Monthly Archives: August 2017

Houston Has Got a Problem

The catastrophic flooding in Houston is going to get a lot worse in the coming days – especially in its poorest neighborhoods

I posted on social media Friday night – and reiterated on KEXP Saturday morning – that Harvey directly hitting Houston would be a worst-case scenario as natural disasters go, because the city is so badly situated (and unplanned) to deal with catastrophic flooding – built on swampland, nowhere for floodwaters to rapidly drain, and no way to move around (let alone evacuate) the millions who live there.

The worst case is happening in real time now. The flooding is already horrific, and as Harvey inches along, the forecast is for four or five more days of rain – at least two or three feet of more rain to come (beyond the 20 inches forecast for today alone), to go along with the torrential rain it’s gotten already.

Most of the flood photos I’ve seen so far are from relatively affluent parts of town: the areas along Allen Parkway and Buffalo Bayou (which always floods in heavy rain), I-610, the Galleria neighborhood, the Montrose, etc.

But as with New Orleans 12 years ago, some of the worst flooding with rainfall like this will be in the poorer black (Third Ward) and Latino (Second Ward and East End) neighborhoods on the east and southeast sides of town. In Houston’s case, the problems won’t end once the rain does: as rainfall and floodwaters from other parts of Houston and areas upstate sloooowwwly make their way to the Gulf of Mexico, mostly without the benefit of river banks, those are the neighborhoods that will be inundated. What the emergency response will be like in the poor, non-white neighborhoods likely to be hit the hardest? And will the local, national, and international media even notice, or will they be too busy training their cameras on damage downtown and the pricey homes in, say, Hilshire Village?

The financial costs of Harvey, especially in Houston, are likely to be record-breaking – but those poor neighborhoods are where the risk of loss of life is going to be highest. Keep your eye on them. And not coincidentally, this is also where the risk of serious environmental damage (along the Houston Ship Canal in the Second Ward) is greatest; and, once mosquitoes have their delirious, end-times breeding orgy in all the stagnant water afterwards, such areas are also the risk of outbreaks of third world diseases like malaria and cholera are greatest as well. (When I lived in Houston, I taught industrial hygiene at the Univ. of Texas School of Public Health there; don’t even get me started on the state of Texas’ approach to environmental and public health spending, which has gotten even *worse* in the intervening years.)

At least 100,000 mostly poor, mostly black people who were evacuated from greater New Orleans and “resettled” to Houston in the wake of Katrina still live in Houston. I can’t begin to imagine what they’re feeling right now.

And like New Orleans a dozen years ago this Tuesday, the rest of the world is going to watch Houston’s human drama and be astonished at how ill-equipped, slow, and indifferent to human suffering a city and country of such wealth can be. I wonder if ICE will be grabbing people from the emergency shelters.

As with New Orleans, what would already be a bad situation is being made far worse by past political choices. When sprawl, no zoning (and almost no urban planning at all), and climate change intersect, this is what it looks like.

We’ll see how much the Texan and Trump governments care about Harvey’s poor and non-white urban victims. I hope everyone who needs help gets it.

I’m not optimistic on that point.

* * *

I’m a low-income activist, disabled, and dedicated (despite money and chronic health pressures) to reporting and commentary from and for those of us fighting to stay in a city, Seattle that has turned its back on many of us. Since 1996 I’ve also offered news and commentary, with my colleague Maria Tomchick, Saturday morning at 8:30 on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle.

If you find my reporting and analysis valuable – and would like to help me spending more time doing this and less time scrambling to pay for my food, rent, and medical care – please consider donating whatever you can to help support my work. The PayPal button is on the lower right on’s home page. Many thanks for your help! – Geov Parrish

Ten Days Which Will Live in Infamy

Donald Trump’s end game is a new civil war. The first step in preventing that war – or, if necessary, winning it – is understanding who and what the threat is.

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked…” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a speech to a joint session of Congress just before the United States formally declared itself at war with Japan

Roosevelt’s speech is one of the most famous in American history, held up as an example of an American leader rising to the challenge when the American people are attacked.

Seventy-six years later, it is the president himself who is attacking both Americans and American ideals, and doing so both for short-term political gain and in a naked attempt to remake our country in his own morally repugnant image.

Ten days ago, a day after the tragedy at Charlottesville and just after a Seattle rally organized by white nationalist Joey Gibson, I posted an essay, “Trolling the Left,” explaining the goals of such seemingly pointless rallies. They fit into a broader white nationalist strategy to normalize race-based hate groups as an accepted part of America’s mainstream political spectrum.

What We’ve Just Seen

At the time, I promised to follow up by looking at how we can resist such groups without playing into their trap of giving fodder for false equivalence between hate groups and their opponents. And I had to keep delaying that piece, first because the President of the United States – in a now-infamous tirade last Tuesday and several times since – used exactly that reasoning to defend the white supremacist protesters at Charlottesville.

Since then, it’s been an unending rush of new developments that have been chaotic even by Donald Trump’s high standards. The ten days between Charlottesville and Trump’s Nuremberg Rally-style campaign event in Phoenix last night may well go down in history as the pivotal moment in which Donald Trump, currently the most powerful man in the world, made explicit his desire for a new race war in the United States.

