SouthEast Effective Development (SEED) and Artspace are partnering with Sound Transit to present “Connect the Dots,” a free neighborhood art event — celebrating community, culture, entertainment and sustainable transportation. Connect the Dots will take place on Saturday, June 28th from 11am to 3pm starting at the Mt. Baker Light Rail Station Plaza (2415 South McClellan Street, Seattle, WA 98144), where many of Artspace Mt. Baker Loft’s commercial spaces will be open to the public (2915 Rainier Avenue S., Seattle, WA, 98144). Also—street food, live music, and skateboarding demonstrations by Skate Like A Girl can be found in the Plaza.
LQ Lion Dance will make an appearance and at 12:00pm, the Chaotic Noise Marching Band will lead the way in the “Connect the Dots” parade, followed by Boys and Girls Scout Troops heading south on Rainier Ave towards Walden Avenue and then to the Claremont Apartments (3333 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle WA 98144) for more activities. OneSevenNine, a local artist who focuses on color, folklore, imagination, and fairytales, will be teaching art classes in one of the Claremont storefronts. There will also be a pop-up arts and crafts fair showcasing local designers, record collectors, vintage clothing outfitters, handmade goods, and more. DJ Wizdumb will be spinning records in the Plaza while specially selected food trucks from the SouthEnd serve up some fine eats!
SEED is a non-profit community development corporation with the mission to improve the quality of life in Southeast Seattle by creating partnerships and inspiring investments in housing, arts and economic development – with a special focus on residents with fewer opportunities and resources. In 2011, SEED developed the Claremont Apartments, a new mixed use project on Rainier Avenue South — offering affordable living units and commercial space.
Artspace is a non-profit real estate developer whose mission is to create, foster, and preserve affordable space for artists and art organizations. Artspace Mt. Baker Lofts opens in June, and includes 57 units of affordable apartments for artists and their families and a commercial ground floor of community-focused businesses.
Together SEED and Artspace, along with Sound Transit will start the transformation of Rainier Avenue South into an “urban village” where friends, family, commuters and community members can easily indulge in an affordable, safe, and sustainable lifestyle.
As an Asian-American therapist with a multi-cultural focus, I can attest that an ethnic person’s identity can be mired in self-hatred and self-loathing during the process of integrating into mainstream American society.
In therapeutic circles there’s a process known as the Minority Identity Development Model. The first phase is one called the “Pre-Encounter Stage” where a minority member devalues himself, his ethnicity (i.e. culture, customs, the way he/she looks) in comparison to the accepted, mainstream culture. In the U.S., minorities may think the country or region they live in is anti-minority or non-minority and may act or behave in ways to be more “American” as a means to fit in.
The complexities related to Elliot Rodger’s mental health is vast and speculative but from his writings it’s clear it hinges on three prongs: race, class, and gender. Mainstream media has expounded on the class and male entitlement aspect of Rodger’s life but very little is mentioned on the racial component.
If anything, it seems race is the last subject they want to address. While his Asian background didn’t directly lead to his carnage, according to his manifesto it was clearly one of the contributing challenges he faced as someone who struggled with his mixed Chinese heritage as early as nine years old.
“On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with…my first act was to ask my parents to allow me to bleach my hair blonde. I always envied and admired blonde-haired people, they always seemed so much more beautiful.”
Rodger’s desire to fit into mainstream society and be accepted as a minority during this vulnerable stage can not be understated or ignored (like it currently is by the media). He was looking for acceptance from numerous sources: blonde women, his father, and peers but felt rejected or “not good enough” without the acknowledgment that one the biggest rejections he was grappling was his rejection of self.
His struggle while ostensibly looking like a young man plagued with a number of mental health issues should not be relegated to that classification alone. Instead, we as a society need to understand Rodger was a young man who was stuck in a process where he was not able to integrate his ethnic Chinese side with his Caucasian side. His writing of his ethnic self-hatred is evident even if it’s cloaked by his veiled attempt to bolster himself with his grandiosity (itself a defense mechanism).
