Tag Archives: Sandra Vanderven

“My Very Own Voter’s Guide to the 37th District”

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in the following commentary are solely those of the author and  do not constitute an endorsement of any particular candidate or public policy by The Emerald.

By Sandra Vanderven

Ballot For MailDeepthroat, the high level white house official who served as an informant to the journalists who uncovered Watergate, famously said, “Follow the money.”  It was true then, it is true now, and it will be true for years to come.  So stay with me while I tell you what I see in the candidates and the donors who love them.

State Senate

When Adam Klein announced he wouldn’t be running again to represent the 37th in the WA state senate, there was a lot of anxiety among residents and political insiders.  Who would step up?  Who could do this shitty, thankless job?  Who would even want to?  Senator Klein was about to leave some big shoes in Olympia.  People talked amongst themselves.  They started cutting up straws so someone could pull the short one.  Then Pramila Jayapal announced she would be running, and there was a collective sigh of relief, “Oh good, this is handled!” Pramila has founded and headed impactful organizations like Hate Free Zone and One America.  Her life has been dedicated for decades to making things better for others.

In this case, following her donations gives us a picture of broad based support.  Individuals, organizations, businesses all over the map are maxing out their donations to her, giving as much as the law allows.  At this point, she has $260,000, roughly quadruple the kitty of her opponent.  So money isn’t inherently bad, especially when it comes from diverse sources and funds a good candidate.  SEIU, Nick Hanauer and Mayor Murray don’t write checks for just anyone.  These guys look for someone who can figure out how to operate in Olympia, and how to win in their district.  She has smart, connected fans, and she will win.  Be on the right side of history, and vote for her.

Louis Watanabe seems like a well-meaning guy.  People who care about their fellow humans often think that the way we behave is due to a lack of information.  The theory goes, if only we knew what he knows, we would have the same values he does, and we would act on them by voting for him.  So his campaign seeks to educate us on Juneteenth, on internment, on Abraham Lincoln, and what the name Redskins refers to.  All very important.  What he unfortunately leaves out is a sense of how he’ll make a difference on our behalf.  Lots of his donors live in California, many of them with the last name Watanabe.  There doesn’t seem to be much organizational buy-in to his campaign, and judging from his website, no good advice coming from anywhere.

State House Position 1

Sharon Tomiko Santos:  She is great on education, and doesn’t appear to slobber over Boeing as much as some of her colleagues, so she is probably on balance good for our state.  But wait, what is this all about?  Tons of donations from tribes… I hope they are not trying to put more entertainment at the end of that two lane highway that goes to the White River Amphitheater.  Have you ever tried going to something there?  What a mess.  I will never do that again.  I also see donations from airport concessionaires.  You will recall that Seatac Airport is ground zero for the $15 minimum wage fight.  I am curious about why she is getting all kinds of money from folks who are still looking for ways not to pay their employees a living wage.  Other strange bedfellows:  Pharma, timber, BNSF, insurance, alcohol distributors…I guess if I were running I’d take the money too, and laugh all the way to election day.  Let’s hope that is what is going on, because her opponent, well, she doesn’t really have an opponent.

Daniel Bretzke has raised a cool grand for this election.  Actually, I am rounding down, which isn’t fair.  He has raised $ 1,239.88.  Don’t you think it is crass to bring it down to money?  And yet, a story is being told here.  This guy isn’t going to win.  Last red flag I’ll bother to mention is that he was endorsed by the Seattle Times.  I have an idea!  If you ever decide to run for something, just put an R next to your name.  Ka-ching!  Times endorsement received.  An aside:  What is that newspaper doing in Seattle?

State House Position 2

Eric Pettigrew:  Oh shit–donations from education reformers.  Has he drunk the Kool-Aid?  People!  If you don’t know by now that education reform is code for privatization, I just told you!  Now you know!  Eric Pettigrew should read this.  Unfortunately he’s working across the aisle on the union-busting, education killing bullshit we call charter schools.  For 100 years, our country has upheld our values by providing free, public education.  Over the last several decades, conservatives have applied leeches to our schools’ budgets.  After so much bloodletting education is dizzy and can barely stand, those same folks scream education isn’t working, and it needs to be “reformed.”  Of course their solution is to start down the road of privatization; e.g., charter schools, to fix what wouldn’t have been broken in the first place if only it was properly funded.  If we wake up one day with our public schools replaced by a private school system, I will blame Eric Pettigrew and all the rest of the gullible suckers who think charter schools are going to solve a problem created by chronic underfunding.

