By Justin Ward
In a resounding victory for the Seattle Defund movement, the city council voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to override the mayor’s veto of the proposed 2020 budget re-balancing. If the veto had been sustained, the alternative so-called compromise bill would’ve all but eliminated the relatively small cuts to the SPD budget as well as funding for community-led public safety initiatives.
Three council bills were on the table. The first dealt with spending on COVID-19 relief. City Council was at odds with Mayor Jenny Durkan over how much to appropriate from reserves and the rainy day fund, with the council arguing that the city should dig deep to address the unprecedented health and social crisis.
The latter two were tied to the demands of the Seattle Defund movement. One called for modest decreases in the SPD budget, which would be achieved through a hiring freeze and slashing spending on specialty units, like the navigation team, mounted patrol, public affairs, etc. The 1 percent reduction fell about 49 percentage points short of the movement demand, but Durkan nevertheless tried to use the power of the veto to grind the total down further.
And the last bill appropriated $14 million to the general fund for capacity building and research to strengthen community led alternatives to policing. The compromise bill would have slashed those funds by $10 million.
District 4 council member Alex Pedersen and Debora Juarez, of District 5, voted not to override the COVID-19 veto, but the votes on the remaining bills were unanimous. The unity that the council showed came as a surprise to many Seattle Defund activists, who were expecting some members to backtrack on their stated commitments to cut the police budget in half.
District 7 Council member Andrew Lewis was widely considered the swing vote. Lewis, who came out in favor of the defund proposal, had recently been cagey about whether he would vote to override.
The big shocker of the day was Council member Pedersen. His attitude toward the movement has always been tepid and noncommittal. His “yes” vote on two out of three bills was unexpected. While Pedersen still expressed skepticism about the process moving too fast, he said he didn’t agree with “negotiation by veto,” implying this was as much about standing up to Mayor Durkan as it was about standing for Black lives.
In the end, mass politics carried the day, as Council member Kshama Sawant pointed out. It’s hard to imagine this outcome without the work of thousands of activists, who secured the votes needed to pass the budget and kept elected officials on track despite Mayor Durkan’s best efforts to browbeat them into submission.
From the Every Day March confronting officials at their homes to the people taking time out of their day to write emails, make calls and speak out council meetings—Seattleites are staying mobilized to hold politicians accountable and building the confidence needed to meet much larger challenges ahead.
Justin Ward is a member of Seattle DSA. You can read more of his work here.