This time last year, activists from Block the Bunker and No New Youth Jail were shutting down city council chambers and demanding the council abandon plans for a pricey new police precinct in North Seattle. They won that fight. Now, they have an organizer on the dais.
On Friday, the Seattle City Council appointed nonprofit director and organizer Kirsten Harris-Talley to serve a two-month temporary term left vacant by Tim Burgess's appointment as temporary mayor. Harris-Talley is program director at the Progress Alliance, a group that raises money for progressive nonprofits. She is also an organizer with Block the Bunker and No New Youth Jail and a founding board member of the reproductive justice organization Surge. She also had support from the newly formed Seattle Peoples Party.
After taking the oath of office, Harris-Talley pledged to focus her work during budget negotiations on increasing funding for reproductive and restorative justice (an approach to crime that focuses on alternatives to incarceration).
“I want to make sure as much funding as possible goes directly to community-led models and projects,” she said. “They have the creativity and solutions…. The budget is an opportunity for us to walk our values.”
Harris-Talley was one of 16 people who applied, including former city council member Nick Licata and former city council candidate Abel Pacheco, Jr. Harris-Talley won with five council members’ votes: Bruce Harrell, Sally Bagshaw, Lorena Gonzalez, Mike O’Brien, and Kshama Sawant. Council Member Lisa Herbold voted for Licata, her old boss and mentor. Council Members Rob Johnson and Debora Juarez voted for Pacheco. Harris-Talley will hold office until November 28, when election results are certified and either Teresa Mosqueda or Jon Grant is sworn in.
Council members praised Harris-Talley for her organizing work and accountability to communities of color. González emphasized the importance of electing women of color. She said her vote was recognition of the “intrinsic and often undervalued skills of women in the workforce.”
Harrell, who has recently switched from supporting the new youth jail to calling for a reconsideration of its design, said Harris-Talley “brings a community relevance to our discussion” about criminal justice. Bagshaw said, "I want us to be walking our walk."
Sawant called on Harris-Talley to support efforts to stop sweeps of homeless encampments and increase funding for survivors of sexual violence. Sawant also pointed out that some council members who voted for Harris-Talley had supported the north precinct project Block the Bunker activists fought against last year. The majority of the council, including Harrell and Bagshaw, supported a resolution endorsing the precinct, although they had concerns about its cost. That resolution called for decreases in the cost and a race and social justice assessment of the project.
“That’s a victory for the movement,” Sawant said today.