Eric Pettigrew has an opponent who isn’t going to win, and we wouldn’t want that anyways.  Her name is Tamra Smilanich and she sounds like a tool.

I’m delighted that we are about to be represented by someone operating at the caliber of Pramila Jayapal, but the rest of the stable do not represent the people of the 37th.  There’s only one thing to do about that.  You lovelies have to start preparing to run for office.  I’m not talking about posting some half assed website and running a losing campaign.  It looks like some other folks already have a corner on that around here.  I am talking about really finding out what it would take to run and win.  There are resources for that, including Wellstone Action, which provides candidate trainings in Seattle once a year, and Progressive Majority, which exists to get people ready to run for office.  There is no reason in hell we should be stuck with these folks.  As the kids used to say, bust a move!

But wait, there’s more!  Here are some of our juicy initiatives:

1351:  Smaller class sizes are a good thing, and our kids need it.  The Washington State legislature could go to the pokey for refusing to give our kids the education they need and deserve.  True story.  Voting yes on this will add more pressure which these assholes obviously need.  Vote yes.

591:  Don’t vote for this unless you think mentally ill people and spouse abusers should have it enshrined in law that they can buy guns too.  Vote no.

594:  There is a wide range of opinion about gun ownership, but the vast majority of us, including NRA members, believe that people who are mentally unstable and people who beat their spouses shouldn’t have ready access to guns.  This initiative would seek to close loopholes so everyone trying to buy a gun in our state has to have their background checked.  We should place a reasonable limit on who gets to have a gun.  Vote yes if you think murder is bad.

Prop 1: Shall we, the owners and drivers of carbon spewing cars, spend $60 per year ($40 if you qualify for a rebate) plus a sliver more sales tax to protect bus service in Seattle?  I like the bus and often intend to take it.  I look at the schedule, figure out when I need to leave to catch the next one, take too long applying mascara, and end up driving.  In this way I end up parking downtown at $20 a pop just to meet a friend for happy hour or see my shrink.  For you mathematicians, I do this way more than 3 times a year.  We drivers pay thousands per year for the car, gas, insurance, parking and maintenance.  I spend almost $60 every time I fill up my tank.  Please pony up to preserve service for people who have jobs and need to use buses to get to them.  Pay $60 in an entire fucking year so that little old ladies can visit their grandchildren.  Pay $60 to keep the buses running so I don’t drive to happy hour and accidentally drive through your yard on my way home. Vote yes.

Early Childhood Education 1A vs 1B:

  1. First say yes to early education.  No-brainer.  Kids need it.  Boom.  Done.
  2. The choices are 1A vs. 1B.  Sweetjesusinheaven.

1A, invented by the organizations representing the people who are already doing this work; i.e., the real experts, stabilizes the workforce by ensuring wage parity with burger flippers (not that there is anything wrong with flipping burgers), and provides for continuing education as needed.  This is good because next year at this time, 38% of childcare workers (mostly women, mostly mothers, mostly of color—so in other words the most poorly treated people in this country) will have quit their jobs and moved on to something else.  We desperately need more stability in this field, which 1A would achieve.  This will benefit all of the kids in pre-k.

1B is a pilot program which will eventually provide more access to childcare, but it is also more Kool-Aid.  Early education is crucial for positive outcomes to kids, which is why we should not leave the planning in the hands of Tim “his eyes were silently begging me to help him” Burgess and a bunch of consultants.  What about love, patience, creativity, and cultural relevance?  According to Burgess, the hell with all that.  1B was forcefully kept separate from 1A so he doesn’t have to negotiate with unions.  These ballot measures should never have been pitted against one another.  They should both win. Do what the Progressive Voters Guide suggests and vote for both to send a message that we do not appreciate the shenanigans.

Whatever you do, please do vote on or before November 4th.  People who do not have your best interests in mind have their hearts set on you becoming demoralized and no longer participating in democracy.  If you don’t vote, they win.

Sandra Vanderven is a Community Organizer and Board President of the Backbone Campaign.

Seattle’s Universal Pre-K Smackdown

by Sandra Vanderven

Preschool FightThe Seattle Channel hosted a debate last Wednesday between the sponsors of dueling initiatives on Seattle’s ballot in support of access to and quality of pre-kindergarten education.  Both plans start with the worthy goal of improving pre-k.  The choice we face is how to achieve that goal.  We shouldn’t be having to choose between them, because they each address different aspects of early childhood education, and taken together the plans would be complimentary.  Unfortunately, the City opted to put them onto the ballot in competition with one another. The City Council’s (really, Tim Burgess’s) plan privileges educator attainment of official credentials and a mandated curriculum.  The union backed plan seeks to leverage the wealth of experience among practicing professionals.