I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian. I never had that kind of attention from a white girl! And white girls are the only girls I’m attracted to, especially the blondes. How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them?
This is why his race matters. Because we as Asian-Americans hurt knowing he was never able to get to the second phase of the minority identity development known as the “Encounter Stage” where an ethnic minority learns to see himself as valuable, loved, and cherished not in spite of his culture but because of it. In other words, minorities in this stage learn to embrace their heritage despite the surrounding that may convey contrary messages.
This explanation isn’t to simplify Elliot Rodger’s malicious actions, rather it’s to shed light and understanding to the public that race matters.
Sam Louie is an Asian-American psychotherapist with a private practice in Seattle and Bellevue. He focuses on issues of culture, race, and addictions. He is also a Los Angeles Emmy-Award Winning former t.v. news journalist and can be reached at:www.samlouiemft.com. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SamLouieSpeaks
The flourishing Hillman City business district reminds one of a tenacious wild flower, sprouting up between the cracks in the sidewalk. The energy of the neighborhood and its local entrepreneurs is in stark contrast to the derelict buildings and deserted businesses one might have previously rushed past on their way to the well-established Columbia City business district scant blocks away. The hope of this fledgling strip of independent entrepreneurs is that you will forgo your familiar, fast paced visit to Starbucks and instead take a few moments to chat up your neighbors at the Tin Umbrella or sample the seasonal menu at the Union Bar while testing your trivia knowledge (note that a yoga class at Rocket Crossfit may be in order afterwards). It may take a few moments longer to get your coffee but as you leave you’ll feel like you just left a friend’s living room and yes, their baby is indeed eating Cheerios off the floor.
The newest additions to the growing business community in this neighborhood include a home furnishing store & a soon to open rotisserie chicken restaurant with outdoor seating. These join, among other neighbors, a thrift store, a halal pizza café, a martial arts academy and a local brewery. Nestled amongst these locally grown endeavors is a gem of an idea, the Hillman City Collaboratory (http://hillmancitycollaboratory.org/).
The Collaboratory, self-described as an “Incubator for Social Change” offers shared office space, mixing chamber (a large, multi-purpose area), learning kitchen, community garden and drop in center. Drop in hours are Monday through Friday from 10-2 while partners have access anytime. The idea is that dreamers and doers have a place to go, echoing the vibrant spirit of the neighborhood. The community building HCC has become a pick up location for a local CSA (http://www.farmigo.com/join/growingwashington/summer2014), offered organic gardening classes, hosted fundraisers and are possible future partners with Families of Color Seattle (http://focseattle.com/). FOC Seattle hopes to partner with the HCC to open a Cultural Cornerstone Café in the fall, hosting multilingual family events for the community. The Hillman City Collaboratory seems to represent the very earnest spirit of regrowth throughout the neighborhood, bringing light back to what had been in shadows.
Robin Boland is a contributing columnist, South Seattle Enthusiast, and is often referred to as “little bird” by friends of hers with heights over 5 ft 7
Editor’s Note: The article was heavily influenced by the following poem
The Rose That Grew From Concrete
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.
Gems is a column devoted to spotlighting the various denizens who contribute to the rich mosaic that is the South Seattle area.
Who: Drina Turner
Avocation: Library Assistant
Favorite Area of South Seattle: Skyway
Where You Would Know Her From: Perched vigilantly behind Skyway Library’s front desk, ready to combat belligerent loudness and delinquent book returns.
What’s your favorite thing to do in South Seattle?
Working as a Library Assistant. It’s not a passive job as some might think. It’s actually quite dynamic. You get a diverse range of thoughts and ideas when you’re helping people with their problems. The clientele changes throughout the day. In the morning you have job seekers and people who work nights, along with the elderly. The library becomes somewhat of their social scene and a place for entertainment. Then in the afternoon, you have students coming from school and in the evening you have people just getting off from work, so throughout the day you have various needs being met. You many times become, “that person,” for people to talk to when they don’t have anyone else. Sometimes just “being there” helps them a great deal.
