Ceramicist Jen Mills: Making The Unseen, Seen

by Marcus Harrison Green

Conjuring concrete objects from the abstraction of imagination, culling scattered salvos of thought into a burst of creative

Jen Mills at work
Jen  at work

expression that abides in reality, it is this ingenious alchemy that is the hallmark which blankets most artists (or creative professionals should you prefer the current vernacular), however, none more snugly than the ceramicist. Those gifted enough to possess the enchanted ability to, with their hands, breath life into the dullest of materials, crafting them into a provocative articulation of form, and conceiving in their bowls, vases and vessels, art which functions in the everyday.

 

A paragon who fiercely pursues this craft is found in South Seattle’s accomplished ceramist Jen Mills, past recipient of several visual art residencies and a current instructor at the Seward Park Clay Studio. It is in speaking with Jen, her collegial appearance and Liz Lemonesque glasses, a consistent companion to her youthful face, which belies her depth of thought, and creating a small wonder that she isn’t more often confused for one of her students, that you find yourself entertaining the same perspective of art as she does, not just as a lone manifestation of creativity, but as hallowed practice of self-discovery. An appropriate vehicle of inward exploration for the former Religious Studies Major, who counts Buddhism amongst her favorite theologies.

 

 

Jen's Ceramic Installation "Drift"
Jen’s Ceramic Installation “Drift”

Her artwork, primarily forged from clay, is the result of an attentiveness to those moments in life which are oft ignored by the majority of us. It is her work that polishes them to reveal a  profound significance. Thankfully, for the artist and layperson alike, her approach to art is employed just as fully in her life. So be forewarned that her words may just inspire a revelation of meaning in your own:

Emerald: Most people’s association with ceramics/pottery begins and ends in high school, or if they’re fortunate, as an elective at a liberal arts college.Can you share the value of ceramics/pottery and why it should capture a person’s interest? For instance why should someone go to a ceramics showing?

 

Jen Mills:  Everyone has an association with ceramics. Right now we’re in a coffee shop and we’re both drinking out of ceramics mugs. Most everyone picks up a mug, especially in Seattle, usually filled with coffee everyday, and they eat off the material. They bathe in a bathtub made out of this material. Ceramic tiles are on space shuttles and prevents them from blowing up. We all have a familiarity with this material, so to go see a ceramics show that makes you think about this material that you frequently encounter in a different way, that’s really exciting. It makes you open to seeing the everyday in a different way.

Emerald: You were originally a religion major, how did you go from that to making art as a ceramicist?

 

Jen: Both religion and art motivate everyone, everyone from around the world tries to answer the question, “Why are we here?” Every country, everywhere from around the world is inspired to create. There is a lot of intersection between religion and art because you have a lot of art created, until recently, that was religiously inspired. From  Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, to the ancient paintings in the caves in France, it was all about expressing, ”where are we going and why are we here?” and doing it in a visual way. Both are universal to me, so it was a very short leap to go from one to the other.

 

Emerald: So then is making art, in a way, a religious practice for you? How much does religion inspire your work?

 

Jen:  I do try to practice Buddhism in my personal life, but I’m not too successful, so I would say the making of art, using my own hands, takes the place of that. Through my studies in comparative religion was that (religions) have a lot of fundamental differences, but they also have an incredible amount of similarities once you get to the esoteric level. I think of it as climbing a mountain, once you reach the top it all looks the same.

 

I remember a Christian text, where a priest had written a letter to a nun about how to pray the rosary. The priest said, “You have to lose yourself, until there is no you there, and there is only one, and if you lose yourself you become one with Christ.” That’s very similar to Buddhism…there is no “I”. Again, you get to the top of the mountain, you get a lot of similar answers. Now how you get there of course every religion has a different answer, but they’re going for the same goal.

 

I think a lot of artists are trying to do the same thing. They’re asking, “How do I visually represent this concept that I’m trying to communicate?”  It’s really kind of a leap of faith as you don’t have words; you’re not trying to write an essay like,  “here’s what I think about x,y and z.” You’re trying to depict this concept in a visual way, and there’s a gap. That’s what I liked about studying different religions – history, poetry, politics, everything is all right there, and I really responded to that. Art is the other piece, the other side of the coin in expressing those things. So you get the leap of leaving the known and going into the unknown, so a lot of my work is trying to make the unknown known, are the invisible, visible. I try to be in that inbetween place, where I think a lot of people find uncomfortable, but I find very interesting. So religion and art occupy that unknown place very well for me.