The last week and a half has overshadowed Charlottesville itself. What will be remembered most is not the terrorism of a white supremacist rally, but the forces that Trump’s response to it has unleashed. Here’s a quick timeline of what we’ve just witnessed:

Saturday, August 12, 2017: In the largest such rally in many decades, Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Confederates, and other hate groups gather in Charlottesville, Virginia, ostensibly to protest that city’s removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a city park and the renaming of that park as “Emancipation Park.” A white supremacist from Ohio drives his car into a large crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 20. Two Virginia State Police charged with monitoring the chaos also die when their helicopter crashes.

Trump draws widespread condemnation when his initial response is to blame “all sides” for the violence, failing to criticize the hate groups that both organized the event and were responsible for the deaths and injuries.

Overshadowed in the news, a white supremacist rally the same day in Berkeley, organized by a movement of fascistic white thugs that calls itself “Proud Boys,” also ends in violence.

Sunday, August 13: At least a thousand vigils and protests across the US commemorate the death in Charlottesville. In Seattle, up to a thousand counter-protesters confront police and an unrelated white nationalist rally.

Monday, August 14: Trump issues a more moderate statement on Charlottesville that does, in fact, criticize such hate groups by name.

Buried in the Charlottesville news, Trump’s Department of Justice confirms it has demanded that a host company turn over extensive personal information on all 1.3 million people who visited a web site used to help coordinate Washington, DC protests of Trump’s inauguration last January – an extraordinary broad effort targeting anti-Trump protesters for doing nothing more than visiting a perfectly legal web site.

Tuesday, August 15: At a press conference at Trump Tower in New York supposedly meant to tout an infrastructure plan, Trump erupts in a long, angry tirade in response to reporters’ questions, in the process repudiating anything helpful about Monday’s statement as not representing his true feelings.

Among other things, Trump again blames both sides for Charlottesville’s violence – citing both “bad people” and “really good people” on both sides; criticizes efforts to remove Confederate statues from public spaces as “erasing history” (as though “erasing” and “not glorifying” are the same thing), and rhetorically asks whether statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, as slave owners, would be the next to go. (For all their many faults, neither ever waged war against the United States for the purpose of defending the practice of slavery, a rather crucial distinction for many people.)

Wednesday, August 16: Elected officials, including many Republicans, broadly condemn Trump’s remarks. The mother of the woman killed in Charlottesville goes on national TV to make all the points Trump should have been making.

Thursday, August 17: Trump doubles down again on his rhetoric.

Friday, August 18: Trump fires senior advisor (and the country’s second most notorious white nationalist) Steve Bannon. Bannon promptly rejoins Breitbart News, promising to pressure Trump from his media platforms to stay true to Bannon’s white supremacist priorities, especially on immigration.

Saturday, August 19: A white supremacist rally in Boston – organized by Gibson, among others – is overwhelmed with 40,000 counter-protesters.

In many ways, Boston is an ideal city for this type of rally: a booming economy (like Seattle’s) masks white working class neighborhoods with a long history of racial resentment, and poorer black neighborhoods that have often been neglected by every city department except the police. And yet, anti-racists there have modeled the most effective way yet of responding to such hate groups: with sheer, overwhelming numbers of people that reject racial hatred as a community value.

Monday, August 21: Trump “addresses the nation” with what is billed as a new approach to, and escalation of, the US war in Afghanistan. The “plan” turns out to have a lot of rhetoric about “winning” and almost no details; the only notable element is Trump’s insults aimed at Pakistan, a critical ally in that war and the territory through which most American military supply lines to Afghanistan go. (Pakistan does, in fact, have an issue with Islamists protecting the Taliban and other extremist groups – especially in the ISI, Pakistan’s notoriously thuggish intelligence agency – but the relationships between the ISI and Pakistan’s elected government and judiciary are far more complicated than Trump acknowledged.) The speech, which seemed to announce a major escalation in the longest-running war in US history, is quickly forgotten, overwhelmed in the news cycle again by race and Russia.

Tuesday, August 22: The New York Times reported that Trump and McConnell had not spoken since an angry August 9 phone call – in which Trump not only berated McConnell (again) for failing to deprive tens of millions of Americans of access to health care, but more importantly, for McConnell’s failure to “protect” Trump from Senate committees from investigating his Russia connections. That exchange that could well lead to another charge if Trump is ever impeached over obstruction of justice.

Meanwhile, CNN reported that Glenn Simpson, owner of the company for which Christopher Steele produced his now-famous (and largely vindicated) “campaign dossier” on Trump last year, testified for ten hours before one of those committees, the Senate Judiciary Committee. As part of his lengthy testimony, Simpson also gave the committee 40,000 pages of documents, including information on all of Steele’s sources.

