Monthly Archives: November 2014

Radio, Writing, & Bills

On KEXP this morning, we talked a lot about the Ferguson decision and protests – but also about a lot of things that haven’t been as prominent in the news, like the city and county budgets passed this week, the UN Committee on Torture’s report blasting the US, and much more. If you missed it this morning, check it out – the archived version will be up shortly.

I’ve been doing things like the radio show and covering the local Ferguson protests despite literally not knowing where I’m going to sleep each night, and facing a lot of bills coming due in the next few days. And while I enormously appreciate the folks who have contributed to my “Keep Geov Writing Campaign” birthday fund appeal earlier this month, the $1,600 people have donated so far is hugely helpful, but short of the $3,000 goal I set. That wasn’t a random goal – I have $3,200 in bills due in the next ten days, plus health insurance for 2015 (essential for my serious health issues) that will cost several thousand dollars unless I can find a cheaper arrangement during the enrollment period that ends in 10 days. And none of that includes daily living expenses, which I’ve cut to the minimum during my year of unemployment but that still add up. So, financially speaking, it’s a tight time. And anything any of you can do to help is still hugely appreciated. I can devote a lot more energy to local political work when I’m not worrying about personal survival (hierarchy of needs, and all that 🙂 ).

That PayPal button is waiting, at the lower right-hand portion of your screen. PM me if you need a mailing address or other arrangement. And, again, many, many thanks for whatever you can do to help, and for all that you do in the community more generally. Over the years I’ve found my readers (and my friends) to be among the most generous, caring people around.

I’m also in the market for both employment and a short-term place my fiance (Revel Smith) and I can stay over the next month (e.g., a spare room or a holiday house-sit or apartment-sit). More on that later.

At least the snow is pretty this morning!

O Christmas Tree…

After an afternoon of more marches and blocked intersections, the “Black Lives Matter” protest in Seattle got wild at the downtown tree lighting & Black Friday Consumer Pilgrimage tonight. Shortest. Fireworks. Ever. Westlake Mall closed 3.5 hours early. They seriously fucked up the Black Friday experience. Similar things seem to be happening in a number of cities today. The protests of Ferguson aren’t going away just yet.

The local media coverage of tonight, of course, is focusing entirely on disappointed shoppers and sad kids. The outcry over lost merchant sales will follow tomorrow. The actual protest message is mostly lost in such accounts.

That said…they couldn’t have picked a better target. If you want to interrupt business as usual in this country, it’s no longer primarily about throwing sand in the gears of politicians or bankers. Before people even notice those things, you have to interrupt the hypnosis – the endless entertainment, shopping, celebrity-worship, and naval gazing that anesthetizes way too many Americans. Saying “PAY ATTENTION TO THIS IMPORTANT SHIT OVER HERE!!” is pointless until you can get people to look up from their self-medications.

Ferguson, WA

Demonstrations have erupted in hundreds of communities in response to the decision by a suburban St. Louis grand jury to not criminally charge a Ferguson, Missouiri police officer in his fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, last August. The protests have been fueled not just by the shooting itself – as bad as it was, with multiple eyewitnesses claiming it was essentially unprovoked – but by the entire official response afterwards, from leaving Brown’s body rotting in the street for hours, to not naming the officer involved and not having an incident report on the shooting, to the heavily militarized response to nonviolent protestors, to the leaking of grand jury testimony and videos impugning Brown’s character, to a longtime local prosecutor notorious for his pro-police sensibilities.

At every turn, Ferguson’s official response has been to protect an officer widely thought to have committed murder, and to all but explicitly proclaim that black lives didn’t matter. And, as the nation learned, the city itself – majority black but run by white politicians and businesspeople – turned out to be funded by a classic example of institutional racism. Poor local black residents get harassed by police, charged and fined over petty crimes, fined further for court costs, and that revenue provides the largest part of a city budget that doesn’t significantly tax local, often white-owned businesses.

It’s literally a 21st Century plantation economy. And local area protestors were dogged enough in protesting and drawing attention to the situation that it became a national tipping point, resonating with all the victims of unaccountable police departments and racist local economies around the country. That is what people across the US, and around the world, have been protesting.

And so, over the past two days, Seattle was among the many communities with protests. The last two nights, relatively small groups of mostly white protestors marched around downtown, Capitol Hill, and the CD, blocking intersections and on the night of the decision briefly blocking I-5. Students from at least four local high schools walked out yesterday. The largest response, also on the following day, was a march from CD to the federal courthouse downtown sponsored by the NAACP and local black clergy.