 

Emerald: You grew up in Colorado what influence did that area have on your art process?

 

Jen: Our surroundings affect all of us, some of it is very conscious, and some of it is unconscious. In Colorado, I grew up on the Front Range where you are literally on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Turn one way and you see flat, flat land, and that’s like Kansas, the Great Plains, literally ramming right up into the Rocky Mountains. You then turn the other way and you’ve got these 14,000 foot peaks, so you’re living on the edge, where this transition takes place and I found this really exciting.

 

I was really fortunate to grow up in a really beautiful part of the country. When it snowed you had this blanket that covered up everything, and you wondered was that a pile of garbage underneath all of that snow or is that a rock? You don’t know. Snow makes everything beautiful – it’s like this frosting or glaze over the land. So I would get up in the middle of the night, and when the moon was full it was brighter almost than it was during the day because the light would reflect of the snow and I would be the first one to go walking in the snow, and I’d think to myself, “no one knows I’m out here,” and I would come back home and find another set of footsteps, and it would startle me. “Where did this person go? Who was it? Where they old or young?”  All I have is this trace of footsteps, this seen thing, that is now unseen, and this is all the evidence left behind.

 

So that thought left a mark on me, and so I go on to be a religion major, and try to make the unseen, seen, and at first I didn’t think my art was influenced by any of that at all.  I thought, “that religion degree is in the past,” but of course my art is influenced by the sum of my experiences, and what’s come before in my life. My art isn’t autobiographical but I’m the lens and of course it’s going to come through me, and that’s the way Colorado filtered through me, the snow, living on the edge, the snow covering things up and taking it away. The accumulation over time of snow, first an inch, than an hour would pass and it would then be a foot, you could literally see time in physical form. You’d measure the snow on the ground and discover, “Oh wow, it’s four inches and I can’t see my bike anymore.”

 

Emerald: What is your process? Some artist say they just have an innate compulsion to create. Does that describe you?

 

Jen:  Creating art is something that I need to do. I love sketching and researching and letting my mind wander, letting it be free to make associations that I can bring into my work. I almost see it as a collaboration with material, the concept I’m exploring and myself. There are those times when you get frustrated, and every artist has these moments, when they ask themselves, “Why am I doing this? This is so hard.” and you don’t really get recognized for the work that you do. Art making and art isn’t really valued, at least not in this country. People say, “Oh you’re an artist… What else do you do?” or “Oh that’s nice, but what pays the bills?” And that can be really disheartening, it’s not like we’re constantly living in a state of total bliss, and I just have this ‘need” to create. Sometimes just getting in the studio is the hardest thing to get done in that day, but that is what you do. There are days that I get into the studio and I can’t wait and it’s amazing, but then sometimes, I’m like, “okay, what’s going to get me in the studio today…”. So part of my practice is discipline. It’s easy to get into the studio, or anywhere, when you’re excited. but what gets you to the studio when you’re not excited, and it’s the last thing you want to do? So that’s the discipline; those artist I know who have any degree of success are incredibly disciplined, rational, business people, because they have to be, there’s no other way to do it. The notion of the successful crazy, weird artist is largely a myth.

 

Emerald: Stepping back into the intersection of religion and art, some artists say all spirituality is just going beyond a routine way of seeing life, and ultimately that’s what art is, do you agree with that assessment?

 

Jen: I would agree, though I don’t know if every artist would. Many artists describe making art as a kind of a trance. I think anyone who creates talks about it using a religious language  – a small “r” religious language – a state of mind that you can get to when you create. Not all the time of course, as there are some times that drudgery is the name of the game and you’re banging your head against the wall because the ideas are coming, you have the idea, but you can’t figure out exactly how to do it but there are times we get into the grove, and we know it’s happening, and we hit the target and we know it’s worked and  then you’re trying to do it again, you’re trying for that same spot over and over again and I think that’s what keeps all of us going no matter what kind of artist we are, writers, artists, or musicians.

 

Emerald: What influence has the South Seattle area had on your art and you personally?

 

Jen: I’ve always enjoyed a group learning experience, because I enjoy conversation. I think that when you encounter ideas, people, things, that are different from you, that have a different point of view than you do, you are forced to look at the assumptions you’ve made, reevaluate and grow. That’s the only way to grow, to meet resistance. Our bodies are actually meant to encounter resistance.  That’s the reason that astronauts’ bones and muscles deteriorate in outer space, because there’s no resistance. We get stronger by lifting things that are outside of our comfort zone. We respond in a positive way to being challenged outside of our comfort zone.

 

I think that ever since I was little I enjoyed class discussions where people expressed different points of view and I was in that uncomfortable in-between place. That’s why a lot of my work has more than one part to it, so there’s a conversation that’s happening between multiple parts that then makes a sum greater than the individual parts. South Seattle has always been that to me with it’s diversity. Hopefully Seattle can find a way to preserve that, that conversation, because it seems to be disappearing. It’s what’s going on now with people only watching Fox News or MSNBC, if you’re only talking to the people who agree with you, it’s bad. Any place, whether online or South Seattle, where you can bump into and encounter those different conversations and point of views is a great place. I have to keep myself open to different points of view because otherwise I’d be bored, and I hate being bored!

 

Emerald: Is ceramics undervalued as an art form?

 

Jen: I do think in comparison to other disciplines that ceramics is the underdog, although that’s changing, and has been for the last few years I think. It’s being seen more and more, for its great conceptual possibilities as well as its functionality. There are now more galleries that are picking up ceramic artists, in addition to painters, and other disciplines. They are seeing that ceramics can contribute to the conversation that the larger art world is having.

 

Ceramic artists have differing opinions on whether or not that’s a good thing, as with any discipline there’s people who don’t want to interact with that large conversation, and you’ve got potters who are saying, “Why should I?” But I choose to work with clay because this material has everything that I need. It’s a really exciting time to be working in ceramics, and I’m really excited about its history, from porcelain in China that are thousands of years old to the new artist today who is using challenging our ideas of what a permanent piece of art should be by not firing the work to make it a permanent form, and letting it disintegrate back into the ground, creating a temporary ephemeral piece. That’s a huge range and a potential for conversations that ceramics can have that not a lot of other art forms can have.

 

Emerald: In producing art, when do you encounter your, “aha moment?” When do you know you’re finished with a piece?

 

Jen: That’s a good question. Sometimes you have to go over the finish line. Working on art is sometimes like looking in the rearview mirror, like,” oops that stopping point was back there.” There is an element of subjectivity to art. The artist has their opinion and you have your opinion. It’s wonderful when we agree. But there are those who are with you, and those who think you’re on a different planet. You can always know that something is well crafted, and that the skill is there. But when you’re finished with a piece it’s when it answers the questions you are asking the work. Does this say what I want it to? Does this communicate the questions I’m asking? For example, does this ceramic cup (she holds up an ordinary looking coffee cup) provide an answer to human anguish? Well no – this “artwork” will fail. It’s purpose is to hold liquid and to drink out of.  So it really matters what questions are you asking the work. The answer can sometimes determine whether you are finished or not.

 

Emerald: You’ve had a great amount of success, with several artist residencies and awards. What advice do you have for those artist who are just starting out or who have persisted without any success?

 

Jen: You have to show up. In order to make the work you have to be there to make the work. So to the new, younger artist I’d say keep going, even on those days you don’t want to, or you get that 20th rejection letter, you’re not going to succeed if you quit. Sounds obvious, but if you don’t apply you’re not going to get the opportunity, you might as well apply because you’ve got nothing to lose. What’s the worst that can happen? You’re not going to get it? If you don’t apply, you’re certainly not going to get there. You’re not going to make the work. So just do it, just show up.

 

The second thing is to take risks. The more you put yourself out there, even if every fiber of your being is afraid, and saying oh my gosh who is going to like this? Someone is going to respond to it. There’s something for everyone. Now is it going to be the best thing you ever made? Maybe not, but if you don’t put it out there you’re not going to get any feedback to get better. You’re not going to encounter any resistance to get better to make you stronger. Just keeping putting your work out there, and if that’s at a local coffee shop, just so you can see it outside of your studio on the wall, or outside of your living room or wherever you’re working, the work benefits because it’s encountering a new thing, you’re benefiting because you’re encountering a new thing, and you will see your work in a different way.
For more information on Jen Mills, including views of her scintillating ceramic pieces and future exhibitions, please visit http://www.jen-mills.com

Homegrown Documentaries

Seed ArtsSeattle, WA – Bicycling nudists, Rwandan filmmakers and a Seattle family confronted by terrorism are the intriguing characters you’ll meet at the second annual SEED Arts Cinema Series SEEDArts Cinema Series, “Made in Seattle: Homegrown Documentaries”. The two-day series, April 4 & 5, is comprised of three dynamic, award-winning, locally made documentaries to be screened at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, 3515 S Alaska St, Seattle, WA 98118. The films are Finding Hillywood (4/4 at 7pm), Barzan (4/5 at 5pm), and Beyond Naked (4/5 at 7pm). Each film will be followed by a community conversation with the filmmakers and moderated by Rustin Thompson, The Restless Critic.

The Cinema Series opens on Friday, April 4 at 7pm with a screening of Finding Hillywood. Set amongst the hills of Rwanda, Finding Hillywood chronicles one man’s road to forgiveness, his effort to heal his country, and the realization that we all must one day face our past. A unique and endearing phenomenon film about the very beginning of Rwanda’s film industry and the pioneers who bring local films to rural communities. A real life example of the power of film to heal a man and a nation.

The Series continues on Saturday, April 5, with an evening double feature. At 5 pm, we present Barzan by directors Alex Stonehill & Bradley Hutchinson. Barzan is an intimate portrait of a suburban family ripped apart by a terrorism accusation. Shot both in Iraq and Seattle, this investigative documentary examines terrorism, immigration, and the sacrifices we make to protect the American dream.

The series concludes at 7pm with Beyond Naked, the “Best Documentary” of the Seattle True Independent Film Festival (2013). This film shows what happens when four first-timers accept a challenge to ride naked in Seattle’s legendary Solstice Parade. This feature-length documentary explores our deep-rooted fear and awkward fascination with nakedness through the lens of one of Seattle’s most popular traditions.

Admission to the Cinema Series is $5 per film. All films will be screened on the new digital projection system at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, 3515 S Alaska St, Seattle, WA 98118. Limited concessions will be available. For more information and updates, call 206.760.4285 or visit http://www.rainiervalleyculturalcenter.org/cinema.

Weathering The Seahawks’ Offseason Woes

Seahawks worries

In the weeks following the Seahawks’ demolition of the Denver Broncos, in what was anything but a Super Bowl, a collective anxiety seems to have stricken the entire football fan base of Seattle. The hair pulling and gnashing of teeth that’s resulted from players leaving for greener pastures, and seemingly every other NFL team loading up to knock the Hawks off the perch they now occupy, has made much of the 12th man forget that our World Champions (Admit it, you still pinch yourself at the sound of that!) are in a lot better shape than the general consensus gives them credit for.  While perhaps not being as good as a prescription of Lexapro for our distressed Hawks’ lovers, here are a few practical steps that the brass has taken and still can take in order to make sure they stay on top for the foreseeable future, which may help alleviate a few worries:

 

Step 1 (Complete) – Get your most effective and versatile pass rusher locked up in Michael Bennett.  Bennett offers value equal to the league leaders in Sacks, QB pressures, and QB knock downs.  In addition he plays the run well both as a defensive end, and as a defensive tackle in passing situations making him invaluable, and without a match in free agency, or within the upcoming draft.

 

Step 2 – Extend Earl Thomas for 5-6 years, and make him the highest paid safety in the league (he’s earned it).  Our league leading defense is enabled by the play of our two safety’s in Cam and Earl.  The NFL as a whole continues to be more of a passing league, and Earl’s unmatched ability to read quarterbacks and cover ground virtually eliminated the deep passing game of opponents for the last two years.  Cam was locked up and rewarded last year, Earl is priority #1 to continue this defenses’ dominance for the foreseeable future.

 

Step 3 – Extend Sherman 5-6 years(probably highest paid corner, but he earned it too).  Sherman has unmatched production, and eliminates receivers to his side of the field.  He studies like crazy, and communicates better than any corner in the league whether it is with his own teammates or he is discussing things with the opposition.

 

Step 4 (For 2015) – Extend Russell Wilson 5-6 years(somewhere in the top 5 highest paid).  Russell is the heart and soul of the offense.  It is true Beast Mode embodies the style this offense plays with, but Russell makes it all happen.  He routinely makes something out of nothing, and this guy will only continue to grow and get better.  As long as he is a Seahawk for the core of his athletic prime this will be a winning team.

 

Step 5 – Develop internally or find an effective DT to spell Mebane and McDaniel.  With Red leaving and McDonald getting a new deal as well our rotation looks much thinner, but remember McDonald was released last year, and by the end of the season he had 5.5 sacks.  There are too many weapons on defense for the OL to worry about, and our coaches consistently maximize the player’s potential.  Look at the out of nowhere performances on defense from McDaniel, Malcolm Smith, even Maxwell at DB.  All were unheard of and not counted on last pre-season to contribute to the 2013 season, and all played critical roles as the year developed.

 

Step 6 – Draft a high quality receiver in round 1 or 2 & bring in a mid-level veteran for competition.  Bringing in Jackson from Philly would be flashy, but would tie up too much money in a de-emphasized position on this team.  A solid veteran, possibly bringing back Sidney Rice if/when healthy, and a rookie to groom and develop would be upgrades to the offense the Hawks operated with for the majority of last year.  Losing Tate hurts, but having a healthy year of Percy should offset his loss, the key will be actually getting a healthy year of Percy in 2014.

 

Step 7 – Continue to build offensive line depth.  Losing Guacomini decreases the edge the line plays with, but functionally it won’t be a huge loss.  Either Bailey or Bowie will be much better next year, and exhibited strong abilities to run and pass block effectively.  Based on the usage last year I think Bowie has the inside track, but I like Bailey to blossom and play regularly next year as well.  Adding depth and versatility via the draft in the middle rounds will be necessary.

 

Step 8 – Lock up Pete Carroll to a 5 year extension (Again, he’s earned it).  He is one of the highest paid coaches in the league already, but he salvaged a flailing franchise and has turned around the energy, passion, skill, athleticism, and competition.  For the first time in Seahawks history we are the envy of the league both for winning the Super Bowl, but for the opportunity to continue to win more Lombardi’s in the near future.

 

Follow these steps in the next year, and we are set up much better than the Niners to dominate for the next 4-5 years and compete for multiple Superbowls.  I know it is difficult to look at the losses of Tate, Clemens, Bryant, Guacomini, Thurmond, Browner etc., but take heart, none of those players were in the top 10 total contributing players on the team, and likely not in the top 15, so although it hurts to lose them, keeping the core top players together over the long term and continuing to bring in quality young players is the key to future Hawks domination.


Clint Elsemore has been a fanatic Seattle sports fan for his entire life, and possibly several past lifetimes, should reincarnation be proven to be real.

Rainier Valley Greenways Create Pop-Up Greenway

Seattle, WA — Rainier Valley Greenways announces the first Pop-up Greenway Event in South Seattle, Sunday, April 6, 2014, from 11am to 3pm in Columbia City at Ferdinand Street between 35th and 37th Street.

A Pop-Up Greenway is a temporary installation to demonstrate and celebrate the effectiveness of neighborhood greenways. The Rainier Valley Pop-Up Greenway, located on a proposed greenway route near the Columbia City light rail station, will include faux painted speed humps, way-finding signs, sharrows and intersection improvement suggestions that demonstrate what a greenway could look like. The event will also feature food, walking tours, hands-on activities, and games for the whole family.

Neighborhood greenways are residential streets close to commercial streets where people who walk and bike are given priority. They have slower speeds, less traffic and sometimes more trees, benches and other people-friendly features than main city streets. Greenways also connect community destinations like schools, parks, businesses and transit hubs.