That night, at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Trump escalated his racially charged rhetoric on several fronts. He alludes to pardoning notoriously racist Phoenix area former sheriff Joe Arpaio, now awaiting sentencing on contempt of court charges for ignoring a federal court order to stop department policies that for years have systematically profiled, abused, and violated the civil rights of non-whites, especially Latinos. (Aside from being the country’s most high-profile openly racist elected official for decades, Arpaio was also, during Obama’s presidency, the country’s second most famous Birther.)

Trump also appealed to the same local racism that fueled Arpaio’s career, vowing to shut down the federal government – which faces imminent crises in September over the need for Congress to pass both a debt ceiling increase and federal budgets – if that legislation does not include funding for his Mexican wall. In other words, Trump is willing to risk a global financial recession (at best), costing the American economy trillions, to try to force taxpayers to spend billions of dollars on a project whose only real purpose is the symbolic rejection of non-white immigrants.

Even more disturbingly, Trump again defended statues glorifying Confederate heroes, this time directly appealing to and identifying with white bigots, and ending with a rallying cry that sounds a lot like the declaration of a race war:

They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history. And our weak leaders do it overnight. These things have been here for 150 years, for 100 years…We are Americans and the future belongs to us. The future belongs to all of you. This is our moment. This is our chance. This is our opportunity to recapture our dynasty like never before.”

Of course, Trump’s “we” is not all Americans. It’s those Americans whose “dynasty” was built on white supremacism, and who want that privilege – based directly on the subjugation of non-whites – back.

What This All Means

Trump’s direct appeal to white identity is unprecedented in American presidents. The sentiments, of course, are older than our country itself, and for the last half-century one of our country’s two major political parties has used white supremacist sentiments to win elections and political power. But there’s a reason why even Republican officials who’ve used such tactics themselves are now running away from (or, in McConnell’s case, confronting) Trump. The presidency is different. A president’s job includes serving, defending, and representing all Americans – not just the ones who support you or share your skin color or gender or privilege. In his naked appeals to racial identity, Trump has crossed a critical line.

Perhaps this was inevitable; after all, as a businessman, celebrity, and politician, Trump has been a racist thug for decades. It was part of what endeared him to his followers in the first place. Why wouldn’t he appeal to such sentiments now?

Trump is in trouble politically and legally, and he knows it. The various Russia investigations have expanded to include not just collusion (and treason) in last year’s election, but various illegal business practices and associations going back decades. Family members are also implicated. Trump’s efforts to stop these investigations are not only backfiring, but building a seemingly airtight case for obstruction of justice on top of his other legal problems. He is not only making America an international pariah, but, more importantly for Trump himself, badly damaging his own brand. His public approval ratings are at historic lows, a particularly infuriating development for a guy who obsessed over his ratings, cannot tolerate criticism of any kind, and needs the oxygen of adoring rallies like Phoenix to feed his insatiable narcissism.

His political problems are equally serious. In the face of the collapse of efforts to repeal ObamaCare, Trump seems to have no significant allies in or influence with Congress, even though his own party controls both houses. That rift was fully exposed by Trump’s response to Charlottesville. There’s simply no precedent for this, either, in situations where one party controls both the White House and Congress.

The tensions between Trump and McConnell are part of a campaign of Trump criticism of Republican senators he views as insufficiently loyal to him. For his part, a former McConnell aide close to the senator published an op-ed this week wondering aloud about the prospects of impeachment – a complete reversal of what had until recently been Congressional Republican loyalty to Trump, as both party nominee and president, during even the worst of Trump’s depredations.

One of Trump’s most basic tactics for responding to self-made crises is to change the subject. The Afghanistan announcement was not only an announcement of war (usually a winner for presidents who feel they need a political boost), but a futile attempt to drive Trump’s responses to Charlottesville out of the news. It bombed.

Ever since the election, critics have worried how Trump would respond if confronted, as all presidents are, with an exterior crisis. That may still happen. But the most likely crises at this point – economic collapse, constitutional crisis, efforts to either block investigations or impeachment – are of Trump’s own making. And they’re potentially imminent.

In the face of his presidency’s collapse, Trump’s only real political option is to appeal to his still-adoring political base, the voters who supported him because he insulted politicians of both parties, because he was a racist, misogynist bully, because Trump’s wealth protected him from the consequences of behavior they wished they could emulate. That Republican voter support for Trump is his only leverage against the Senate Republican defections necessary for impeachment. Trump has begun appealing directly to those whites’ sense of grievance, especially their sense of lost entitlements – a “dynasty” built on treating other Americans like second-class citizens.

Donald Trump is playing the race card. Because he can.

How This All Games Out

As alarming as all this is, Trump’s tactics will outlive him regardless of his success or failure. In the end, it does not matter whether Trump is a grotesque racist, or whether he merely cynically plays one for political expediency. He is invoking and legitimizing old hatreds that he can no more control than he can control a wildfire. And he is setting precedents, for how presidents can use their political power, that will become even more dangerous when used by a more skilled successor.

Trump himself has got to go, and the sooner the better, whether through impeachment for high crimes and/or misdemeanors, his clear mental unfitness for the pressures of the presidency, or the dangers inherent when that unfitness is paired with the keys to the global economy and the nuclear codes. Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. Every day that Donald Trump remains in office now escalates the clear and present danger not just to Americans, but potentially to all life on earth.