Through it all, Seattle’s own problems with these issues have been an unavoidable subtext. As appalling as Ferguson’s institutionalized racism is, King County has, in the 40 years of its current inquest system, found the use of lethal force by a law enforcement officer to be justified in every single case, spanning nearly 200 cases and some truly egregious ones (like John T. Williams’ shooting in 2010). Deattle is “dealing” with police reforms now only after a federal investigation and lawsuit that dragged on for years because of the adamant resistance of not just SPD, but city council and two successive mayors (Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn). There’s still enormous resistance within SPD to these reforms, and still no misbehaving SPD officer that’s been held criminally accountable in a shooting.

The entire official system in Ferguson is racist and rotten to the core. But white Seattle liberals have a bad habit, on issues of race, of evincing a smug superiority that makes acknowledging and dealing with our own serious problems much more difficult. I grew up in the South; I speak fluent Racist Dog Whistle. As appalling as that sort of racism is, in a way I respect it because on average such people are a lot more honest about their bigotries than white Seattleites are.

Seattle in 2014 is a city giddy with building cranes erecting new market rate housing that is remaking Seattle into a wealthier, whiter city while poorer immigrants and minorities are forced to the suburbs. We can’t work to undo white privilege, let alone white supremacism, until we acknowledge that it exists. That’s the lesson of Ferguson. We’d do well to learn it.

Ferguson updates

FYI, Revel and I have been posting updates, photos, and videos on local Ferguson protests on Facebook for the last 48 hours. Check out my page here. And of course (since I’m still broke) any PayPal tips are most appreciated.

FWIW, the largest of those protests was yesterday at the US Courthouse at 7th & Stewart, and it was instructive to listen afterwards to the KOMO radio/TV report hyperventilating about how PEACEFUL the group was (drawing a contrast to last night’s Scary Protesters). What he didn’t mention is that unlike last night, today’s midday downtown group was largely non-white. Maybe they don’t feel safe or privileged enough to risk CD or petty vandalism? Or maybe white people are just intrinsically thuggish? I’m sure Fox News can help me sort that one out…

On civil disobedience, Kshama Sawant, civility, and intentional misreporting

On Wednesday, Socialist Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant (judging from local media, that’s her full legal name) was one of four activists arrested in SeaTac for peacefully protesting a lawsuit by major airlines seeking to prevent SeaTac’s airport workers from having their minimum wage increased – even though both the city of SeaTac (via its voters) and the Port of Seattle (via its commissioners) have passed that increase.

In American politics, historically, the main political purpose of civil disobedience has been to draw attention to injustice, usually involving an oppressed or exploited community or class whose complaint is not being given much attention solely through other, more traditional political tactics. Regardless of what you think of Sawant or the various campaigns for a $15/hour minimum wage, this week’s SeaTac protest fell squarely in that tradition. And yet the tenor of much of the mainstream local coverage was aghast. Civil disobedience is just…just so uncivil. (Much better for poor people to trust their fate to huge companies and their $600/hour lawyers with their best interests at heart, right?) Particularly amusing was the P-I’s Joel Connelly, self-appointed Guardian of Civility, calling Sawant a “socialist diva” because, er, she’s no Warren Magnuson. Or something.

But the vapors-and-smelling-salts routine was simply annoying. Far worse was the intentional misquoting of Sawant over at the Seattle Times, a paper whose conservative editorial page bias has bled ever more perniciously into the paper’s reported (and supposedly objective) news stories since the P-I’s print demise.

Here’s the Times quoting Sawant after her release:

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Sawant said it was her “obligation as a public servant” to exercise civil disobedience and risk arrest.

“This is how you show political leadership,” she said on Wednesday.

Now, Sawant is no stranger to sectarian hyperbole, and my first reaction to this was an eyeroll – there she goes again. Really? Public servants are obligated to get themselves arrested? How often? Is there some sort of test of minimum righteousness the issue must rise to? How does that work, exactly? Has an elected official who never risks arrest but gets all sorts of cool new laws and budgetary provisions passed still lacking, by Sawant’s calculation? And define “public servant,” anyway.

But it’s actually kind of an interesting idea, because it assumes that there will be injustices that rise to that level, and then the question becomes, what should a public servant’s role in addressing that injustice be? You could get a pretty good discussion out of it, actually, once you get past the knee-jerk tendency to think it’s just Sawant being Sawant again.

Except that it wasn’t. Because that’s not what she said. At all.

KIRO-TV had the full quote, in context and not helpfully “summarized” to say something else entirely:

:”When workers are showing such enormous courage to fight for not only themselves but other workers – they’re fighting for everybody – then my duty as an elected public servant is to be right there with them. This is about showing political leadership.”

