Kshama Sawant's orange and red paisley curtains are becoming a familiar quarantine comfort for me.
Last night, her face—and what I assume is one angle of her living room—filled the Seattle Channel. The not-quite-sanctioned Sustainability & Renters' Rights committee meeting on her and Councilmember Tammy Morales's Tax Amazon legislation was starting.
No other council members showed up. Not even co-sponsor Morales.
"Will the clerk please call the role?" Sawant began. The screen stayed on her as the clerk read through the list of names, allowing an uncomfortable silence to balloon after each absence before moving on. Sawant's face was impassive. She did not have the mandatory quorum of three council members.
"I want to clarify for members of the public that these council rules are not the law," Sawant said, fully intending to continue with her meeting as planned. Not reaching quorum means that a committee cannot act on any legislation which was not a problem since Sawant couldn't act on the legislation anyway. The Tax Amazon package of bills was originally assigned to Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda's Select Budget Committee. While it is allowed to be heard in other committees, it can only be voted on in the one it was assigned to.
"As a council member," Sawant continued, "I generally follow these protocols and conventions, but not when they are used by the political establishment as a lever to try to hinder ordinary people and grassroots movements as they are in this case with all council members boycotting this committee."
The rest of the council did not partake in the meeting for a number of reasons. The biggest was that the committee meeting could expose them to legal action for violating Gov. Jay Inslee's emergency proclamation, according to legal analysis from the Seattle City Attorney's office and a recommendation from Council President Lorena González.
The proclamation amended the state's Open Public Meetings Act and restricted public meetings during the emergency to matters that were "necessary and routine" or "related to COVID-response" and the current public health crisis. González decided that Sawant's and Morales's Tax Amazon legislation did not fit under these umbrellas and that the council would be spared potential litigation if they waited to discuss it until after the proclamation was lifted. That is expected to happen in June.
Sawant disagreed with the legal analysis and the decision to press pause on legislation that would provide cash assistance to vulnerable households during the COVID-19 crisis and "create tens of thousands of good union jobs" during "a crisis that in many respects is worse than the Great Depression," Sawant said. The legislation will fund the construction of more affordable housing as well as green infrastructure.
Without a quorum—besides the "quorum of workers" and renters who were ready to speak about the legislation—Sawant forged ahead.
"If there’s no objection to the agenda then it will be adopted," Sawant said, "but there are no other council members so it will be adopted."
The new information from the meeting was the report central staffers gave on what jobs the Tax Amazon legislation could create. They've estimated that between affordable housing and Green New Deal-compliant construction, the Tax Amazon package could spawn 34,000 new jobs in ten years. This report was given with some caveats, though. Namely, they are "based on a number of assumptions" and "the actual number may be higher or lower," one central staffer said. One big asterisk on the projections is that they do not account for jobs lost due to industry changes or market changes, like, say, a huge recession.
After the job presentation, there were panels of workers and renters who discussed Seattle's unaffordability and their struggles to keep their heads above water especially during the COVD-19 crisis. According to Sawant's team, over 100 viewers tuned into the committee meeting. Sawant lamented that she was "really feeling how much the other council members have missed" and that she hoped they would watch the recording later.