So what is the difference between a librarian and a library assistant?
It can be confusing! A librarian is someone who has their master’s degree in library science. A library assistant is someone who has at least a high school diploma.
Are there any amusing stories you can share as a library assistant?
One that stands out had to do with someone forgetting their library card and not having any identification. Usually when people come up to the front desk and need their library card, but don’t have any way of identifying themselves we ask them a series of questions to ascertain that we are giving the correct person the correct information.There was this young lady who came to the desk and didn’t have any identification but she said, “but my name is tattooed here!” and then proceeded to pull her shirt down to reveal this large tattoo of her name on her neck. I was thinking, “Well you more than likely are who you say you are… but that doesn’t exactly meet our verification criteria.”
How do you get on a library assistants good side besides being a lover of silence in the library?
One of the things I find extremely helpful when you visit a library is to just approach whoever is sitting behind the desk as someone who really is there to help you. The best thing to do is not assume that you’re going to be met with resistance or negativity, that way your interaction goes lot smoother. That’s works so much better than giving them a hard time for no apparent reason. And yes, as librarians and library assistants, we do understand that there are policies in place that we may not all agree with, but they’re in place for a reason, and part of it is to protect your own confidentiality. If we just gave your information out to anybody who just knew enough to get it, then you would be here for a completely different reason and not a good one. It’s important to assume first that you can get help if you ask for it, and there’s never a need to escalate a situation if you are not getting the help you want.
What’s the strangest request you’ve ever received at the library?
Well, this is a broad answer, but people tend to think that we know everything, as if we are a walking Google (laughter). So, people think we have mastered the most recent version of Microsoft Publisher, or that it’s second nature to us to decipher complex federal and county law, so request can run the whole gamut.
What 3 books do you recommend people read right this very moment?
Good Lord Bird by James McBride, which is going to be made into a movie starring Jaden Smith (Will Smith’s son).
Dear Girls Above Me by Charlie McDowell, about a young man who can hear the conversations of the women who live above him, with many of them being true to life.
Giant George by Dave Nasser, about a Dog who is larger than any great dane
How do you think South Seattle can be improved?
I think that there is a lot of potential for development here. My feeling is that areas go through periods of time of vitality and depression before they are revitalized, and I have a feeling that this area is on the upswing.
I’m hoping that when people see the new (Skyway) Library being built that it will draw more commerce to the area of Skyway, so that people have more choices for shopping needs and anything else. Many of the residents in this area are at a financial disadvantage in comparison to other areas, and as a result of that there are several services that are lacking. I hope that the county finally decides where this area belongs, as right now it is unincorporated, neither tomato or tomatoe, in not belonging to Renton or Seattle. There is much more that can be done in this area and I’m hoping it will soon experience a growth spurt.
Finally, people should go to the library because?
There’s a lot that the library can provide,at no cost to you other than having an ID card. All we ask is that you have picture ID if you are 18 and over, you can come here to request movies, books (in various formats), as well as having access to different programs we offer that are inclusive to young and old. We are currently making a push for health and trying to offer classes and presentations, where people are here to talk about what you can do to get healthy, foods and exercises. We try to challenge the thinking that the library is just a place where you can come and be quiet. We have a game day that is geared towards young teens and programs for small children. This is your tax dollars at work for you. If you need help and there is no place that you think you can go, come here and find out. The library of your youth, is not the library of today! In lieu of a photo Drina preferred that we use a picture of a bird as it perches vigilantly
Editor’s Note: Race Matters is a new column which provides a nuanced take on race and its impact on the culture of the South Seattle area.
by Sam Louie,M.A., LMHC
Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA team Dallas Mavericks provoked controversy following his interview with Inc. Magazine regarding his views on race and culture.
“I mean, we’re all prejudiced in one way or another. If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street. And the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of. So in my businesses, I try not to be hypocritical. I know that I’m not perfect. I know that I live in a glass house, and it’s not appropriate for me to throw stones.”
