Sisters & Brothers,
Today is Juneteenth, the day we celebrate the end of the Civil War and the smashing of slavery – one of the most brutally oppressive systems the world has known. While the institution of slavery is gone, racism is not. There are now more black men ensnared in the criminal justice system than were enslaved in 1850.
Racist violence continues to plague US society, as we saw just two days ago with the unspeakable horror of the Charleston AME church massacre. Nine people are dead and many more lives have been devastated. Together with the Black Lives Matter movement’s fight against rampant police violence, this latest act of racist terror has pushed aside the establishment’s attempts to assert a narrative of a post-racial society.
The black community in the US faces daily structural violence – poverty, substandard schools, and blatant discrimination in hiring and housing. In the 150 years since the Civil War, the system of capitalism has utterly failed to erase the legacy of slavery.
While Seattle has seen tremendous economic growth over the past 15 years, in that time the median income of black families has fallen. Seattle now has the 9th lowest median income for black families out of the 50 biggest US cities. Here in the Central District, 80% of homes were once owned by black families. But the ruthless process of gentrification is pushing the Black community out of this historic neighborhood, and a majority of residents are now white. The city establishment has watched this go on for decades. Corporate politicians give handouts to the big developers who are tearing apart our neighborhoods, rather than taxing them to fund affordable housing.
Racism is a tool of the oppressor against the struggles of the oppressed. It’s used to divide the enormous potential power of people of color and working people. Black people – black women in particular – have historically been at the forefront of social movements in the US. They currently play leading roles in the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for a $15 minimum wage.
We need urgent action against the daily realities of racism and inequality faced by our communities in Seattle. We need to support the Community Police Commission’s recent efforts to make the Seattle Police Department more accountable, and to fight for a democratically elected community control board with full powers over the police. We need rent control. We need to make big developers pay to build high-quality, city-owned affordable housing. We need to tax the rich to fully fund education, public transit, and to create good paying union jobs. Instead of spending hundreds of millions on a new youth jail and military-grade weapons for the police, we need to fully fund youth and community programs.
To make this happen, we need elected officials who don’t take money from the very people who profit from our continued oppression. Corporate cash goes to candidates that corporations trust. Big developers like Vulcan and Goodman Real Estate do not fund those fighting for rent control and affordable housing. Opponents of a living wage like the Washington Restaurant Association do not give maximum donations to those they expect to fight inequality and defend the $15 minimum wage.
As the mass murder Wednesday in Charleston shows, we still live in a violently racist and deeply unequal society. The attack at Emanuel AME church is of course not an isolated incident, but part of the long history of brutality, terrorism, and bigotry against black people in the US. But Wednesday’s murders should not only be marked by mourning. The families of those killed and injured need our support and compassion, but they also need us to act. All of us, along with the Black Lives Matter Movement, Civil Rights groups, and the labor movement should organize mass national protests against this vicious hate crime.
We must stand together to demand an end to racist violence! An end to police brutality! An end to poverty wages and unemployment! An end to underfunded public education! an end to the crisis of affordable housing! And an end to mass incarceration!
And we demand more. We demand fundamental change. To win it we will need to rely on our own strength and will need to build a new kind of politics, free of corporate cash and influence. We must recognize our potential collective power. The abolition of slavery showed that institutions based on inequality are neither preordained nor permanent. More recently, the Black Lives Matter movement, the indictments of Baltimore police, and the victories on the $15 minimum wage hint at a similar truth – when we organize and fight back, we can win.
We can take back our own power. We can build a different kind of society. A society based on solidarity and genuine equality, free of racism and oppression.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant