After two and half years of building social justice movements in Seattle, I decided to take a break and celebrate 100 years of the National Park Service with a solo road trip. What began as a rather straightforward, one-month trip turned into a 10,000 mile odyssey through 22 states and more than 65 areas in the National Parks System, ending in Yellowstone where I worked as a Park Ranger for the summer. Below are a few of my favorite photos from the journey.
In 2015 we saw an explosion of diverse social justice movements. Here are some of my highlights from Seattle since I started documenting these struggles and victories in June.
Let's build on this momentum and make 2016 another historic year in the fight for a just and equitable society.
In 2013, Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative made history by electing the first socialist to a major US city in decades. Within six months of taking office, Kshama helped build a movement and win the historic $15/hr minimum wage.
And she didn't stop there. In just two years of being in office, we have defeated rent hikes of 400% on 7,000 low-income families, won millions of dollars in funding for human services, established Indigenous Peoples' Day, and played an important role in the Shell No actions that recently secured a victory against Arctic drilling.
It came as no surprise that the political establishment and it's corporate backers were hell bent on defeating Kshama this year. Every corporate council member endorsed Kshama's opponent, who raised a stunning $140,000 in maximum donations from CEOs, landlords and big business alone. In addition, a Republican-backed PAC dumped $18,000 into the race, and in the final week two anti-union, anti-$15/hr PACs spent $40,000 attacking Kshama.
To counter this onslaught, our campaign accepted no corporate contributions and relied solely on the power of working people. We mobilized over 600 volunteers, got endorsements from 30 unions, and raised more money than any other candidate by collecting 3,000+ contributions with a median donation of $50.
Victory on election night was not guaranteed, especially after two years of lies and opposition from the political establishment, corporate media, real estate industry and the corporations that dominate city politics.
When election results were announced on the evening of November 3rd, 2015, Kshama Sawant had defeated the candidate put forward by the political establishment and backed by big business.
This just the beginning. We will build off this victory and won't stop until we have a society that prioritizes human needs over corporate greed.
In January, these tenants filed a lawsuit challenging the City's issuance of a critical permit to the Civic Square Project. Today, the tenants organization agreed to dismiss the lawsuit in a $5.7 million settlement with Triad. Under the settlement, Triad will pay $700,000 immediately and an additional $5 million if the Civic Square project moves forward.
This is the same lawsuit that that prompted Triad executives to attempt to blackmail City Council candidate Jon Grant. They promised to make a $200,000 smear campaign go away if Grant helped drop the legal challenge to permits.
Tenants will be working with an experienced fund manager to ensure that the money won in this settlement will be disbursed to benefit the greater Seattle community.
"Rather than allowing another giveaway to developers, displaced tenants took action and have achieved and unprecedented victory for tenants," said Eliana Horn, an organizer with Displaced Tenants for Accountability and Transparency. "This money will allow the housing justice community to explore community land trusts and housing coops that create permanently affordable housing where tenants will not be displaced."
For more information, check out Ansel's excellent reporting at The Stranger.
Tenants at 6511 Rainier Ave South have been living with cockroaches, mold, rats, broken heaters, and damaged electrical outlets.
Notorious slumlord Carl Haglund then tried to double rents and economically evict 13 households in order to avoid paying relocation assistance. Tenants reached out to Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and she immediately visited the apartment complex and began helping the tenants get organized. Together we held a press conference to expose these deplorable conditions.
At the press conference, we called for a public protest the following week at the offices of Carl Haglund. The afternoon before the protest, Haglund told the media he would back off from raising rents until the units were repaired. He also said he would refund October rent.
Later that week, the Department of Planning and Development inspected the building and found 225 housing code violations (PDF).
Among the more than 100 people that joined the protest were Councilmember Mike O’Brien, King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, members of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA), the Seattle King County NAACP, the Transit Riders Union (TRU), Socialist Alternative, Stand Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE), LGBTQ Allyship, Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and Real Change.
Tenants and community activists issued the following demands:
- Carl Haglund needs to keep his word. He has promised October rent-free to the tenants at Charles Street Apartments. The tenants need to be returned their October rents urgently.
- The DPD requires that the 225 code violations be resolved by November 7, 2015. Haglund must meet that deadline.
- One of the tenants, Osman Osman, has received an invoice for $506 from Haglund for repairs. We need Haglund to send Osman a new invoice with a $0.00 balance.
- Haglund needs to resolve code violations that will be documented by the DPD in the coming days in other buildings he owns.
The following week, Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata held a press conference along with tenants to announce the "Carl Haglund Law" - legislation that make it illegal for landlords to raise rent while there are pending housing code violation.
Video of the full press conference and a transcript of Councilmember Sawant's remarks are available here. The legislation will come before the City Council later this year. Meanwhile, we will continue working to organize tenants across Seattle. We won't rest until we have housing justice for all renters in this city.
More photos from these struggles are available here.
When Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant first took office in early 2014, indigenous activists had been trying, without success, to secure sponsorship for legislation establishing Indigenous Peoples' Day on the same day federally recognized as Columbus Day. When these activists approached our office, we immediately worked with them to successfully pass such legislation.
"Learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of social justice is not merely educational in nature," said Councilmember Kshama Sawant. "And it’s not only celebrating cultures. It also allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination, and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day."
Seattle's victory in 2014 was thrust into the national spotlight by news outlets such as DemocracyNow!, CNN, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post and NPR. This helped spark a nationwide movement this year with activists successfully passing similar legislation across the country.
In Seattle, indigenous activists built off last year's victory by working on legislation acknowledging the trauma and cultural genocide perpetuated by the Indian Boarding School Policy of the US Government. Here is one section from the resolution (read the full version here):
WHEREAS, between 1869 and the 1960s at least 100,000 Native American children were removed from their homes and families, often involuntarily, and placed in faraway boarding schools that were funded and operated by the federal government and missionaries, where according to the Meriam Report: The Problem of Indian Administration, those children were: shamed for being Native American; punished for speaking their tribal language; banned from engaging in any traditional, spiritual, or cultural tribal practices; shorn of long hair and stripped of traditional clothing; and severely neglected, subjected to harsh discipline and corporal punishment, and physically, sexually, and mentally abused
See more photos from Seattle's 2nd annual Indigenous Peoples' Day celebration here.