His comment comes after the NBA’s actions against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on audiotape making racially charged comments. The NBA banned Sterling for life and fined him 2.5 million dollars after he told a female friend, V. Stiviano, not to bring Black people to Clippers games. Sterling is in the midst of having the NBA force him to sell his team as well.
Some have accused Cuban of being a bigot but I think this misses the point. In the interview he adds, “While we all have our prejudices and bigotries, we have to learn that it’s an issue that we have to control.” Control and how we handle our prejudices is the operative word here. Just because Cuban has prejudices doesn’t make him racist. Being aware of race, culture, context and the implications it poses to us personally is much more valuable than people ignoring the subject matter by hiding behind the veil of being blind to color when they say, “I don’t see color”. What these people are implying is that their decisions and how they treat someone aren’t based on another person’s ethnicity, skin tone, or appearance. I believe for the most part, Americans don’t discriminate in hiring practices, housing, and other significant racial issues, but when it comes to issues of socialization and our own personal comfort zone, we do discriminate and have our prejudices.
Despite our best attempts to not think about race, there will be times and situations where race, culture, image, and stereotypes form our decision-making. I believe if we deny this part of ourselves, we deny our humanity. We are at our core, primal creatures. We make automatic decisions that are unconscious, reflexive, and based on our need for survival.
There’s an almond-shaped part of our brain in the temporal lobe, called the amygdala, that is hard-wired to any threat (real or imagined). The amygdala, controls autonomic responses associated with fear, arousal, and emotional stimulation. This is the “fight or flight” portion that we hear about and as much as we may want to turn this part off in the name of cultural sensitivity, the neurons that fire in this region are automatic and can’t be shut down. Now I believe we can learn and grow in our sensitivity to threats but that takes much effort since what you perceive as a threat is based on your upbringing and as adults hard to change without significant work.
For example, I grew up in South Seattle and graduated from Rainier Beach high school. I lived, played, and went to school with African-Americans for my formative years. Consequently, in my adult life I gravitated towards Black journalists when I was working in t.v. news because I felt most comfortable around them. This didn’t make me a racist but since I never knew or was surrounded by “middle-aged, white men” growing up (except teachers), I had no context of how I would be treated and hence saw white men as more threatening to my sense of security. I remember at one point, my girlfriend at the time asked me, “Why do you only hang out with Black people from work?” I got defensive because I wasn’t purposely ignoring White folks but had just gravitated towards African-Americans since I thought had more in common with them.
This same logic applies when I’m in other urban areas around the U.S. I don’t have fear being in ethnic communities (i.e. Asian, Black, Latino, etc.) because there’s a certain familiarity I’m accustomed to. However, if this isn’t your upbringing you’re going to feel uncomfortable, wary, and possibly scared or fearful. The same applies to people who present a certain stereotypical image. Whether it’s the stereotype of an Asian gang-banger, a White Supremacist, or a Black thug, I know for myself these images create different responses to me depending on the context. In all the conversations and stories I hear about race, context is often left out. Context is vital because context is what make the amygdala in the brain is searching for on a real, everyday, moment-by-moment level.
For example, if there’s a group of young White men with tattoos and shaved heads walking around South Seattle, I’d think they were lost and this wouldn’t trigger my amygdala as a source of threat. Same thing if they were walking around downtown Bellevue. However, if I’m in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a city close to the original headquarters of the Aryan Nations, and saw this same group walking down the street, my fight and flight response would be screaming at me. I’d be foolish to ignore it. This same response comes up when I see Asians who dress and look like gang members driving or hanging around South Seattle. I am vigilant not to look at them in any way that could be misconstrued to provoke them. Am I being racist? I don’t think so because based on the context, it’s simply my sympathetic nervous going into autopilot.