The situation right now is that the cost of preschool is so high that many families who need it can’t afford it.  At the same time, there isn’t enough money to pay the teachers adequately, so every year, 38% of the workers leave the profession.  Until the new minimum wage kicks in for smaller businesses, the turnover will be even greater, as people will leave to flip burgers instead when it becomes more lucrative.

Burgess’ plan seeks to raise money through a levy to pay for a new department of Early Childhood Education.  This new department will mostly pull people from work they are already doing for the city in that field, causing work disruption and delay, and likely requiring a new layer of management (watch for that, because expenses will go way up).  It will mandate methods used in the classroom for 3 and 4 year olds, and will serve about 200 kids in two years, and 2,000 in four years.  This ballot measure requires preschool teachers to get college degrees.

The union-backed plan doesn’t directly add enrollment capacity.  What it does do is provide access to preschool to more families by lowering tuition costs to no more than 10% of a given household’s income.  The means of paying for this has not yet been determined.  It will also create better conditions for the estimated 30,000 kids already being served from birth to age 5.  One way to do this is to raise the minimum wage sooner for pre-k teachers, so they can afford to stay in the profession, providing a consistent presence for the kids.  Another is by offering a variety of training opportunities accessible through an affordable training academy. In this way, the union backed plan honors the experience of the people who work with kids, and provides them with opportunities to grow professionally in a way that is tailored to meet each teacher’s needs and goals.

At last Wednesday’s early education smackdown, I sat next to former Seattle School Board member Michael DeBell.  He supports Tim Burgess’s initiative, which on the ballot will be labeled 1B.  From chatting with him, I got that he explains away the merits of the union backed initiative (1A) with an attitude that naysayers are gonna naysay.  I didn’t talk to him long enough to get a sense of whether he’s always a democratic establishment guy, but he sure wears their perfume.  The hallmark is a subscription to a smarty pants attitude, as evinced by his statement, “There’s always going to be some group or another ready to oppose a good plan.”  Never mind what the supporters of 1A think, or why.

This debate boils down to people’s a priori beliefs.  Some feel strongly that to support kids we need to support teachers and families.  Others think the answers lie with testing.  The catchword in education for at least the last decade or so has been “outcomes.”  This is an important and productive development.  But making all education conform to standard outcomes would be a mistake.  Here’s why.

Since I am totally objective, you know it is true when I tell you that the best teacher to ever walk the planet happened to work at my high school.  His name was Jerry Elarth.  Elarth was a feral thinker.  Because it was 1984 and no one had put a stop to it yet, he taught a class called Science Fiction and World Philosophy.  I learned more in that class about what it means to be human, and how to continue learning beyond school, than in any other.  What would have happened if that teacher had been hammered by our current obsession with outcomes?  Who could write the test questions that might evaluate what I got out of that class?  Even I couldn’t do that, and if I could, a different set of questions would have to be devised for every student he taught, because we all had a unique experience.

I love science, and I have a healthy regard for all things science-y.  This is how I have come to know that the enemy of science is hubris.  If you are convinced that we are always asking the right questions, then by all means, support Tim Burgess, who positions himself as having science on his side, like a member of a religious sect claiming that God is actually in his corner and no one else’s.  Check this out—if a nurse visits the home of a new, at-risk mom once every two weeks from before birth to age two offering guidance in nurturing, the child’s prospects rocket in all regards.  Significantly more of them graduate from high school, they go to jail in far fewer numbers, get in trouble at school way less, and have higher I.Q.s.  That’s science too, bub!

This all boils down to beliefs.  Do we Seattleites believe that there’s value in supporting teachers in their creative quests to guide students toward richer lives, or do we continue to find ways to standardize education?  Let your beliefs guide you when choosing between the two early education plans.

Sandra Vanderven is a Community Organizer and Board President of the Backbone Campaign.

Civic Salvos: What Is .vs. What Is Possible

We’re stuck!

With all of the options out there to act on our ideals, we are mostly still just looking at 75 different ways we can react.  Media and advocacy groups daily describe things that are going terribly wrong, which means most of us are lingering in the realm of what is.   We look at things from the point of view of the status quo, then decide what choices we have.  This can be a grim way to operate.