“Neighborhood Greenways are for all of us, not just for bicyclists,” says City of Seattle Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. “Greenways are for those who want to live in a quieter, calmer neighborhood. They are for those of us who want to let our children play outside safely, where neighbors like to walk and ride in front of their homes in relative peace. Greenways are for people who like green and flowering trees and want to recreate how their neighborhoods look and feel.”

“It’s been amazing to see how much interest there is in Rainier Valley for safer streets,” says Deb Salls, executive director of Bike Works, a key organizational partner in the Rainier Valley Greenways project. “We have a diverse community, where family members of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds are trying to walk, bike, and bus to different destinations — and in this community there can be a lot of obstacles, from uneven sidewalks, to poorly marked streets, and dangerous signal-timing.”

About Rainier Valley Greenways: Rainier Valley Greenways is part of a city-wide grassroots movement called Seattle Neighborhood Greenways that is helping residents and businesses transform Seattle into a city where we can all walk and bike more safely. Working with leading organizations, businesses, and social service groups in Southeast Seattle, the Rainier Valley Greenways group is participating in a variety of local events throughout the year, offering community presentations, and generating discussions online at: http://www.GoRVGreenways.com. By August 2014, they expect to have a Greenways plan that highlights the best opportunities for walking and bicycling routes from one end of Rainier Valley to the other. They’ll present the neighborhood-driven proposal to the City as a plan for prioritizing road and sidewalk repairs, traffic-calming elements, and other enhancements for safer walking and bicycling in Southeast Seattle.

Civic Salvos: Washington State Hunger Strike Goes National

by Miriam Xiomara Padilla and Su Docekal
Seattle, WA

An unprecedented hunger strike by 750 of the 1,200 detainees in Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center started during breakfast on March 7. The strikers’ demands for an end to deportations and inhumane conditions in the privately-owned prison has made national headlines and drawn broad community support. On March 17 the strike spread to the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas. Both jails are run by the GEO Group, Inc., this country’s second largest for-profit prison corporation.

protestersThe Tacoma hunger strike was inspired by a dozen undocumented Washington State residents and supporters who locked themselves together at the entrance of the detention center on Feb. 24. The #Not1More activists sat down in front of a bus to block it from transporting detainees to the airport to be deported, a strategy modeled on similar recent actions by undocumented protesters in Chicago, Phoenix and Atlanta.

Daily demonstrations have been held at the Tacoma facility since the strike began and on Tuesday, March 11 over 200 people rallied in solidarity with the hunger strikers and their families. They chanted and made lots of noise to let those inside know that they had support outside.

AT A MARCH 19 PRESS CONFERENCE in front of the Tacoma detention center, Maru Mora Villalpando of #Not1More began by saying, “Obama can stop the deportations, but he has chosen not to.” She introduced several family members of the hunger strikers, who explained that their husbands andt were taking this action to expose the abuses in the detention center and to stop the deportations.

One of the strike leaders, Jose Moreno, who had just been released, spoke on behalf of those inside, saying that mistreatment by officials, as well as poor food and medical care are among the abuses the strikers are protesting.

Sandy Restrepo, an attorney with La Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, has been visiting the strikers regularly and reported that 13 detainees remain on hunger strike. Ramon Mendoza Pascual and Jesus Gaspar Navarro are in medical isolation, while the remaining 11 are in general population.

THE GEO GROUP, which reaps enormous profits from its prisons and detention centers, has a long history of unjust treatment. In 2008 at its Reeves County Detention Center in Texas, Jesus Manuel Galindo died at 32 after suffering an epileptic seizure in solitary confinement. Galindo was thrown into “the hole” after he complained about his medical care.

The GEO Group is also politically active in promoting laws that will keep its for-profit prisons full. The corporation took part in the task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which pushed bills for “truth-in-sentencing” that reduce paroles and “three strikes” legislation that increases life sentences.

ACROSS THE COUNTRY undocumented immigrants, especially women, youth and detainees, are putting their bodies on the line to demand an end to endless deportations. It is a dramatic change from the go-slow “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR) strategy promoted by immigration reform organizations closely tied to the Democratic Party.