But while Trump is a serious menace, he’s still only a symptom of a bigger problem: those tens of millions of Americans who genuinely believe he can do no wrong. Many of them do so because his racist beliefs legitimize their own. After decades of conservative media and its “alternative facts,” many of them are immune to reason or even objective reality, rejecting it as “fake news” or as a lie perpetrated through one or another bizarre conspiracy theory. Many of these folks own weapons; some will, by sheer statistical probability, have anger, mental health, or other personal issues that Trump’s appeals play to. In particular, Trump’s legitimization of the idea that only some Americans are real Americans is virtually an invitation to violence.

At that point, there are only two possibilities. Either Trump remains in power, beseiged by criticism and likely presiding over a shaky economy (e.g., the looming debt ceiling showdown). Or he will be removed from power.

If the former, Trump is almost certain to try to implement far more repressive policies that essentially gut what’s left of the Bill of Rights. We’ve already seen some of this, with the gutting of immigrants’ legal rights of representation and appeal, and with last week’s DoJ attempt to collect personal information on anyone who viewed an anti-Trump web site. It would become far worse if a beseiged Trump remains in power; pushback is inevitable. In particular, non-whites are not about to quietly accept a return to second-class citizenship or worse.

And if Trump is removed? He won’t – literally cannot – go quietly. He will inspire violent responses from loyalists. There will be much talk of civil war and enemies (i.e., non-whites, liberals, and Republican traitors) within. Some people will act on that rhetoric. Meanwhile, federal and many local governments will still be controlled by a party built on fear, greed, lies, and white supremacy. And these reactions to a Trump removal will still demand pushback.

So How Do We Respond?

The huge crowd in Boston last weekend was a helpful, hopeful reminder of what we most immediately need: massive responses that communicate that white nationalism, white supremacism, and the politics of hatred and division have no place in our or any other community.

The project to rehabilitate racism as a mainstream political and cultural force has been triggered in the first place by the accelerating cultural and political conclusion in past decades, especially in urban centers whose cosmopolitan residents drive most of the U.S. economy, that racism is simply socially unacceptable. To the extent this has been upended in recent years, especially with Trump’s ascension, it needs to be made unacceptable again – the more unequivocally, the better, by non-whites and whites alike, by individuals, organizations, corporations (including media companies) and governments alike.

The more that white nationalism in particular is rejected as a mainstream political philosophy, the more isolated it becomes and the harder it is to write off far right violence as equivalent to the (usually far lesser) violence of people defending themselves against it. The overarching project is to finally relegate racism, and the politicians who pander to it, to the fringes of American civic and political life.

There are no neutral observers in this divide. You either oppose white supremacism, or your silence (or support) serves to legitimize it. This goes especially for institutions – companies and news outlets most crucially – that like to place themselves outside any such fray. You either actively oppose the Trumpian agenda – and support the ideals that the United States, with all its myriad flaws, still aspires to – or you must be held accountable for your choices. We who reject racism, white and non-white alike, are not only the large majority of this country, but we have disproportionate economic and cultural influence. We need to use it.

The one thing we do not have is political power to match our numbers. There are a lot of reasons for this, especially institutional. The more sclerotic parts of the Democratic Party also bear a lot of responsibility. But at the moment, that’s the vehicle available. Building electoral alternatives, inside or outside the Democrats, is an essential long-term project that won’t help us much with an immediate threat.

We cannot afford infighting or purity tests at a time when our basic freedom, and for many of us our very existence, is under attack. We will need as many allies as possible, including people who we may not agree with on anything else. That’s fine. What Trump is unleashing is a serious threat that goes to the core of who we are as a people – all of us. In the end, despite our differences, anti-racist unity is our only answer. United we stand; otherwise, you know the rest.

[Author’s note: I’m a low-income activist, disabled, and dedicated (despite financial and chronic health pressures) to reporting and commentary from and for those of us fighting for our rightful place in a city that has increasingly turned its back on many of us. Since 1996 I have also offered news and commentary, along with my colleague Maria Tomchick, Saturday morning at 8:30 on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle.

If you find my web and radio reporting and analysis valuable – and would like to see me spending more time doing this and less time stressing over how I can pay for my food, rent, and medical care – please consider donating whatever you can to help support my work. The PayPal button is on the lower right on’s home page. Many thanks for your help! – Geov Parrish]

Trolling the Left

Today’s alt-right rally in Seattle appears to be part of an organized, well-funded effort to normalize white nationalism – by baiting progressives into equivalent violence.

I spent part of my childhood in South Carolina, in the Deep South.

It’s where I first learned to despise racism, particularly the hypocritical hatreds of racists who think of themselves as “good Christians.”

More relevant to today’s events, we lived outside town, in bottomlands across the street from an open reservoir. As such, our neighborhood had snakes. Lots of them. All different kinds, ranging from benign to poisonous to don’t-go-anywhere-near-it deadly. One of the first things you do, as a kid in that environment, is to learn which ones were which. Knowing each species’ particular warning coloration tells you their likely behavior, the level of the threat, and how best to respond.