I will acknowledge there are times when clients I work with have undergone significant childhood stressors and threats to safety (i.e. consistently getting bullied, beat-up, teased, etc.) that in adulthood they remain in a hyper-aroused state of fight or flight around men of any ethnicity. Even if the perpetrators were of one race, the level trauma can be so damaging that any man, regardless of race, is seen as a threat. The same level of trauma happens to women who are raped. If race was a role then there may be extra sensitivity to the offender’s race but the damage can be so encompassing that the women don’t discriminate on race per se but the entire male gender could be seen as a threat.
Issues of race need to be further explored instead of simply compartmentalized or having people ostracized for their views. Honest discussion, openness, education, and socialization can break down our preconceived notions of those we know little of or know only through caricatures or stereotypes. It behooves us all to know where we fall on the continuum of prejudice, racism, and bigotry.
Sam Louie is an Asian-American psychotherapist with a private practice in Seattle and Bellevue. He focuses on issues of culture, race, and addictions. He is also an Emmy-Award Winning former t.v. news journalist and can be reached at: www.samlouiemft.com. email@example.com and on Twitter @SamLouieSpeaks
Last week the Seattle Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) committee once again took up the North Rainier Rezone, last seen inspiring a diverse set of public comments earlier this month. There were more public comments that are by now quite repetitive, although the latest tactic is calling for yet another 2-year delay while companion parks, economic development, and transportation plans develop. I predict approximately zero current opponents would suddenly accept the plan then, as it still won’t address their fundamental desire to limit the number of low-income neighbors and preserve effortless parking at local businesses. Meanwhile, rents spiral upward and the Rainier Valley continues to suffer.
Afterwards, the committee approved three amendments to the legislation and tabled a fourth proposed by Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who was out of town. Unfortunately, one of the amendments requires a title change to the bill, so the committee will have to wait until June 3rd to vote on the legislation and send it to full council.
1) Amend the proposed zoning to exclude the parking maximums currently operative in other “Seattle Mixed” Zones (basically just South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne). This triggers the required change in the bill title, and addresses the fear that the proposed maxima “might be too low” for certain businesses, like grocery stores, envisioned for the area.
2) Change the “Class I” pedestrian street designation to “Class II” on McClellan and Rainier. Class II allows “more flexibility” for street interface. It would keep transparency requirements, but permits more uses at ground level for a “greater range of businesses.” Rather than forcing nothing but eat/drink and retail, health care, light industrial, and office applications would also be allowed on the first floor — but not residential. The council is concerned about vacant storefronts, reflecting many comments from residents.
Even Class I setbacks are flexible in the design review process, but Class II allows 12 ft. setbacks as a matter of course. DPD thought “more suburban, less active” might be appropriate given the traffic on these streets. Notably, on-street parking on these streets would improve the pedestrian environment, possible if SDOT uses the “bowtie” street reconfiguration here to greatly improve bus/rail transfers.
3) The committee added a few blocks east of MLK and north of McClellan to the upzone (the blocks labeled LR3 and NC1-40 in the upper right), due to a request from the landowner, the nonprofit Mt. Baker Housing Association. These parcels are already developed to LR3 (Low Rise-3), but MBHA would like to tear this down, add more affordable housing, and simultaneously deal with residual contamination from a dry cleaning business there. The parcels would become MR2 (Midrise 2) and SM-65 (Seattle Mixed 65′), respectively.
From my perspective, these three amendments range from wonderful to mixed. The expanded housing on the MBHA site is unmitigated good news. Meanwhile, it’s clear that parking minimums create a whole suite of bad effects, but maximums are debatable, particularly in a place where redevelopment might take a while to get off the ground. As for the pedestrian classification, allowing a broader diversity of businesses is probably a good idea.
The Harrell amendment, on which the committee decided to delay deliberations until Mr. Harrell could be there to discuss it, would lower the 125′ limit on the Lowe’s site to 85′, although a contract rezone could raise it again once the City knew would would go in. As always, height is a flash point, but this amendment would simply reduce the site’s potential and add yet more veto points to its best possible use. DPD believes residential will not utilize 125′ under current conditions. Reducing the height will make residential more competitive, and is likely to subvert the often-expressed community wish for the site to be focused on job creation.