The Dignity Campaign, which is endorsed by dozens of grassroots organizations, including the Freedom Socialist Party, called the CIR strategy a “deal with the devil” in a March 2014 statement:

“The CIR trade-off — giving up immigrants’ civil and labor rights to get legalization — has always been an unworkable strategy for immigration reform. The CIR bills serve the interests of employers. Whether they’re looking for farm workers, construction workers or high tech workers, the corporate objective is to ensure that wages go down as workers compete for insecure jobs.

While CIR languished in Congress, community and labor activists, mostly young, have refused to wait or compromise, and instead have organized on the ground to win rights and equality.

The hunger strikers in Washington and Texas provide stirring leadership for this new wave of militant activism. At the March 19 press conference, strikers Pascual and Navarro sent encouraging taped messages to the hunger strikers in Conroe, Texas. “We’re not doing anything wrong, we’re demanding our rights. You should keep going forward, and not yield,” said Navarro, followed by Pascual who added, “Don’t be afraid, we must keep going, so that we are heard and so that we can be free.”

How you can help

SIGN the online petition to support the hunger strikers at the Northwest Detention Center.
SEND donations to La Colectiva Legal del Pueblo so that they can help detainees and their families communicate with each other. Mail checks to 645 SW 153rd Street, Suite C3 Burien, WA 98166. Email: info@colectivalegal.org.
PARTICIPATE in the National Day of Action against deportations being planned across the country for April 5th. There will be a rally at the Tacoma detention center that day from noon to 5:00pm. Anyone interested in carpooling from Seattle, please contact the Freedom Socialist Party at FSPseattle@mindspring.com. Learn more about the national campaign at notonemoredeportation.com.
JOIN the #Not1More protests in front of the Northwest Detention Center that take place every day from noon to 5:00pm leading up to the April 5 rally.

Late breaking news: On Monday, March 24th 70 detainees in Tacoma rejoined the hunger strike.

Miriam Xiomara Padilla is a high school student and a leader in the Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado in Seattle. Su Docekal is an immigrant rights activist and Organizer for the Seattle branch of the Freedom Socialist Party.

A Pragmatic Approach To A Fair Minimum Wage

by Marilyn Watkins

People who toil away at jobs we all depend on shouldn’t live in poverty. But would a $15 minimum wage work in Seattle?

Here’s a look past the rhetoric at what the research shows.

Washington’s minimum wage of $9.32 isn’t enough to cover the basics. Affording a one-bedroom apartment in King County required working full-time at $17.54 an hour in 2013, according to a study by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and the Department of Commerce. But tens of thousands of local workers in fast food, restaurants, retail, childcare, hotels, and other common occupations, typically earn less than $12.50.

The average cost of a one-bedroom shot up 55% in the past 4 years within a 10 mile radius of Seattle, a period when inflation – and the state minimum wage, rose just 7.5%.

Inequality has been on the rise for three decades, and it is causing economic instability and job-killing recessions. If minimum wage had kept pace with productivity gains over that period it would now be above $16. Since the start of the recession in 2008, corporate profits have climbed steadily, but the share of our national economy going to workers wages has declined, with more of total wages going to CEOS, hedge fund managers, and software engineers – and less to everybody else.

We need to do something about low wages. But, will raising the minimum wage to $15 force businesses to cut jobs and in some cases close altogether as opponents contend?

Twenty-one states now have minimum wages above the federal level. We have lots of data to test the theory that raising the minimum wage decreases hiring.

The most recent, economically sophisticated studies that actually use all these data have concluded that all the minimum wage increases of the past 25 years had no significant impact on jobs. The increases did raise monthly incomes for low-wage workers and decrease turn over.

When workers stay in their jobs longer, employers have lower hiring and training costs, and productivity increases. This helps explain why employers can pay higher wages without cutting jobs.

Other cities have set their own minimum wages. In the fall of 2013, Washington, DC and two Maryland counties acted to raise their minimum wages in steps, to reach $11.50 by 2016 or 2017. San Francisco’s minimum wage is $10.74, and the city also requires businesses to provide paid sick days and health insurance. A study just out from UC Berkeley concludes that employers made the adjustment to higher workplace standards without cutting jobs, in some cases modestly raising prices along with enjoying the benefits of less turnover and higher productivity.

