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People’s Budget – organizing victories for our community

We fought hard against the establishment’s business-as-usual budget

Dear People’s Budget activists and community members:

Congratulations to everyone for a successful People’s Budget struggle on many fronts!  On Monday, Nov. 25, the City Council adopted a 2020 budget. We need to celebrate what has been won, while at the same time refusing to accept a business-as-usual city budget that will continue the status quo of a housing and homelessness crisis in the same city as some of the richest people and businesses in the world.

Please watch my post-budget interview with Africatown Media.

What we won

Here are some of the ground-breaking victories that the People’s Budget won, thanks to the power of community organizing and our socialist Council office:

1. We won $3.5 million in new funding for the L.E.A.D. program, which diverts low-level offenders from jail and into services instead. This more than doubles the Mayor’s L.E.A.D. budget proposal.

2. We won $2 million in new funding to expand tiny house villages, a proven program to get people off the streets and into permanent housing. Current tiny house village residents, the Low Income Housing Institute, and Nickelsville, along with hundreds of allies, all advocated strongly for more tiny house villages.

3. We won $522,600 in funds to support restorative justice programs that provide an alternative to youth incarceration and the school to prison to deportation pipeline. As a result, Community Passageways’ Youth Consortium, Creative Justice, and Rainier Beach Action Coalition’s Corner Greeters programs will continue in 2020 to have life-changing impact on the lives of hundreds of youth of color in our community.

4. We won funding for a second eviction defense attorney, to ensure that hundreds more tenants facing eviction next year will have legal representation from the Housing Justice Project.

5. We won an increase in funding for the Vietnamese Senior Association to cover meals, social and cultural programming, and bus passes for community elders. The VSA is a thriving, life-giving program for hundreds of people, and victory ensures that the program will continue to grow.

6. We won $1.3 million in new funding to provide 5 mobile bathrooms demanded by Real Change activists.

7. We won $15,000 in dedicated funding for Indigenous People’s Day, building on our historic win in 2014 that established this city celebration.

8. We won an important Statement of Legislative Intent that underscores the need for film and music industry workers and their unions to have a strong, ongoing voice in the mayor’s plans to reorganize city cultural programming.

9. We also won an important Statement of Legislative Intent directing the city to draw up plans for how to make public transit free for all to use in Seattle. This is a key demand of our fight for a #GreenNewDeal – putting resources into public transit to help put the brakes on the climate crisis.

How we won

We also need to be clear about how we won these victories. Each one of these victories was achieved because my office and community activists organized:

More than 500 people signed petitions calling for more tiny house villages, and dozens of tiny house village residents and other advocates showed up to testify at City Council meetings. A group of 43 faith leaders signed a letter to City Council calling for more tiny house villages, and I led a press conference at True Hope Tiny House Village with clergy and residents. We did not win the full demand of $12 million for more tiny house villages, but our $2 million victory is a big down-payment.

When we first proposed funding for restorative justice programs, community activists were told by the political establishment to go apply for a grant next year. Nearly 600 people signed an online petition to City Council, 100 staged a rally for restorative justice outside the East Precinct police station, and more community members organized and spoke out at the council meeting about the need for these programs to disrupt the school to prison and deportation pipeline. Two weeks ago, we got partial funding. But we didn’t stop there. Last weekend, community members deluged other Council offices with calls, emails and a community sign-on letter, and showed up in strong numbers for the final budget vote. As a result, we won the full amount, $522,600, that activists had called for.

Less than four years ago, L.E.A.D. was a tiny jail-diversion pilot project in the Belltown neighborhood when my office convened a town hall in the Miller Community Center. There, hundreds of people built grassroots pressure to expand L.E.A.D. to the Central Area, and indeed throughout the city. Since then, the People’s Budget has won expansions to L.E.A.D. every year, and this year’s new funding level is a record.

Until two years ago, there was no funding for eviction attorneys for low-income residents. Last year in our People’s Budget fight we won a single eviction defense attorney. This year, dozens of tenants testified movingly before City Council about the trauma and injustice they have faced in going up against landlords seeking to evict them. We demanded funding for 5 more eviction attorneys in our People’s Budget, and were able to win 1 more.

Vietnamese seniors, Native American activists, LGBTQ community members, students, and many more turned out to advocate and to support one another’s key demands.

For the People’s Budget this year, our socialist Council office, as always, served as a people’s organizing center: My office staff organized dozens of planning meetings with community members, provided regular budget updates to activists, researched and drafted budget amendments, distributed online petitions, and printed our signature red signs, leaflets, stickers, and other materials

How we won is a crucial lesson we need to remember for the future.

Our fight ahead

While our People’s Budget movement and activists won many important things in this budget, the overwhelming majority of the budget continues to be a business-as-usual budget. I voted “no” on the final city budget bill because it fundamentally fails to meet the needs of regular people:

The budget continues to rely on regressive taxes that burden poor and working class people while big businesses like Amazon get a free ride. The budget continues to fail to address the housing and homelessness crisis, which disproportionately harms women, communities of color, and immigrant communities.

The budget fails to stem the economic eviction tide of homeowners, renters, and small business owners who increasingly are being pushed out of our city by regressive taxation and soaring rents.

The budget continues to prioritize repressive policing over proven programs that divert people from jails and prisons. For example, the police budget of $409 million, the largest single portion of the city’s discretionary budget and an increase of 34 percent over the last 6 years, is nearly 800 times the city’s entire restorative justice project.

This budget prioritizes tolling on city streets, funding propaganda to push the idea of a regressive congestion tax (there aren’t examples of congestion tolling done equitably) instead of meeting basic human needs, like guaranteeing renters the right to a lawyer when they face eviction, and renter organizing and education.

In a city with the richest people in the world, social service workers and other workers who run our city continue to be paid poverty wages.

You can see my budget speech at City Council.

As a moral document, this budget fails to meet human needs. It is a budget that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, other big business executives, and the political establishment will love, because it continues to let the rich get richer, while the 99 percent struggle to get by. So as we celebrate the incredible victories that our movement has been able to achieve, we also must bear in mind that the overall budget outcome is determined by the balance of forces between us, and big business, and their political friends. The City’s 2020 budget is a reminder that we need to continue to build an even more powerful movement, strong enough to win a tax on big business to fund social housing and human services, rent control, and a City budget that meets the people’s needs.

In solidarity,

Kshama Sawant

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