance Research Project, the Solidarity Budget is demanding the City invest annually in a Black-led and Black-centered participatory budget at $60 million a year, along with its annual $3 million implementation cost.
“I think it’s an excellent testament to what is possible if we allow community members to use their knowledge, expertise, lived experience, to actually inform the moral documents of the budget, and how we can make a city that is livable, and where folks can thrive,” said McCoy.
Jail, Policing, and Public Money for Public Workers
The Solidarity Budget coalition is demanding the City defund the Seattle Police Department (SPD) by 50% through eliminating unfilled positions that are still being funded, reducing funding for existing positions, and ending funding for new hires. They also call for divestment from additional police spending, including investments in the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system, which the mayor proposed $1 million to fund.
“We firmly believe that we need to create a future where we’re not just continuing to prop up these harmful death-making systems, like police, courts, jails, prisons,” McCoy said.
Instead, the coalition wants to reallocate this funding to organizations towards crisis response services, housing, and organizations like Creative Justice, which offers arts opportunities for BIPOC, low-income, and LGBTQIA+ young people, with the goal of ending youth incarceration.
“We promote teamwork, collaboration, community engagement,” said Travonna Thompson-Wiley, a community organizer with Creative Justice. “[Our work is] really a chance to increase youth and community understanding of how the conditions of racism, classism, and sexism impact our community … and really, really showing them that transformative justice could work better than focusing on cages.”
Cantor is also on the Whose Streets? Our Streets! work group, which calls for ceasing all involvement of police in traffic enforcement, including officer patrols, speed stops, and crash responses. The group recommends prioritizing harm reduction through driver education, community service, and community-building.
“Our stance is that there’s no reason for those interactions to be done by armed police, where there’s a high risk of escalation, harassment, and even murder,” Cantor said in an email. “We don’t just want to live; we need a city where people can thrive, and that includes everybody, not just extremely wealthy people.”
Houselessness and Housing for All
Citing a number of human services that are presently underfunded while firefighters and police officers are receiving pay increases and bonuses, McCoy says, “That is a testament in itself that the mayor is focused only on reactionary public safety, visible public safety, and not actually addressing root causes.”
Similarly, on the topic of houselessness, which disproportionately impacts Black and Indigenous residents, the Solidarity Budget proposes that the City redirect funding spent on sweeps and RV mitigations towards a number of solutions. These include safe and secure permanent housing for unhoused or housing-insecure people, treatment options to prevent overdose deaths, and funding for community-based public safety solutions. Included is funding for programs like the Mobile Pit Stop Program (MPSP) — a program intended to provide sanitary and safe public toilets — which the coalition says won funding in 2020’s budget, until former Mayor Jenny Durkan repurposed the funds.
Investments in Healthy Climate Futures & Traffic Safety
The Solidarity Budget says for every dollar Seattle spends on the Green New Deal, it spends $40 on policing. It is asking for Seattle to fund the Green New Deal in its entirety, to eliminate pollution by 2030, and address environmental health impacts through climate investments and policies.
“We know that inflation is harming low-income communities, [along] with the energy crisis and war that’s going on in Ukraine,” McCoy said. “We know that is going to harm Black, Indigenous, Brown, low-income communities the most in the winter on whether or not they can keep their heat going or at a level that is comfortable.”
In response, the Solidarity Budget is demanding funding for a number of initiatives such as the Oil-to-Electric Clean Heat program, which transitions low-income homes from oil to electric and reduces energy use.
According to Debolina Banerjee, Puget Sound Sage’s climate justice policy analyst, the coalition is also looking towards new and existing climate resilience hubs. Climate hubs are locations that can educate the public about climate change and extreme weather changes, while providing solar-powered heat, heat pumps, and other services to make communities more resilient to climate impacts.
“We have asked for a community-based study to define what climate resilience hubs [are], [to listen for] how our communities would tell us what their community resilience hub would be, and give us the priorities,” Banerjee said.
Recommendations included centering Indigenous-led climate sustainability projects and funding the City of Seattle’s Environmental Justice Fund, which supports efforts led by those most affected by environmental and climate inequities.
The Solidarity Budget also strives for investments in Vision Zero, Seattle Department of Transportation’s vision to end traffic deaths and serious injuries on city streets by 2030, with an eye on equity and climate change. This especially affects South End communities, which saw a majority of Seattle’s fatal crashes in 2021.
Seattle Solidarity Budget’s full list of demands and endorsing organizations can visit their website at SeattleSolidarityBudget.com. Members of the public who would like to offer feedback on Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposed budget can write their councilmembers or participate in the two remaining opportunities for public comment, on Nov. 8 and Nov. 15.
Jadenne Radoc Cabahug is a senior at the University of Washington majoring in Communications: Journalism and Public Interest and double minoring in international studies and French. She began her journalism career at 15 in Seattle through NPR KUOW 94.9 FM’s RadioActive Youth Media Program producing radio feature stories and podcasts. Since then, she has moved to print and online journalism, writing for local Seattle outlets like Crosscut, the International Examiner, the Daily and breaking international news Factal.
📸 Featured Image: People rallied in support of the 2022 Seattle Solidarity budget last year on Nov. 16, 2021, at Seattle City Hall in Seattle, Washington. (Photo: LéTania Severe)
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