As an adult, I’ve applied that same logic to recognizing the warning colorations of the uniforms and vehicles of various law enforcement agencies. And the same analogy applies to right wing hate groups.

The white nationalists at today’s rally in Westlake Park were not the same as the Klan members in robes, or the neo-Nazis in full regalia, or the Confederate flag-loving, Yankee-hating misanthropists, all of whom gathered for this weekend’s festival of hate in Charlottesville. They were also qualitatively different from the last such rally, when a group used the City Hall plaza a few months ago for the avowed, forehead-slapping purpose of protesting Sharia law in the USA. And that, in turn, was different from the fiasco created by Milo Yiannopoulos’ January appearance at the University of Washington – in which the wife of a non-white, Trump-loving agitator who had been assaulting counter-protesters all evening wound up shooting and nearly killing one of those protesting.

But the organizers of each of these Seattle events had one important thing in common, and also in common with the human sewage that descended on Charlottesville this weekend: they understood the media and propaganda value of traveling to a progressive city to troll the liberals.

In today’s case, the event’s organizer, Joey Gibson, insists that he and his followers just want “dialogue” and “understanding.” He said this repeatedly from the stage today, as well as an interview last night with the invaluable Sakara Remmu, conducted just hours after the deaths in Charlottesville. Another reporter friend who’s followed Gibson’s career says that this is a standard part of his schtick – but that today’s gesture of opening the mic to counter-protesters, a rather brilliant move that also at least temporarily defused the crowd’s anger, was a new tactic and probably a concession to yesterday’s events in Virginia.

Gibson himself? He didn’t even stay for the end of the rally. He had a plane to catch, so he could be in Berkeley for a nearly identical rally there on Monday. And despite Gibson’s protestations, in the Remmu article, on stage today, and elsewhere, that he’s not a Nazi or fascist, the same reporter saw him at yet another rally last week in Portland taking a selfie with an openly racist local alt-right leader. The Portland event featured a format and rhetoric nearly identical to today’s Seattle rally. It, too, drew the inevitable counter-protesters. Actions are louder than words.

All three rallies (Seattle, Berkeley, Portland) have been organized by Gibson’s “Patriot Prayer” group, though that group’s name was absent from today’s rally, billed as “Freedom Rally Seattle.” And while Gibson can spout all the rhetoric he wants to about peacefulness and understanding, these words – Patriot, Prayer, Freedom – are designed to attract fans whose predispositions don’t exactly match his rhetoric – a mixed bag of right wing nut jobs who apparently think that pissing off liberals sounds like great fun. Sometimes, as at the City Hall protest earlier this year (which had a pugnacious Proud Boy security detail just after that group had had a spate of bad publicity), they come itching to brawl. Sometimes, like today, they don’t. More importantly, it’s a format designed to draw counter-protesters. That’s the real point.

Gibson appears to be making a full-time living doing nothing but organizing these hatefests in the cities he thinks – often correctly – are most likely to give him a hostile reception. The group sells plenty of MAGA gear, but merchandise alone isn’t paying for Gibson’s travel, living and organizing expenses. Someone or someones with deep pockets is almost certainly helping to underwrite his operation. Now why would they do that? It isn’t just to troll liberals.

A clue comes from Donald Trump’s response to yesterday’s events in Charlottesville, in which he condemned violence “by all sides” but never specifically name-checked racism, white nationalism, fascism, Nazism, or the alt-right as in the least way responsible. Trump’s statement was widely reviled, including by some right wing politicians and commentators, as a particularly repugnant example of both-siderism.

Remember that two of Trump’s top aides, Steve Bannon and Steven Miller, are explicit white nationalists. In that contest, both-siderism has another function: to place white nationalism on the political spectrum as an opposite but equal phenomenon to, say, Bernie Sanders supporters. The point isn’t just to defend or popularize white nationalism – it’s to normalize it.

Gibson’s operation, with its intentional effort to draw angry critics, is another, more cynical way to similarly balance the scales. Inevitably, somebody on the left is going to hurt someone at one of these rallies. Ideally (maybe, from the standpoint of Gibson, and definitely, from the standpoint of his funders) someone on the left will bring a gun and use it.

At that point, you’ve got the ideal equivalence to shitshows like Charlottesville – and as a bonus, a martyr that can be a rallying point for the alt-right and its fellow travelers, whose sense of grievance and persecution is the oxygen they breathe and cultivate. Groups like Patriot Prayer are not just trolling cities like Seattle; they’re aiming higher. They want a violent response, because it’s a counterweight to the inevitable violence on their side. And with balance comes normalization. The real game is being played at a much higher level than counter-protesters jeering speakers, or some cosplay dude decked out in what he thinks is a uniform who sucker-punches a hippie, or cops pepper-spraying marchers, or ordinary pedestrians that get pepper-sprayed as well or trapped in a melee. They’re all collateral damage. From the standpoint of the organizers, none of their lives manner.

