National Park Service Centennial

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.

Mojave Sunset
White Sands National Monument | New Mexico
Death Valley Superbloom
Glacier National Park | Montana
Bighorn in the Badlands
Gulf Islands National Seashore | Florida
Big Bend National Park | Texas
Kaibob National Forest | Arizona

2015 in Photos: A historic year for Seattle

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.

Osman Osman, a Somali immigrant, celebrates forming a tenants association at his apartment building and winning an initial victory in the struggle against notorious slumlord Carl Haglund.
Hundreds of East African community members, students and supporters came together to unite against racism and Islamophobia and to demand answers about the death of Seattle Central student Hamza Warsame.
Outgoing Council member Nick Licata receives a lifetime achievement award at The Seattle Process, Brett Hamil's political comedy show. Licata's legislative aide Lisa Herbold also receives an award for her recent victory in the Seattle City Council District 1 race.
More than 900 people pack Town Hall Seattle for a June kickoff rally to re-elect Kshama Sawant. Speakers included Chris Hedges, Jill Stein, Pramila Jayapal, David Rolf and others.
Kshama Sawant rides a float in the 2015 Pride Parade, where more than 150 volunteers marched to support her re-election campaign.
Taxi drivers with Teamsters Local 117 collected $20 donations from 210 drivers to help re-elect Kshama Sawant. They presented all $4,200 to Kshama during a visit to the Sea-Tac Airport taxi dispatch center.
Brett Hamil gives opening remarks at the debut of The Seattle Process, his political comedy show featuring local elected officials, writers and artists. Guests at the inaugural show included Kshama Sawant, the writers at Seattlish, Ijeoma Olou, and others.
After 3 years of organizing, displaced tenants from Lockhaven and Theodora held a press conference to announce a settlement with Triad Development that will put $5.5 million dollars towards affordable housing projects. Knoll Lowney, attorney for Displaced Tenants for Accountability and Transparency, says tenants won because they "channeled their experience into a social justice movement."
Sea-Tac Airport workers celebrate the WA State Supreme Court ruling upholding SeaTac Proposition 1, passed by voters in 2013 but blocked by Alaska Airlines' lawsuits. The court ruled that the airport must pay all workers $15/hr, plus paid sick leave, retroactive to January 1, 2014. But the fight is not over yet as Alaska Airlines has since filed additional lawsuits to prevent workers from receiving a living wage.
Space Needle workers with UNITE HERE Local 8 engage in civil disobedience by blocking traffic to the Space Needle. For over a year these courageous workers have been fighting for a fair contract that includes job security and union rights.
Kshama Sawant presents a $500 check from her Solidarity Fund to support the Seattle teacher’s strike. The historic strike by the Seattle Education Association won fair wages, racial equity tools and expanded access to recess for Seattle students.
Last year, Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Native American activists successfully established Indigenous Peoples Day on the same day federally recognized as Columbus Day. This year, activists and tribal members marched to City Hall to support a resolution condemning the cultural genocide perpetuated by the United States Indian Boarding School Policy, which was in effect from 1869 to the 1960s.
David Zirin, political sports editor at The Nation, speaks at The Nation's 150th anniversary celebration at Town Hall Seattle.
Hundreds celebrated the re-election of Councilmember Kshama Sawant with calls for building a new, independent political party representing poor and working people.
Activists with Seattle Housing and Resource Effort packed Kshama Sawant's People's Budget Town Hall to demand the City Council fully funds homeless services. This movement helped win an additional $2.3 million for homeless services, as well as increased funding for a YWCA shelter.
Danni Askini, trans rights activist and executive director of the Gender Justice League, goes over a map of Kshama Sawant's primary election voting results broken down by precinct. The areas of lowest support (green/brown) are among the richest neighborhoods in Seattle with waterfront views on Lake Washington.
After months of campaigning, Taxi, Uber and Lyft drivers pack City Hall as the council passes groundbreaking legislation giving them the right to unionize. Seattle is now the first city in the country where drivers have the right collectively bargain with their employer.
Samira, a tenant living in a building with 225 housing code violations, speaks at a protest outside the office of notorious slumlord Carl Haglund. She urged tenants and supporters to spread the struggle for housing justice to other properties owned by Haglund, and to make sure that initial gains at her building, like a month of free rent, are enforced.

