Thank you to the organizers for inviting me to speak at this wonderful celebration of struggle.
Frederick Douglass, a former slave, leading abolitionist and activist for women’s rights, spoke words that can act as a guide still today. Frederick Douglass proclaimed that “If there is no struggle, there can be no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
To end slavery, people needed to take a side and fight with determination. Many said that to end slavery, there needed to be negotiations and compromise with the slave-owners and their system. But Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, and the slaves themselves who revolted, knew that an all-out struggle was necessary. “Compromise” with the slave-owners would have been a recipe for continued misery, murder, and dehumanization on a grand scale.
There are lessons from this for us today as we face a bigoted right-wing zealot in the White House. Economic inequality and poverty has reached record levels, in this the richest country in the world. And we have only a few decades before the climate change that results from corporate greed destroys civilization and creates catastrophe.
We’ve been told by corporate politicians and the media that we live in a “post-racial” society, but US capitalism has always been built on racism, and discrimination unfortunately runs through this country’s DNA. As Malcolm X said, you cannot have capitalism without racism. Just this week, we saw another black young man, Brandon Webber, gunned down by law enforcement in Memphis, Tennessee. From police shootings to unemployment figures, education opportunities and countless other indicators, there is tantamount evidence that racism in many forms is unfortunately alive and well. But as black-led movements have shown, from abolition to civil rights to Black Lives Matter, racism must be met with resistance.
I was proud to fight with activists in the “Block the Bunker” movement to stop the most expensive police precinct in the country and instead win 29 million dollars for social housing. This was not won through compromise with the Mayor and the rest of the City Hall establishment, but through building determined action and relying on the strength of our grassroots organizing.
I was the only City Councilmember to vote against the New Youth Jail three years ago, and last year against the police contract which rolled back community accountability. Just as it was over 150 years ago, it is always better to fight for what’s just and correct than to do what’s considered an “acceptable compromise” by the ruling class, big business, and the political elite. And even when we are unable to win victories, our struggle lays the basis for future movements.
Here in Seattle, racist redlining was used in the housing market for decades to enforce segregation. The Central District was where the black working class and middle class and black-owned small businesses called home for generations. Today, instead of overt racist redlining, we have economic redlining. Many black people and workers have already been economically evicted from the Central District and from the city, and many more are being forced out.
But we are fighting back. Our Africatown community has been leading incredible work to begin to reclaim the Central District for black working families and for working families as a whole. The Liberty Bank building is a shining example of affordable housing.
In fact, as Africatown leader Wyking Garrett has said, we need a thousand more Liberty Bank buildings. We need a massive expansion of social housing – thousands of publicly-owned affordable high-quality homes being built every year. Because the for-profit construction market has failed us. And such an expansion of social housing is only possible if our movements fight to tax the biggest corporations and the wealthiest people – not working-class or middle-class people or small businesses. This would create thousands of unionized living-wage jobs with priority hire and apprenticeship programs. We also need to tax big business because so many of our retiree homeowners are overburdened with taxation, while the wealthiest get away with paying little or nothing.
Seattle needs citywide, comprehensive rent control, free of corporate loopholes. Movements in NY have just won a historic victory of strong rent control and tenant protections in the State Legislature. We can do it too!
That’s why I’m proud to introduce Renee Holmes, a Central District renter at Chateau apartments, who’s showing how renters can get organized. She’s helping to lead a struggle, alongside my Council Office, that can be a beacon to us all in the fight for housing justice, equality and a better world.