Since the holidays are a time of good cheer, the two of us decided to take a break from our usual focus on city hall and instead look to our communities where real leadership is always found.
When civic awards are passed out, it is usually people who do essential charity work who are recognized. Such accolades are of course deserved, but what about people whose efforts are aimed at redefining the structures of power that give rise to the need for charity in the first place?
Here are five citizens of Seattle who are willing to challenge the status quo and who give their time and energy to work for economic justice and democratic participation in our neighborhoods:
If anyone ever exemplified the maxim to think globally, act locally, it would be Juan in his 30 years of activism in Seattle. For Native Americans struggling for their fishing rights, migrant farm workers organizing a union for better working conditions, and homeless and mentally disabled people trying to live with dignity on the streets of Seattle, Juan has been a powerful advocate.
His efforts on behalf of immigrant laborers led to his trenchant analysis of globalization and how it degrades the quality of life for people in the Third World and here at home. At the same time, he is personally involved in local efforts of communities of color to hold police accountable, preserve low-income housing and form effective coalitions.
Juan has led and participated in many organizations, including the Downtown Human Services Council, A Territory Resources (now called the Social Justice Foundation), Labor and Employment Law Offices (LELO), and many more than we can mention in this short space. In everything he does, he maintains the interconnectedness of all struggles for racial, economic and social justice.
In this column we've often decried the corrupting influence of big money on our political process. Katy is doing something about that. She heads Washington Public Campaigns, whose mission is to pass legislation in Washington akin to the clean elections laws in Maine and Arizona. Through public funding of election campaigns, these states are already realizing increased candidate diversity and voter turnout.
Katy also coordinates classes for young Democrats considering running for public office, with presentations by high-powered elected officials and grassroots activists alike. As an active member of the 43rd District Democrats, she represents the best of what the Democratic Party can be, the voice of working people instead of corporate lobbyists.
We first knew Katy as an aide to former Councilmember Heidi Wills. In that position she helped us in our efforts to hold Seattle Housing Authority accountable and preserve low-income housing.
Back in the early 1990s Sinan was a UW grad student working toward his doctorate in sociology, studying homelessness. But he wasn't content to just observe the problem. He launched one of the most successful meal programs in Seattle.
From there he went on to found and direct Rising Out Of The Shadows, (R.O.O.T.S.), the only shelter program in the city specifically addressing the needs of homeless young adults. These young people are too old to access youth shelter programs but often feel unwelcome or threatened in emergency programs serving mostly older single adults. Based in the University District, the ROOTS shelter involves a cadre of trained volunteers and features a Friday night feast with restaurant quality food.
But Sinan goes beyond these important forms of giving to be an agent for social change. He can be found on the front lines at public meetings challenging elected leaders to redirect city resources from the wealthy to the truly needy. Sinan is known by his friends as a fantastic cook and organizer of tours to observe the oddest of Christmas lights and topiary in Seattle.
Laurelhurst is one of Seattle's most affluent communities. You might expect the Laurelhurst Community Club to be a bastion of privilege, remote from the needs of low-income neighborhoods. However, under the leadership of Jeannie Hale, the LCC not only represents the immediate needs of that community but also supports citywide causes on behalf of low-income people. Jeannie and the LCC recognize that their community's well being is linked to our city's ability to address these larger social issues. We regard the LCC as a staunch ally of the Displacement Coalition.
Also for the past several years Jeannie has chaired the Seattle Community Council Federation, a citywide coalition of community councils that grew out of a 1960s movement in response to urban renewal and redlining in Seattle. Completely outside of city government, the federation represents genuine grassroots activism.
From both her roles with the Federation and Laurelhurst Community Club Jeannie has steadfastly worked for neighborhood control, physical preservation of neighborhoods and limited growth, while critiquing the inequitable distribution of resources in the mayor's South Lake Union agenda.
Like Sinan, Rachael came to advocacy as a college student. Throughout the 1990s she maintained a network of youth shelters and recruited student volunteers to work in them. Through the Coalition for the Homeless and the Human Services Coalition, she coordinates large turnouts at public hearings with testimony about the effect of city budget cuts on homeless people, and writes grants for funding.
Now Rachael is the associate director of Real Change. She's gone down to Olympia to coordinate Homeless Lobby Day where state legislators learn about the impact of their own budget cuts.
Like the other people we've recognized here, Rachael is content to work behind the scenes. When someone says, "We need something done," Rachael is the first to volunteer.
Because of Juan, Katy, Sinan, Jeannie and Rachael, Seattle is a better place to live for ALL its citizens.
Carolee Colter and John V. Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.[[In-content Ad]]