Hellhole Week of 4/23

18 minute read

When provoked, Capitalism has been known to lash out by getting its sycophants in the herd to write op-eds and corrupt the legislative process. This week we have an interactive … Read more

When provoked, Capitalism has been known to lash out by getting its sycophants in the herd to write op-eds and corrupt the legislative process. This week we have an interactive walk through the delusional reality of wealthy Magnolia homeowners, more acts of labor defiance from educators, Sally Bagshaw standing up for billionaires against the filthy masses, Amazon killing workers, and the City Council’s reactions to the Ravenna Woods sweep. Enter the Hellhole …

The Hellhole: Fort Lawton Interactive

Here’s an experiment: Go to your map application of choice – preferably one with relatively recent satellite photos and transit overlays. Street-level photography is helpful, but not necessary.

Navigate to Latitude 47°39’42.2″N, Longitude 122°24’20.0″W. You’ll find yourself at the edge of the proposed area of the Fort Lawton housing redevelopment. To the west is a line of trees – the edge of Discovery Park. To the southeast is a number of buildings surrounding a large parking lot. To the east is another, even larger parking lot, along with a small grass field. Just to your north, you’ll find bus stops for the 33 bus, which opponents of the redevelopment continue to deny the existence of (okay, we’ll bite – we should also massively expand public transit). The street-level view in one particular map application seems to suggest that these still use the old-fashioned Metro signs from last decade, still fairly common at out-of-the-way stops.

An aerial view of the mostly-paved Fort Lawton property demarcated by a red outline, showing its clear separation from the forested park area.

Not shown: The destruction of the city’s largest park in the city’s wealthiest neighborhood.

As you continue north, you’ll find more disused buildings, as well as a tremendous expanse of parking lots. What you won’t find, at least within the boundaries of the proposed redevelopment, is the majestic bounty of nature. Well, except for grass, and even that is dwarfed by the sheer scale of the pavement. If you’ve heard or read any of the arguments against the Fort Lawton housing development, this should surprise you. We’ve been told over and over that we can’t afford to sacrifice natural beauty just to provide a basic human need, and that we’re risking losing our green spaces just so that our neighbors don’t die on the streets. The horror!

So how are these stains on the good name of environmentalists justifying their continued opposition in the face of literal concrete fact? By arguing for the annexation of Fort Lawton to Discovery Park. Now, I hope you didn’t close that map – who told you it was okay to close it?! Open it back up, navigate back to the same place. We’ll wait. Okay, now zoom out. Do you notice the enormous, largest-in-the-city park that you can suddenly now see? And the small, ugly corner that Fort Lawton occupies? Perhaps that gives a sense of scale. The interesting thing is that you should also now be able to see Lawtonwood and Viewmont, two of the most expensive neighborhoods in Seattle. Probably a coincidence that these folks don’t want affordable housing nearby. In any case, it’s hard to say just what value the Fort Lawton Memorial Parking Lot Museum will add to an already colossal park – and even harder to justify how we’ll pay for it, when the land was specifically offered for free from the federal government with the condition that the City use it to build housing. While these folks work their way through their hopefully doomed lawsuit to slow or stop the housing development, we ought to keep the pressure up here and everywhere: more deeply affordable housing, more public housing, more cooperative housing, and more tenant protections.

We Tried Thesaurus.com But Our Adblocker Was Just Going Wild

If you’re a regular Hellhole reader, you’re probably expecting a piece about the teacher walkouts in Colorado and Arizona. However, we’re running a bit low on synonyms for “solidarity with striking teachers,” so this week will be a little different. But only a little different.

Graduate student workers at the University of Washington, represented by UAW Local 4121, recently voted by a huge margin to authorize a strike if their contract demands aren’t met. State funding cuts to universities and ballooning corporate executive-style salaries for campus administrators have had drastic impacts on our higher education system. Not only are tuitions comically unaffordable to working people and their children, educators are hit hard as well. Tenured positions disappear, professors are replaced by assistants, assistants by adjuncts, adjuncts by lecturers, and everyone by graduate teaching assistants. Ask around and you’ll likely find plenty of non-tenured faculty working multiple jobs at multiple campuses to make ends meet (and hustling anew every quarter to make sure they still have classes to teach). As TAs pick up more and more of the slack, they’re also facing rising tuition just like other students.

UW graduate workers’ contract expires on Monday, April 30. Keep your eyes peeled, you might have a picket line to join or a strike fund to contribute to soon enough.

Sally Bagshaw and the Chamber of Secrets Commerce

On Monday, April 23rd, our benevolent City Council deigned to convene a public hearing on the deceptively-titled “Employee Hours Tax.” Though some might prefer that you misunderstand this proposal as a tax on employees’ paychecks or a burden on small businesses, it’s far from either. Instead, it’s a tax only on our city’s highest-grossing employers, based on the number of employees they have on payroll. No line item on your paycheck, no money out of your pocket – unless you’re the boss. To make it a bit clearer, maybe we should start calling it a Bosses’ Tax.

Surprisingly, the Seattle business community actually mobilized to this public hearing rather than going through their usual closed-door meetings with the individual councilmembers they’ve paid off. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (representing District 7, the wealthiest in Seattle and also Magnolia – see above) presided over Monday’s meeting. She and the council’s other resident conservatives listened with rapt attention as representatives and CEO’s from such small mom-and-pop businesses as Vulcan, Safeway, the Downtown Seattle Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and more gave the traditional anti-tax talking points. “All the companies will move to Bellevue!”, “This will actually hurt the workers!”, “Our profit margins can’t take any more!”. Of course, all these arguments were trotted out during the fight for $15 and we somehow remain in the most unprecedented economic boom in Seattle’s history.