Another way to look at the world is through the lens of what would be ideal.  Then we can begin to negotiate between the two, not just pushing against things we don’t like, but picturing what would make our lives better, and working methodically toward them.  This is a more effective, powerful position to take, so I am mystified by why I don’t see more of it.

That is why I want to celebrate three of our city’s movement builders who are taking the time to craft a better world, strategizing for substantial, meaningful change.

  1. Take Back your Time starts with the question, “What do we need to live happy, healthy, satisfying lives?”  The conclusion they come to is that most of us need more time for ourselves.  This doesn’t seem like much, but in a culture where people humblebrag that they can’t get enough sleep because they are so busy, many people do not consider less work to be an impressive aspiration.  Take Back your Time begs to differ.  Here’s why we need more time.  Sleep is not a luxury.  Having time to cook real meals from scratch is not a luxury.  Spending time with your kids is not a luxury.  And taking time off is not a luxury.  No matter who you are or what you do, we are social animals and we need to be with each other. We need to make the space in our minds and lives for growth, change, love, exploration, art, and a million other things that make us and keep us human.  Take Back your Time strives to achieve this.
  2. Working Washington sprung from the rib of a union.  Like other unions, Service Employees International Union was fighting a losing battle for decades.  Systematic union busting was working.  Membership was declining.  But SEIU is different.  They have a unique, visionary style. They engage in the usual ways of supporting their members, both negotiating with employers and helping to elect those who have the best interests of their members in mind.  This is what collective power is all about.  But they realized that to see more success, they were going to have to change the context of workers’ lives from the outside, and fight for a fair economy.  Working Washington started with a listening campaign. They knocked on 10,000 doors in the South Seattle area and heard working people’s stories.  What they found out was that SeaTac, the airport run by the Port of Seattle, which ostensibly works for us, was the source of poverty wage jobs—jobs that not so long ago had provided a good living to families in the area.  That changed when the airlines subverted all collective bargaining had achieved, and subcontracted everything—baggage, fueling, concessions.  Those contracts went to the lowest bidding companies.  It was a race to the bottom for thousands.  People were struggling to support their families, working two or three jobs, but still unable to escape poverty.  So Working Washington first supported the workers in another attempt at bargaining.  Cutting to the chase, the Port, Alaska Airlines, and the subcontractors all failed to negotiate, so the workers took their plight to the people with a visionary suggestion—people should be able to earn a living wage.  The voters in the City of SeaTac won a historic $15 an hour minimum wage, showing that it is possible.  At the same time, fast food workers sparked a movement in Seattle, winning the support of the City Council and the mayor.  They won because they weren’t afraid to picture the world as it should be, and fight for that vision.
  3. Backbone Campaign is a national organization based on Vashon Island.  Full disclosure: I’m serve as their board president.  That is how I happen to know that they have begun the process of picturing what our area would look like with a robust rail transportation system. One way to derail (heh heh) the “jobs” argument for coal export through Washington is to invest in strategic rail transportation upgrades.  Solutionary Rail envisions a revitalized, 21st century, sustainable, electrified rail system.  Rather than posing a threat to world climate, as rail does using diesel and potentially carrying more fossil fuels, Solutionary Rail demonstrates how to meet transportation needs with vast reductions in carbon emissions.  First, Electrify rail lines in the Northwest.  Worldwide, about 50 percent of freight rail ton-miles are powered by electricity.  This is energy efficient and a green job producer.  Second, increase investment in rail infrastructure and track maintenance. Third, leverage electrification to build renewable generation such as wind farms, as well as transmission lines to deliver electricity. Fourth, move freight and passengers from roads to rail, which uses the rail lines to capacity, severely constricting room for coal and oil transport.  Sustainable rail networks will provide a resilient foundation for locally-based economic activities that create wealth, stable employment, and prosperous communities.

These are real proposals created by serious people.  The difference between them and much of the progressive left is that they offer something concrete to work on, instead of business as usual within the realm of what is, which more often than not leaves us grappling with impotent rage.  Rather, these organizations and initiatives give us, the people, something to move toward, and a better future to look forward to.  If these stories have a take-home message, it is this:  Next time you are feeling beaten down by the news, or by emails from an advocacy organization, spend some time looking for the rare few who paint a vivid picture of the world that is possible, instead of bickering over the world that is.

Sandra Vanderven is a Community Organizer and Board President of the Backbone Campaign.

Civic Salvos: We Can Get There From Here

by Sandra Vanderven

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. Here To There

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 sandra@fusewashington.org