In Seattle’s current struggles we see the echoes of past traumas imposed upon the indigenous peoples who cradled this city before its colonization. Rampant environmental degradation. Racial segregation. Restrictive land use policies. Repairing these foundational injustices—these first and deepest cuts—is not just the right thing to do. It’s the way we’re going to make Seattle a truly equitable city, unfettered from its long, ugly legacy of White supremacy.
I am running to represent District 4 on the Seattle City Council because I have a vision for the city I’ve lived in for 26 years. This vision is grounded in my perspective as a filmmaker, writer, and organizer who believes, in the indelible words of Nikkita Oliver, that we’re better off “when we lift from the bottom and pull from the margins” of society.
That’s why, if I earned the opportunity to serve on the council, one of my first acts would be to craft a resolution in which the city of Seattle formally recognizes the sovereignty of the Duwamish, Suquamish, Muckleshoots, and Snohomish tribes. Such formal recognition could be the first step towards real redistributive justice, hopefully paving the way for law that would bind the city to pay rent to the indigenous peoples whose land we use rent-free. I was once a labor organizer with the Campaign Workers Guild who helped lead the effort to have Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal become the first ever congressional incumbent with a unionized campaign staff; if that experience taught me anything, it’s that the first step to successfully negotiating is having one’s right to collectively bargain recognized.
With seven of the city’s nine council seats up for grabs in 2019, many candidates will relay their ideas for Seattle’s future. They will do so by working from assumptions about our shared past. The question we should always ask these candidates is “which Seattle do we want to live in?” The one where “Black Victorians” found a refuge from the racism of the Jim Crow South in the aftermath of the Civil War, or the one where police officers killed Charleena Lyles and faced no consequences? The one where Pioneer Square nurtured LGTBQIA life in the 1960s and 70s, or the one where queer folks are overrepresented among the city’s houseless population? The buzzing, environmentally-conscious metropolis that established an extensive network of bike lanes in the early 20th century, or the wannabe suburb that tied its neighborhoods to racially-restrictive zoning codes and criminalized the kinds of dense, multifamily housing we need to end capitalism’s perpetual crisis of housing unaffordability?
I entered political life as a #BlackLivesMatter activist in late 2014. Later I served as a delegate for Bernie Sanders, then as a journalist who has written about this city’s politics from the vantage point of its most vulnerable residents, and eventually as an organizer with the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America. All across this country in the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed democratic socialists run for office and win in ways that have raised our expectations of what is politically possible. Red-baiting be damned, this is the role that socialism has always occupied in America; advancing ideas like the minimum wage, free school lunch, and universal healthcare until they become common political currency, adopted by liberalism-at-large. With the arrival of the climate crisis and the rising tide of conservatism, the challenges we face today are no less drastic than those of the past; the solutions we seek must be no less radical:
Either you would support undocumented Seattleites by creating a system where they can vote in local elections, or you would not. Either you believe massive government investment in affordable and public housing is key to reducing our carbon emissions, or you do not believe in climate change. Either you see that exempting feminine hygiene products from the sales tax is a small step we could take on the road to gender equality, or you don’t see a problem. Either you would support my candidacy in introducing a bill that makes Election Day a holiday in Seattle, or you would put workplace productivity over making participatory democracy accessible to working people. Either you think it’s unjust that our political representation is composed overwhelmingly of people from privileged backgrounds who have the financial security to seek office without having to work a day job, or you believe that representation does not matter; that the role of government is to be some passive conductor of impersonal interests, and not an active instrument for equity.
As a Millennial and critic of the neoliberal transformation that has prevented the Democratic Party from sustaining a meaningful resistance against the national backslide into conservatism that occurred in the Reagan eighties, I was dismayed to watch the election of Donald Trump on the night of my 32nd birthday, November 8th, 2016. His ascendancy seemed the culmination of 40 years of capitalism’s complete co-optation of the public trust, to say nothing of the millennia-long project of toxic masculinity. As a resident of Eastlake, I was proud to join the 43rd LD Democrats in September 2018 for the expressed purpose of voting to have the membership body adopt municipally-owned broadband internet into its official platform. Measures like these have been historically resisted, even by “progressives,” because of the stranglehold that corporations like Comcast and CenturyLink have on our democracy via lucrative campaign contributions. Even as we fight for Net Neutrality federally, it will mean nothing if we do not resist the imposition of pro-market logic into our public affairs locally.
Elections are competitions, and I hope other candidates who join me in the contest to represent the people of District 4 will also join me in pledging to take no corporate campaign contributions or Chamber of Commerce political action committee support; in this way, we can have a straightforward contest of ideas, uncorrupted by big business, that advances civic solutions for the many, not the few; on behalf of the environment, not the business climate. This November, major corporations like Koch Industries, BP, and Phillips 66 successfully fought the statewide carbon fee initiative I-1631; as a city councilman, I will work to identify ecotaxes that can be implemented at the city level, and pursue them to the greatest extent of my authority. Life on earth depends on it.
My vision for my city cannot be compromised, because it was created in the cauldron of activism, of advocacy journalism, of anti-racist and anti-capitalist scholarship and organizing. Seattle’s greatest export has always been its ideas, and this campaign will be an example of what can happen when we make the political process work for those it has historically ignored. As Kimberlé Crenshaw, founder of the theory of intersectionality, has put it, “when they enter, we all enter.” In November 2019, we’re going to blow the doors off this city.
Shaun Scott is a candidate for City Council District 4, the district comprising the University District, Wallingford, Eastlake, Roosevelt, and Northeast Seattle. He is the editor of Real Change News. He is the author of the book Millennials and the Moments That Made Us: A Cultural History of the U.S. from 1982-Present (Zero Books, 2018). A member of the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America, he lives in Roosevelt near the soon-to-be-built light rail station.