After the capitalists’ stale dog-and-pony show, housing and homelessness advocates had the audacity to make themselves heard. After chanting “Ho ho! Hey hey! Amazon has got to pay!” – relatively standard operations in a City Hall hearing on important legislation that could materially benefit thousands currently suffering – Sally Bagshaw demanded the council chambers be emptied and cut off the feed to the overflow room and the Seattle Channel. Let’s be clear: this is both an absurd abuse of power, and a purposeful disenfranchisement of the collective voice of the people. In talking to Councilmember Kshama Sawant while this was happening we learned there was “no precedent” for this. “She wants us to come back in five or ten people at a time which is absolutely ridiculous. We should all stand together and either stay outside or all be let in together,” Sawant told us. In a display fitting to the absurdity of our times, Bagshaw then continued “public” comment to an empty council chamber, as the ejected public formed an impromptu protest outside the council chambers chanting “LET US IN”.

After about ten minutes of demands from public commenters and chants from outside, Bagshaw caved. Unsurprisingly, the business community was nowhere to be seen after this commotion – they don’t seem to have any problem getting the Council to listen to them. Housing and homelessness advocates who were readmitted to the committee hearing unanimously supported the $75 million “Bosses Tax,” with most calling for the full $150 million or even $210 million. A terrific number to us working folks, even the largest proposal would be a drop in the bucket compared to the $789 million windfall that Amazon received from Trump’s new tax plan. Even Amazon employees showed up to demand that their employer be made to pay its fair share.

Like one year ago, when activist pressure forced the City Council to begin considering the since-passed income tax on Seattle’s highest-earners, the takeaway from Monday’s hearing was clear: it’s time to tax the rich. In this case, it’s the richest companies instead of the richest individuals. Just like last year, we need to keep the pressure up and make sure that the business community, Sally Bagshaw, and the rest of the overseers of the conservative status quo can’t water-down or reject this tax. We must continue to demand deeply affordable, public housing paid for with the taxes of the ultra-wealthy, and even $150 million is an absolute compromise. Jeff Bezos currently makes $230,000 a minute. As $150 million is the number that the city determined we need to effectively tackle this crisis, Bezos could single-handedly solve our crisis with the amount of money he makes in roughly 11 hours (meanwhile, 11 hours at Seattle’s minimum wage is barely enough to pay for a month’s ORCA card). Let’s keep that in mind as CEO’s gripe about profit margins and our unhoused continue to die unsheltered on the gilded streets of Seattle.

Quick Amazon Update

Still horrible. Amazon has been named one of the “Dirty Dozen” employers when it comes to worker safety. Seven workers killed at Amazon warehouses since 2013 – including three workers within five weeks at three separate locations in 2017. The majority died from wounds related to being crushed, which underscores the danger at Amazon warehouses brought on by the large freight and insane demands for speed.

Also making the “Dirty Dozen” cut, Tesla. What is it with billionaires like Bezos and Musk and an utter lack of concern for human life?

Bonus tidbit, Amazon raises rent a lot:

… but we all knew that.

Sweeps Week at City Hall

The day after the very eventful City Council hearing, a much smaller and less attended committee meeting was held in the same City Council chambers. At 2:00pm the “Human Service, Equitable Development, and Renters Rights” committee (or alternatively, out of order, RREDHS) convened. The committee is chaired by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Vice Chaired by CM Bruce Harrell and joined by member CM Debora Juarez. On the agenda was “A review of the sweep of the homeless encampment in the Ravenna Woods” that we covered for the Hellhole last week.

Joining the CM’s Sawant, Harrell and Juarez were Dae Shik Kim Hawkins Jr. of the Seattle Peoples Party, one of Seattle DSA’s own Co-Chairs Keaton Slansky, Tiffani McCoy of Real Change, Sasha Summer of Socialist Alternative and CM Sawant’s office, and Sean and Jordan who are residents of the Ravenna Woods encampment that was so brutally swept.

After hearing heart-wrenching accounts from the sweep ranging from a “Navigation Team” officer pouring a bottle of urine into a residents backpack destroying his laptop and belongings to the “Nav Team” hand-destroying Sean’s shelter that he had built and rebuilt many times since the 5 sweeps in the area.

In predictable fashion, CM’s Juarez and Harrell were relatively uninterested in the plights of these unhoused individuals. Juarez took to relentlessly questioning Sean and Jordan on the legitimacy of the pretense used by the Navigation Team to sweep the encampment, which they systematically disclaimed. Harrell spent most of the meeting on his phone, asking clarifying questions that had already been answered, and then took it upon himself to talk about his upbringing in Seattle and how he “could tell [them] some stories”. CM Sawant even tried to nail Harrell on voting to stop the sweeps after Sean and Jordan detailed how brutal they are, but he refused. Maybe they were so reluctant because Sean and Jordan aren’t their constituents, however (District 4 CM) Rob Johnson was nowhere to be seen on this committee or at the council hearing the night before.

We encourage everyone to watch the video of this committee meeting to see both the heart-wrenching stories of the residents, and the blasé attitude with which our City Councilmembers deal with these concerns. However much the City Council may deliberate, we at Seattle DSA know the sweeps are morally wrong and brutally inhumane. Housing is a human right, and we won’t rest until that ideal is realized.

Next Tuesday, May 1, join your Hellhole comrades among Seattle DSA’s contingent at the 19th Annual May Day March for Immigrant and Worker Rights! No sign? No problem, come to our North End or South End craft socials & prep parties tomorrow to make one! You can also check out a recent dispatch on Why May Day Still Matters.

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Hellhole is written by members of the Seattle DSA communications team. Unless expressly stated, Dispatches do not necessarily reflect the views of Seattle DSA as an organization or its leadership.