Mr. Burgess specifically asked for neighborhood feedback on this amendment, via public comment at the next meeting or via email. Let him know what you think.
Mr. O’Brien closed by asking about the lot immediately south of the station but not affected by the rezone, currently LR3-RC. Across a quiet street from the station, any sensible framework would upzone these extremely aggressively. Last decade these blocks fell out of the plan because they might cast shadows on deserted Cheasty Blvd., there were single family homes on the other side of the greenbelt, and there were commercial uses nearby that have since largely disappeared. I wish I was joking about any of these “problems.”
Since this terrible decision, the status of these blocks has changed. Capitol Hill Housing purchased the southern block. The northern block will be split between an underground King county sewer overflow storage tank (!!!! – hopefully it’s buildable above) and a northern half split among several parcels. Mr. O’Brien asked for input from DPD and the public about making some or all of this area SM-85 or SM-65. Good for Mr. O’Brien to bring up this common-sense revision. Thank him and let him know this is a good idea.
As a side note, Lyle Bicknell of DPD said there is already interest in redeveloping the Rite Aid/QFC site immediately north of the station while preserving those tenants. Good news!
Wendy Olsen, MFT, answers all the relationship questions you were dying to ask, but just couldn’t muster up the courage to. You can email questions to editor@southseattleemerald
Q: I’ve been having a fling with a colleague from work and things have been working fine, in that we both seem to be getting what we want physically out of the deal without any commitment. He however has started expressing that he wants more of an actual relationship with me but I honestly value my freedom a lot at this point in my life, and while I could see myself, maybe, dating him one day, now just isn’t that time. I don’t feel like I’d be stringing him along if I told him that someday I might be open to it but now I’d just like to continue the status quo, as sexually, things are great. I feel men do this all the time without shame, so would I be wrong?
Wendy: Being honest about how you really feel is the kindest thing you can do. By being honest with him, you are allowing him to make the best choice for himself: continue with sexual play and see what the future holds for the two of you or look for something more involved with someone else. You both have choices in the matter. Kudos to you for wanting to give him the truth and the option to opt out.
Q: I recently proposed to my girlfriend after two and a half years of dating. She said yes, but then revealed to me a couple weeks after we got engaged that she cheated on me with an ex-boyfriend a few months after we began dating. She says that it meant nothing and that it was early in our relationship. I respect that she told me even though she didn’t have to, however it does make me look at her in a different light, and somewhat makes me rethink our relationship and whether I should even marry her now. Am I overreacting or should I just appreciate her being honest and let it go?
Wendy: When someone reveals something that happened in the past, they’ve had time to resolve their feelings over it. However, when we hear it for the first time, no matter how long ago it was, it is fresh for us. Your feelings and confusion are normal. Yes, she was honest with you and at great risk to herself and to your relationship. She made herself very vulnerable by disclosing her indiscretion. In disclosing to you, she allowed you to fully give what I’ll call” informed consent” in your relationship. Now you know something more about her, a fault or mistake. When she says it meant nothing, that very well may be the truth. However, I would encourage both of you to explore why she cheated. It is important for you both to have a clearer understanding about how that happened in order to avoid it happening in the future. It may be as simple as, she was seeing you, but not yet committed. The ex came back into the picture and by being with him again she realized that she didn’t want anything more with him and really did want a relationship with you. Indiscretions happen. It doesn’t mean that all is lost.
Q: My husband and I have been married for a little less than a year, and over time it’s been revealed that he likes some fairly lewd pornography. It’s something I’ve gone along with in terms of watching it with him, however it’s something I’m having an issue with tolerating any longer. He says that he needs it to “get in the mood,” but “hello” that’s what I’m supposed to be for. It makes me feel a bit disparaged knowing that this is what he needs. I’ve told him several times how I feel, but I’ll catch him still viewing it. I want to tell him, “It’s the porn or me,” but is that realistic?