Election Night: Victory for Kshama Sawant

Hundreds celebrated the re-election of Councilmember Kshama Sawant with calls for building a new, independent political party representing poor and working people.

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.

Danni Askini, trans rights activist and executive director of the Gender Justice League, goes over a map of Kshama Sawant's primary election voting results broken down by precinct. The areas of lowest support (green/brown) are among the richest neighborhoods in Seattle with waterfront views on Lake Washington.

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.

Backstage, campaign organizers Bart and Sarah watch the King County Elections website for results to come in

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.

Calvin Priest, campaign manager, speaks to the crowd before results are announced

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.

Sarah White, a nurse fighting for single-payer healthcare, hugs Kshama Sawant backstage on election night before results are announced.

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.

The crowd goes wild as election results are announced
Kshama Sawant celebrates victory and urges everyone to get involved in building the movement for a more just and equitable society

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.

Supporters and volunteers enjoy a well-earned celebration that ran all night and late into the morning

Tenants Win $5.7 Million from Triad Development

After 3 years of organizing, displaced tenants from Lockhaven and Theodora held a press conference to announce a settlement with Triad Development that will put $5.5 million dollars towards affordable housing projects. Knoll Lowney, attorney for Displaced Tenants for Accountability and Transparency, says tenants won because they "channeled their experience into a social justice movement."

After 3 years of organizing, displaced tenants from Lockhaven and Theodora have won a settlement with Triad Development that will put $5.5 million dollars towards affordable housing projects.

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.

Tenants were joined by City Council candidates Jon Grant, Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold (not pictured)

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."

When we fight, we win!

For more information, check out Ansel's excellent reporting at The Stranger.

First Victory Against Slumlord

Osman Osman, a Somali immigrant, celebrates forming a tenants association and winning the first victory against notorious slumlord Carl Haglund

Tenants at 6511 Rainier Ave South have been living with cockroaches, mold, rats, broken heaters, and damaged electrical outlets.

Cockroaches in the kitchen of one of the units
Children living in the building have to take allergy medication every day to deal with the mold

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.

Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata, along with the Tenants Union of Washington, organized a press conference with the tenants to expose the deplorable conditions at the apartment complex and call for legislation that would make it illegal to raise rents while there are pending housing code violations

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).

More than 100 people gathered outside Haglund's office on a rainy Wednesday morning to celebrate this initial victory and demand justice for all tenants in Seattle

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.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant promises to help spread the struggle to other Haglund properties, and to introduce legislation that would make it illegal for landlords to raise rents while there are housing code violations

Tenants and community activists issued the following demands:

  1. 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.
  2. The DPD requires that the 225 code violations be resolved by November 7, 2015. Haglund must meet that deadline.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Tenants speak at a press conference announcing legislation that would make it illegal to raise rents while there are pending housing code violations

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.

Seattle Celebrates 2nd Annual Indigenous Peoples' Day

Last year, Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Native American activists successfully established Indigenous Peoples Day on the same day federally recognized as Columbus Day. This year, activists and tribal members marched to City Hall to support a resolution condemning the cultural genocide perpetuated by the United States Indian Boarding School Policy, which was in effect from 1869 to the 1960s.

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.

Speakers at Westlake Park highlighted the importance of recognizing historical trauma and connecting it to current struggles for racial and economic justice

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

Motorcycle cops follow a march celebrating Seattle's 2nd annual Indigenous Peoples' Day

See more photos from Seattle's 2nd annual Indigenous Peoples' Day celebration here.