The minimum wage increases in these studies were all less than the 60% raise that jumping straight to $15 would be. We don’t actually know what would happen with a quick increase of that scale. It’s not just the corporate fat cats who are worried, but owners of some local shops and restaurants operating on small margins, and childcare centers and social service agencies who don’t have the option of raising prices.

Taking all the data into account, here are my recommendations:

  1. Move to $15 in several steps. Workers need more in their pockets immediately, but a gradual increase gives small business owners time to adjust.

  2. Keep it universal. Some have suggested a small business exemption, and the Restaurant Association is clamoring for tip credits, or worse, “total compensation” (that means counting all benefits – health insurance, sick leave, meals – toward the minimum wage). All workers deserve a living wage. Employees shouldn’t have to rely on the whims of customers’ voluntary contributions. We hear anecdotally about bartenders and waiters at trendy nightspots who earn $40,000 to $70,000 a year. Well, why shouldn’t they? Their employers are bringing in plenty, and well-heeled customers buying $13 cocktails and laying down big tips would pay higher menu prices, too. But the truth is, most tipped workers are serving customers with modest incomes, often work part-time hours and slow shifts. Allowing employers to deduct not only tips but the “cost” of benefits, including every cup of coffee and bathroom break, provides new opportunities for wage theft and could result in some people seeing their paycheck go down.

Low wage workers are all ages. Some support families, or are trying to put themselves through school in the face of skyrocketing tuition. Others are college grads forced to move back in with mom because they can’t afford rent.

Low wages do not induce businesses to hire more workers – more customers do. So let’s go ahead and give Seattle a raise.

Marilyn Watkins is policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonpartisan policy center  focused on building and economy that works for everyone.

Lake Washington Receives $50 Million Reinvestment

SEATTLE – Starting this month, the Lake Washington Apartments will undergo a complete renovation that will greatly improve safety and

 comfort for 960 residents.

SEED (SouthEast Effective Development), in cooperation with its development partner, Bayside Communities, is financing the transfor

mation of the affordable apartment complex in Rainier Beach with a $50 million reinvestment package that rolls over part of the property’s current debt and frees $20 million for structural and tenant improvements.

 

“This comprehensive renovation will greatly improve the home environments of the residents with upgrades to all 366 units-and will add 13 more,” stated Lance Matteson, Executive Director of SEED. SEED is a Southeast Seattle not-for-profit dedicated to economic, arts-based, and affordable housing development.

The new financing includes $28 million in bonds issued and $12.2 million in housing tax credits allocated by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. Other development and funding partners include the City of Seattle, the State of Washington, Citi, R4 Capital, US Bank, and HomeSight.

“Each of these partners has been crucial to this project,” Matteson said. “We are proud to say that this project is being financed through private equity, with no grants from the state or federal government.”

The 66-year-old apartment complex is among the state’s largest affordable housing developments operated by a non-governmental agency. A great number of residents are people of color and immigrants from Africa, East Asia, and other countries, as well as a number of people transitioning from homelessness. Families eligible for housing earn below 60 percent of the area median income.

The renovation will replace roofs and siding, upgrade kitchens as well as bathrooms, and upgrade energy efficiency of lighting, radiant baseboard heaters, and water heaters. Energy-efficient washers and dryers will be fitted inside the individual apartments, freeing up common areas for new classrooms, study rooms, and activity and exercise rooms. Completion is projected for August 2015. The contractor is Synergy Construction, Inc. and property management services are provided by EPMI, a Bayside Company.

The Lake Washington Apartments, located at 9061 Seward Park Avenue South, are situated on a 16-acre site containing over 330,000 square feet of real estate that is adjacent to Lake Washington and Rainier Beach High School. The site is just a few blocks from the brand-new Rainier Beach Community Center.

 “At SEED, we are excited about our new direction and the opportunities represented by the redevelopment of the Lake Washington Apartments,” added Matteson. “This important step supports the livability of southeast Seattle and the diversity that enhances our city’s ongoing efforts to be recognized as a great international city.”

“We have worked to collaborate with commercial partners, government entities, public and regulatory agencies, legal and compliance experts, architects, and construction managers in a project that will bring tangible benefits to families and individuals in our community.”

Reportage, Culture & Commentary From The Most Eclectic Place on Earth