That first long sentence, in the Times version, got reduced to: Sawant said it was her “obligation as a public servant” to exercise civil disobedience and risk arrest.

Did you catch that little trick?

Sawant’s actual statement to reporters was constructed as an “if…then…” statement that places her action as a “duty” as an “elected public servant” to stand with the people taking the real initiative and risk.

The Times left out that she was elected; transformed “duty” to “obligation”; specified civil disobedience and arrest as the tactic she has a duty to pursue (rather than “standing with” whatever her constituents were doing); left out the affected workers entirely; left out that Sawant sees them as “fighting for everybody”; and, of course, left the impression that Sawant was crediting only herself – and not the protesters she was standing with – as showing political leadership.

In other words, by cutting out about a line of Sawant’s statement, the Times managed to use her own words to portray her as an unaccountable law, and ego, unto herself. Why simply call her a “diva” when you can selectively (mis)quote her own words to appear to demonstrate it?

That doesn’t happen by accident. Nor is it an isolated incident. And it makes Sawant’s strikingly high approval rating in a poll on council incumbents a few weeks ago even more remarkable. Either Sawant would be even more wildly popular if the local reporting on her were actually accurate, or nobody in Seattle under the age of about 70 reads the Seattle Times any longer.

Or both.

Still writing…

Thanks again to those of you who responded to my “I’m Broke on my Birthday!” fund appeal last week. I’m about halfway to raising the $3,000 I need to cover bills in the next couple of weeks, so, yeah, the Keep Geov Writing Campaign is still underway.

I’ve heard from a handful of people who had trouble with the PayPal credit card function or who otherwise were more comfortable sending something through the mail. For those so inclined, my mailing address is P.O. Box 85541, Seattle WA 98145. (In Seattle’s beautiful University District!)

It’s getting kinda cramped living in this post office box, so any assistance y’all can provide in helping us move up and out is hugely appreciated. 🙂

My birthday wish, updated!

Many, many thanks to the friends (and a couple of complete strangers!) who pitched in responding to my birthday fund appeal yesterday. Since it was buried in Facebook amidst scores of very kind birthday wishea, I’m bumping it here.

The update: 24 hours on, ten of you have sent a bit over $600 to the Keep Geov Writing Campaign. That will be enormously helpful – but at the moment I’m still looking at another $2,400 or so in bills coming due in the next three weeks. As I noted yesterday, I’m much happier raising money and awareness for other good causes, but at the moment I need to keep the lights on and the rent and health insurance paid first. Whatever you can spare will help a lot. (That PayPal button is calling you…don’t deny it… 🙂 ) And please – spread the word as well!

My birthday wish

Today I turn 55! These round-numbered birthdays don’t come around very often, and I’m never sure whether I’m going to get another one. A lot has changed since my last one five years ago, when some dear friends used the occasion to organize a roast that raised a bunch of money for Eat the State!. A good time was had by all. But a lot has happened since then.

Five years later, ETS! has gone on, beloved, to the good and crowded graveyard of alternative print media projects. My paying day job in 2009, Peace Action of Washington, no longer exists. Nor does any other day job for me; I’ve stayed active with various labors of love (like the KEXP show Saturday mornings). The upshot is that since directing fundraising and communications for Kshama Sawant’s election to Seattle City Council one year ago, I’ve been unemployed. In part, that’s been because of the first significant decline in my health in several years.

Fortunately, my health has since gotten better, but it’s required some big lifestyle changes – including downsizing, the breakup of my longtime relationship, and multiple moves in Seattle’s seriously insane rental housing market. The combination – jobless, ill, and scrambling – has left me pretty well cashless.

The good news is that after several months of chaos, I’m coming out on the other side of this – my health is stabilized and improved, I have a new apartment I think is going to work and an amazingly supportive new relationship with Revel Smith, I’m back to writing regularly again, and I have some employment prospects. The bad news is that after all of this, I am utterly, completely broke – to the point where I have no idea how I’m going to pay rent next month, let alone pay the substantial 2015 health insurance premium that will be due. I think financial relief is coming, but it won’t be soon enough for the next month’s bills and living expenses. As many of you know, I live pretty simply, focusing most of my time and energy on my writing and political work – but there’s not much more I can do right now to sell stuff or cut expenses further. And, alas, the oddity of how Medicare handles end stage renal disease means that the Affordable Care Act, for all the good it does, has no impact on my looming (and utterly essential) insurance bill.

