If you moved here from anywhere in the rest of America, Seattle probably seems like a stoned socialist paradise. In some ways, it is. Basically everyone here is a Democrat. And no one will make it very far in local politics if they think gay people shouldn't be able to get married or that pot should go back to being illegal. That part is great!
But there is still a lot of fucked-up shit Seattle needs to work on, and a spectrum of how bold our leaders are willing to be about that work. In the city, homelessness is on the rise and rents are skyrocketing. The people serving you that bad late-night diner food you won't remember eating tomorrow can't afford to live in the city anymore—and by the time you graduate, you might not be able to either.
The state is even worse. Yeah, our little corner of the state is mostly run by Democrats, but the rest of the state elects Republicans. So in Olympia—the state capital, south of here—we have a Democratic governor and Democrats narrowly control the state house, but Republicans control the state senate. That gives them the ability to block just about any good ideas, especially new taxes to fund things we desperately need. Courts have ruled that our state government is unconstitutionally underfunding K–12 education and mental-health care. Still, Republicans in the senate oppose all sorts of new revenue, including an income tax, that would help us pay for fixing those problems. (I don't have time to get into this here, but if anybody asks, you are pro income tax and you think it's crazy that Washington is one of only seven states that lack an income tax. Also, you know that Washington's lack of an income tax is what gives this "progressive" state the most regressive tax system in the nation.) It's a total shitshow.
So the stakes are high, and when you combine the local stakes with the increasing impotence of our federal government, it all adds up to this: Get involved in local government! Right now, the people with the loudest voices at Seattle's city hall are developers and scared old homeowners who are worried about sharing their neighborhoods with poor people. I'm not going to ask you to donate your beer money to politicians or even skip class/wake up early enough to make a 2 p.m. city council meeting. But you really can help tip the balance at city hall in a better direction, maybe without even leaving your dorm room. Just send an e-mail. Keep an eye on The Stranger and Slog (and other local politics sites like Publicola.com, Thecisforcrank.com, Seattlish.com, and Seattlebikeblog.com, too). When an issue pisses you off, as many of them will, write the mayor and the city council. Tell them you're a young person and you have an opinion. Don't let old rich people dictate how the city you live in is run. You can find those e-mail addresses at seattle.gov/mayor and seattle.gov/council.
Who, exactly, will you be writing? Our mayor's name is Ed Murray. He's our first openly gay mayor, and he's okay. His style of governing is basically to lock people who disagree in a room until they compromise. Sometimes this is effective, and sometimes it's slow and opaque and infuriating. (And sometimes—sometimes!—when the people he locks in a room finally agree on something, he ignores them anyway. Which can be kinda exciting and, again, infuriating.)
Our nine city council members are divided into two wings—one wing is more pro-business and conservative (for Seattle), and the other is a leftier activist wing. There are also a couple of swing votes in the middle. The most powerful member of the council's right wing is Council President Tim Burgess, who is being challenged in this year's election by a far-left tenant advocate named Jon Grant. The lefty wing is led by the only council member you might have already heard of: actual Socialist Kshama Sawant. People either love or hate Sawant. (Most of the city council does not love her; lots of young people do.) You will need to pick a side.
Until now, all nine city council members have been elected citywide, but this year we're switching to districts. That means you get to vote for one council member to represent the part of town you live in and two to represent the whole city. It's not as complicated as it sounds. Find your district at seattle.gov/cityclerk and look for The Stranger's endorsement issue on October 14. We will help you out.
Write the state people, too, even if they seem less accessible. You have three state legislators who work for you: two representatives and a senator. Find them and their e-mail addresses for your angry letters at app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder.
One more thing: None of this matters if you don't REGISTER TO VOTE. Go to myvote.wa.gov. That site will let you register online or, if you don't have a Washington State ID, will tell you how to register by mail or in person. Seriously, if you complain about the world but don't vote, you're an idiot, everyone will hate you, and you won't get laid. It will be horrible. Register to vote. The online and by-mail registration deadline is October 5. That is soon! The in-person deadline is October 26. Meet those deadlines, and you'll be able to vote in this fall's council races and help make this a city that you want (and can afford) to live in after you graduate.