Wendy: The porn issue is a common one in relationships. Porn is the opposite of intimacy. When going solo, it is something that people use to become aroused and climax without worrying about meeting someone else’s needs. You only have to worry about yourself. It’s fantasy. Some couples use it as a form of foreplay. On the other hand (no pun intended), if you are feeling sexually invisible to your husband, that is problematic. When you say he tells you that he “needs it to get in the mood”, that may be something that you two need to talk more about. If you are at the point that you feel his relationship to pornography is at the expense of the intimacy between the two of you, seek professional help. A professional can help both of you understand your different needs sexually and emotionally and help you come to some sort of resolution. Wendy Olsen is a Marriage & Family Therapist, specializing in Sex Therapy. You can find more of her advice at http://www.talk2wendyolsen.com
I went to The Evergreen State College, a place known for activist students who are nicknamed “Greeners”. This is where I first realized that corporations and the wealthy were taking control of our democracy and that the media is complicit. The symptoms of this situation are more than I can list here: our climate is changing, our education system is being undermined, and most major life transitions now require tithing to banks which themselves are crime-ridden and impervious; to name just a few.
I went to Evergreen in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I would come back to Seattle to visit my friends and family, where the change in context, from radical college town to mainstream middle class upwardly mobile city, made me uncomfortably aware of how few people had access to the kind of info I was absorbing there.
Fast forward to now, and things are different. We in Seattle get it. In fact, 75% of us think that a $15 minimum wage is a good idea.
A few years ago, I decided to change what I do in life to include activism and organizing. It is the best thing I ever did outside of family, and I can’t believe there aren’t more people working on this stuff. Where are the torches and pitchforks?
People are busy. I get that. I’m busy too. With most of the people I know on the same page with me philosophically, I often wonder why people don’t get involved more deeply than clicking online petitions.
I think there are a few answers in play. One is people don’t turn out if they don’t think it will make a difference. It is a simple value judgment. I have a certain amount of time, and it never feels like enough, so I won’t spend a minute of it on something I am not persuaded will change things. There is also a bandwagon effect, meaning people look to see what others are doing and decide on action or inaction based on that. Right now, the norm is that we can volunteer in a soup kitchen and feel righteous, but if we work to make soup kitchens obsolete we are considered a little deluded.
These attitudes have lots of causes. Most of the progressive organizations wielding an email list have found that they can get people to click with a message of doom and gloom. This gives them good short term results, but at the same time, our collective perception of whether we have a shot at making a difference is eroded. People get overwhelmed.
It isn’t a part of our culture right now to engage politically. Our country has been influenced by an anti-intellectual movement, and by a cult of fierce independence. Both of these things have undermined who we are fundamentally, and by that, I mean as a species. We are social. Interdependence is part of our makeup. But deeply antisocial forces have turned us against our own intrinsic natures—turned us against the instincts that in the past have allowed us to thrive. So now here in Seattle, the friendliest of climates in the world of organizing, a place where so many of us understand how the oligarchy is shaking us down, when we picture organizing or activism, the image that pops to mind is not of ourselves.
It isn’t accidental that people are skeptical about making a difference, and they won’t discover they can be effective by accident, either.
How do we change “I” to “we”? How do we move from fierce independence to fierce cooperation? How do we sear into minds the image of people doing better by working together?
For a start, we need a beacon to rally around and push towards. We need to talk more about the world we want—what makes a life well lived, and how can we all have access to that, not just stomp our feet and yell about our corporate rulers being mean to us. We, the movement builders, need to do a better job of demonstrating what we are working towards, showing glimpses of the future we are trying to attain. Second, we have to give people a sense that we can make a difference, because as it turns out, we can. Third, it has to be fun.
If we are going to win, it will take a movement that belongs to all, not just us Greeners.
Sandra Vanderven is a Senior Organizer at Fuse Washington and Board President of the Backbone Campaign. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Amplifying the Authentic Narratives of South Seattle