Assuming Donald Trump doesn’t launch nukes that destroy all life in the Northern Hemisphere, one of his most lasting negative impacts will have been to bring racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and all other manner of ugly bigotries not only back into mainstream American politics, but to normalize such views in much of the country as once again acceptable in polite company. Beyond specific public policies, white nationalists like Bannon are all about the next step in that de-evolution: making white nationalism not only accepted everywhere as a normal political and cultural view, but, in much of the country, the dominant view. Most white nationalists really aren’t that into Hitler or the Klan – but Klansmen and neo-Nazis love them, because they want their views to follow a similar trajectory, and normalizing white nationalism creates far more space for them to do so.

Today, a day after Charlottesville, someone easily could have gotten hurt, or killed; Gibson could easily have gotten his wish. Seattle police, preoccupied (as usual) with corralling the anarchist-led antifa contingent that first met a mile away, pretty much left the protesters and counter-protesters in Westlake Park itself to their own devices. There certainly wasn’t enough police presence to respond quickly if violence suddenly erupted. The same was true last weekend in Portland, but with a smaller crowd on both sides.

If the same thing had happened in Seattle today, with Charlottesville fresh in our minds, but with last Sunday’s weather, in the heat and asphyxiating wildfire smoke, emotions might have been far more raw. This also explains why today’s rally seemed to go on, and on, and on. In such circumstances, some people get bored and leave. Others just get angrier.

Nobody on either side of today’s protest came to downtown Seattle to change anybody’s mind. They came (Gibson’s conciliatory rhetoric notwithstanding) to bait each other. And if some alt-right cosplay dude gets shot? You can just see Gibson’s teary press conference: “We kept calling for dialogue and understanding, but all those liberals know how to do is hate.” And Donald Trump issues a much more explicit condemnation of radical leftist terrorism.

The game is to troll anti-racists, and to bait us into showing up, with the hope someone will lose control. We take this bait, every time, as people like Gibson know we will – we’re never going to allow such repugnant ideologies to go unchallenged. And we shouldn’t.

But it’s playing with fire. If even one person decides to mete out justice on his or her own terms, we’re doing white nationalists’ work for them in a way that will reverberate widely.

That – not the words from any stage – is the real danger here. Know your snakes.

[Author’s note: I’m a low-income activist, disabled, and dedicated (despite financial and chronic health pressures) to reporting and commentary from and for those of us fighting for our rightful place in a city that has increasingly turned its back on many of us. Since 1996 I have also reported, along with my colleague, Maria Tomchick, Saturday morning at 8:30 on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle.

If you find my web and radio reporting and analysis valuable – and would like to see me spending more time doing this and less time stressing over how I can pay for my food, rent, and medical care – please consider donating whatever you can to help support my work. The PayPal button is on the lower right on’s home page. Many thanks for your help! – Geov Parrish]

What’s Next for Nikkita Oliver?

A narrow loss in the primary is the best possible outcome for the movement Oliver leads

Today marks nine days since the August 1 primary election. Only a few votes remain to be counted, and Nikkita Oliver’s mayoral campaign will then need to decide whether it wants to pay for a recount. But it’s nearly impossible for disputed ballots and a recount to help Oliver make up all of the more than a thousand votes she now trails Cary Moon by.

Four years ago, nine days after the general election in November, Kshama Sawant finally passed Richard Conlin in their city council race. Sawant trailed by several thousand votes on election night, and drew a lot of criticism for failing to concede on the spot, but she – we – knew the race was closer than that initial count, and as the days went by she narrowed the gap more and more quickly.

I helped run that campaign, and so I was with Sawant and dozens of supporters crowded into her campaign office as we waited for that ninth day’s ballot numbers to be released. When they were, it was utter euphoria. It also happened to be my birthday, so the whole room sang happy birthday to me while all of the assembled TV cameras waited patiently for Sawant to speak. It’s an awesome personal memory, made even sweeter by the very real improvements to the lives of thousands of Seattleites by Kshama’s presence on city council these past four years.

So quite aside from my opinion of Oliver and her campaign, I have very positive associations with the drama of a radical, grass roots campaign fighting back from an election night deficit to win. And I like underdogs. I should want Oliver to prevail for that reason alone.

Over the past months, I’ve talked with people involved in Nikkita’s campaign, but I haven’t played any direct role in it. But if I were helping to run her campaign, despite my personal preferences, I’d be quietly rooting against Nikkita catching Moon, not for it.

If Oliver had edged out Cary Moon, what people would remember next year is not that Oliver narrowly won in August, but that Mayor Jenny Durkan had beaten her, badly, in November. Large numbers of Seattle voters who might be willing this fall to take a chance on Moon would never give Oliver that same benefit – because Moon is older, more experienced, more moderate, less polarizing, and yes, wealthy and white. If Oliver had beaten Moon, a Durkan campaign flush with money would have had a field day scaring Seattle voters about the risks of an Oliver win. Those ads would work.

Now, instead of being a candidate soundly rejected by general election voters, Oliver is sitting pretty by nearly beating Moon. In doing so, she far exceeded most expectations. Her campaign has been a rallying point for a movement that is now much more experienced and organized. Oliver surged at the end, and so her movement has a ton of momentum going forward – momentum that would largely evaporate if she lost badly to Durkan. Instead, she’s sitting pretty.