And, so, much as I hate to do this, rather than raising money for ETS! or some other favored political project or candidate, this year I need first of all to raise money for myself. If you value the media, activism, and political work I do in the community, and would like to help me do more of it without the emotional and health stress of being unable to pay my bills, I’d really appreciate your help. Given that today is my 55th birthday, if 55 of you can each donate $55 (see the PayPal button at lower right), that would raise about $3,000, which would help hugely in getting me over the immediate hump.

Of course, every bit helps – and if you can donate more, spread the word, and/or float me a loan, that works, too. The point is to try to crowdsource the appreciation so many of you have expressed for my work – to enable more of it by creating some cash flow and getting some stress relief for my birthday.

As always, many, many thanks for all your best wishes and kind words – and thanks for all you do to make our community and world a better place.

That bubble you hear bursting…

The most important election result for Seattleites tonight wasn’t passage of a pilot program for universal preschool. It wasn’t the end of Elizabeth Campbell’s monorail fantasy, or Socialist Alternative discovering that you can’t run the same campaign indefinitely and get the same results, or even the merciful passage of a statewide firearms background check law that will save lives each year in our city.

Those results – especially the preschool program – are important, and will touch the lives of many of us. But what dominates Seattle’s future isn’t the message that early childhood education is important. It’s the opposite message, from voters in Iowa, and Georgia, and Colorado, and a dozen other states that elected certifiable lunatics to the US Senate today – the message that education and facts and stuff are elitist and dangerous, that government services like preschool are by definition a bad thing, and that wealthy liberal cities like Seattle are The Enemy.

I don’t much miss the years when I wrote about national politics for a living. The amount of sheer stupidity that dominates most national political discourse and virtually all of its media coverage has a way of eating at your mental health, and it’s gotten worse with every passing year since. In the last week of this year’s campaign, for example, voters weren’t hearing that they were poised to hand control of the US Senate over to the same band of zealots that only two years ago shut down the federal government for a month and nearly destroyed the country’s credit rating and, with it, the global economy – and that were promising if elected to do it all over again. Instead, we got 24/7 bloviating about a woman in Maine who went for a bike ride with her boyfriend. It’s little wonder people tune out.

But national elections do matter locally – this one more than most. Seattle is now two cities: one of extreme wealth, and one in which everyone who doesn’t share in that wealth scrambles to make ends meet. But the US has become two nations as well, divided between wealthy, liberal, mostly coastal urban enclaves like Seattle, and the more socially conservative, more rural, poorer areas farther inland. That “other” nation is now overwhelmingly electing as its representatives people who don’t believe public policies should be used to promote the common good – and also don’t “believe” in things like climate change, evolution, health care, birth control, or facts. Those representatives now control the entire legislative branch of the federal government, meaning among many other things that every federal budget written for the next two years will reflect their priorities.

For years, the largely invisible bane of state and local government has been the steady erosion of federal funds (except for military weapons for law enforcement). From transportation to education, public health, emergency preparedness, and much more, local governments have lost big chunks of funding; Washington state’s limited revenue options, all regressive, have made this loss that much harder to replace. But with Republican control of Congress, it’s about to get much worse.

Expect, in the next two years, government shutdowns. Expect an economic downturn, one that will hit bubble economies like Seattle’s especially hard. Expect no relief for the afflicted from the federal government, especially in parts of the country, like Seattle, that aren’t part of Sarah Palin’s “Real America.”

Seattle is likely to be hit especially hard because, as with so many past booms, its current gold rush is heavily tied to one industry: hi tech. Our regional economic engines are now Microsoft – which, while still enormous and profitable, hasn’t been anyone’s idea of a hi tech innovator in over a decade – and Amazon, which the city is in the process of rebuilding an entire downtown neighborhood on behalf of. And Amazon is all about retail sales, the first sector of a general economy to suffer when people have less money to spend. The lavish wealth now reshaping Seattle is going to take a hit in the next two years – and the people caught in the margins, the non-wealthy majority arleady struggling to stay afloat, will be hurt the worst.

In national politics, the next two years will be ugly but likely transitory. Just as Republicans were heavily favored by the Senate seats up for election in 2014, Democrats have an even bigger structural advantage in 2016. Electoral College math and the field of probable candidates also favor the Democrats in two years (unless you think “President Ted Cruz” has a nice ring to it). But it’s a whole lot easier to wreck something than it is to build it. And while Seattle voters, again this year, continue to tax ourselves for all manner of good and worthy ideas, local elected officials would be wise to build up our reserve funds as fast as possible. We’ll need them.