So what’s next?

It’s hard to tell to what extent Oliver’s newly formed People’s Party is an independent vehicle that can continue to grow and organize over the next two years, or whether it’s simply a transitory vehicle for Oliver’s personal ambition. But whoever wins in November, Oliver and her movement will now be a force on a number of issues that her movement cares deeply about.

The first and most obvious of those issues is affordable housing. Seattle has done quite a bit on that issue already. Sawant has shepherded a number of tenants’ rights reforms through city council and into law. Seattle voters passed a record-setting housing levy last year, much of which is dedicated to creating more affordable housing. In this year’s city budget, Sawant’s proposal to redirect the $150 million now earmarked to a new police precinct building failed to attract other council support – but the pressure it generated led directly to the success of Lisa Herbold’s proposal to add $29 million in new housing to the budget.

Nothing done so far has led to a fundamental paradigm shift in the developer-friendly city policies that have helped create and exacerbate this crisis in the first place, but Sawant is now quietly working on a more sweeping set of reforms for this fall. Whatever Sawant proposes – or even if some compromise proposal emerges – Oliver’s movement will now potentially be a powerful grass roots asset in trying to force city council (and, eventually, a new mayor) to act.

Should Durkan win in November, you can count on Oliver and her followers to also be a strong counterweight to what will likely be the default pro-law enforcement bias of Durkan. If Moon wins in November, it will surely be with the implicit or explicit support of much of Oliver’s army – and that support should come at a price. One of the first demands will be that Moon take a tougher stance in the now-stalled city contract negotiations with its police unions. If Moon is smart, she’ll also offer Oliver herself a place in Moon’s administration, utilizing Oliver’s undeniable organizing skills in service of a more populist Moon agenda.

And then there’s the new youth jail – a proposal already confronted with noisy opposition, opposition that is now larger, more savvy, and can claim a mandate from Oliver’s unexpected primary success.

A lot will happen before then, but this city-wide primary outcome also leaves the Peoples’ Party better positioned to be a force in 2019’s campaigns for the seven city council district seats. In particular, Bruce Harrell (Southeast Seattle) and Rob Johnson (University District) – both of whom won only narrowly in 2015, and both of whom have been resistant to the council’s recent progressive bent – have to be looking over their shoulders at what Oliver’s having had her strongest showing in their districts means for their re-election prospects.

Oliver and the Peoples’ Party would survive a loss to Durkan, of course, and would continue community organizing anyway – and there’s also the possibility that Oliver would again exceed expectations in a general election race against Durkan. But we’ll never know, and that’s the point. If Durkan won big against Oliver, she could reject out of hand Oliver’s populist demands as having been resoundingly rejected already by Seattle voters. Now, as mayor, neither Durkan nor Moon can claim that.

Oliver and many of her supporters will likely paint this month’s narrow margin as a bitter, frustrating loss. But really, this is just about an ideal scenario. And the narrowness of this loss will just be more motivation going forward.

If she chooses to do so, Nikkita Oliver will now be a local political force for a long time to come. It could scarcely have turned out better.

Can Moon Beat Durkan?

After a crowded and confusing primary race to replace Mayor Ed Murray, it’s down to two candidates: former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and civic activist Cary Moon. With most of the ballots counted, Durkan has 28.7 percent of the votes cast for 21 different candidates. Moon, in second place, has 17.4 percent – and has steadily closed the gap with Durkan as late votes came in. (Nikkita Oliver, in third place, has yet to concede, but nothing in four days’ worth of published totals suggests she can catch Moon. It’s over.)

Durkan enters the fall campaign as the strong favorite to become Seattle’s mayor, and many observers are already assuming her election is inevitable.

They shouldn’t. Cary Moon can beat Jenny Durkan.

To be sure, Durkan has some formidable advantages. In the primary, she was the near-unanimous pick of Seattle’s political and civic establishment, inheriting much of the support that, until April, made the re-election of Ed Murray seem inevitable. She will be able to raise enormous amounts of money, and will also benefit from third party spending (mostly from business PACs) that Moon will get little of. Plus, her family is both wealthy and well-connected, and Durkan’s federal background meant she can also pull in celebrity national endorsements like former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a hero among Seattle’s legions of Donald Trump critics.

But Moon has advantages, too. And Durkan has vulnerabilities.

Start with those primary results. Durkan nearly doubled Moon’s vote total in the early going – but just as there was clear establishment support for Durkan, critics of Seattle’s status quo – especially housing and homelessness policies, police reform, and Seattle’s widening gap between our haves and have-nots – split their votes among all of Durkan’s five major opponents. In particular, Moon, Nikkita Oliver, and Bob Hasegawa all clearly ran in opposition to the business-as-usual approach represented by Murray and Durkan. Durkan, at week’s end, had 48,193 votes. Combined, Moon, Oliver and Hasegawa drew 70,325 votes. That’s nearly 60 percent voting for the outsiders among these four (including the only two people of color among the six major candidates), going into a general election where the average voter will be younger, less affluent, and less white than in the primary. Viewed through that lens alone, Durkan suddenly seems quite vulnerable.

Of course, Moon still has to win over the people who didn’t vote for her. Her campaign should be looking at several priorities in its race against Durkan, but the very first priority, which she’s already begun to do, is to court the endorsements, and then the voters and ideally some of the donors and volunteers, of Oliver and Hasegawa.

That’s by no means a given. Oliver finished a strong third running with the support of the newly formed People’s Party, in direct opposition to not just Durkan but the entire local Democratic Party. Moon, who like most Seattle politicos identifies as Democratic, will have to make the case to Oliver and her voters that not all Democrats are the same, and that she shares far more of Oliver’s agenda than Jenny Durkan ever will.

For the voters, part of Moon’s challenge will simply lie in introducing herself. Moon got important support in the primary, most notably with The Stranger’s endorsement (without which, Oliver likely beats her). But before this year’s campaign, Moon was virtually unknown to the average voter; her highest-profile past work was with her opposition to the downtown tunnel project. In hindsight, that looks remarkably prescient – but it was also several years ago. Neither Moon nor Durkan has ever held elected office, but Durkan at least can point to a high-level public position as U.S. Attorney for Western Washington. Moon still needs to prove to most voters that she has the chops to be a big city mayor, and to demonstrate what her priorities as mayor would be.

Durkan’s experience is her strength, but it’s also a significant vulnerability. Beyond being widely viewed as a representative of Seattle’s civic establishment, she’s not well-defined. Moon can help do that. Durkan’s pro-law enforcement background, as both a U.S. Attorney and a prosecutor, means that Moon can tie her to the widespread local establishment resistance (including the last three mayors) to taking seriously the need for wholesale reform of the Seattle Police Department. In particular, Durkan’s refusal as U.S. Attorney in 2010 to prosecute on federal charges the SPD killer of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams should be known to every single Seattle voter by November – and by contrast, Moon needs to stake out a strong pro-reform position. No other single issue is as likely to help mobilize Oliver and Hasegawa supporters.

Durkan has also not been clearly defined on how she would respond to the ill-effects of Seattle’s current population boom. For over a decade, establishment politicians like Murray have actively courted support by shoveling as much corporate welfare as they could find into developer and real estate pockets. Durkan inherits much of that support, whereas Moon made her name opposing the tunnel as, basically, a multi-billion-dollar, taxpayer-funded development scheme. Moon needs to make the case that addressing Seattle’s affordable housing crisis requires radical solutions, not simply the nibbling around the edges (while things continue to worsen) proposed by Durkan – and that creating meaningful amounts of affordable housing is also the single best way to address Seattle’s skyrocketing rates of homelessness. And Moon needs to make the case that her own personal wealth doesn’t blind her to the needs of Seattle’s less fortunate.

It will take money for Moon to be able to clearly define both herself and Durkan by November. Most voters never see a political candidate in person, and far more people vote in the November election than the August one. In the most recent similar elections, in August 2013, about 142,000 people voted for Seattle mayor (with a similarly competitive multi-candidate field), but in November of 2013 over 202,000 people voted for the same office. Compared to primary voters, the new November voters are almost by definition less engaged and less likely to know who the candidates are and what they stand for.

Moon’s fundraising in the primary (about $150,000) was only a third of Durkan’s. Now that she’s Durkan’s sole opponent, Moon will also need to court some of the primary donor money that went elsewhere – and Seattle’s new Democracy Voucher program doesn’t extend to the mayor’s race this year. Moon doesn’t need to equal Durkan’s fundraising, but she does needs to raise enough money to be competitive with Durkan in getting her message out. Moreover message needs to be clear and memorable enough to withstand Durkan’s inevitable October advertising blitz and high-profile establishment endorsements

Framing the Debate

Both women present as likeable, thoughtful, and competent – Moon is solid on this score, but she can’t make up the ground she needs to against Durkan simply by having a more winning or sympathetic personality or promising to “get things done” more effectively. Seattle’s century-long failure to elect a woman as mayor won’t be an issue this year, either.

Many of these are steps that political campaigns take routinely, but routine alone won’t be enough for Moon to win. Her best hope – and probably her only hope – for overtaking Durkan is to turn the race between the two into a referendum. If you like how things are going in Seattle – a booming economy and population, construction everywhere – vote Durkan. If you think Seattle needs a corrective to inadequate infrastructure investment, traffic gridlock, overflowing schools, a city government that shuts out the concerns of many of its residents, and policies whose affordability “solution” is simply to force any household that doesn’t have a six-figure income to leave town – vote Moon.

That focus would draw the ire of the Seattle Times and the city’s business establishment – and the likely support of The Stranger, Seattle Weekly (which endorsed Oliver in the primary), many of the supporters and legislative district endorsers of Oliver and Hasegawa, and more than a few backers of Mike McGinn (who also once won election as an outsider) and Jessyn Farrell. That leaves the younger, less affluent, and more non-white electorate that didn’t vote in August to tip the balance.

In that scenario, if you’re Cary Moon, you’ve got to like your chances.