Friday, October 26, 2007

How to Play to Win

I made this full page Real Change poster back in 2006, when we were fighting the Downtown for All campaign along with SAGE to get downtown condo developers to pony up a $20 per square foot surcharge for affordable housing for floors that exceeded Seattle's previous height limit. The developers and the Mayor had reached a back room agreement of $10 per square foot that they fully expected to be obediently ratified. It wasn't. We fought the downtown interests and won, and the higher surcharge is expected to raise about $14 million for housing.

We helped build the grassroots support that would take a minority idea favored by Tom Rassmussen, Peter Steinbrueck, and Nick Licata to final approval by the entire Council.

What made this happen?

We worked our relationships. Real Change partnered with SAGE to strategize and bring in other allies, but we also brought in Real Change vendors and their relationships with readers to help build pressure. Many other allies came into motion. At the hearings it was the will and the interests of the people versus the self-interest of the developers, and we were heard.

We made it interesting. We took what had been a sleepy technical issue that was poorly understood by most, and made it about equality and basic fairness. Would the downtown be just for the wealthy, or would it be a Downtown for All?

We did our research. Peter Steinbrueck got the city to commission a neutral third party to produce an expert opinion on whether development at the higher surcharge was still sufficiently profitable. Downtown interests tried their best to delegitimate the report, but they never got traction. One turning point was when Columbia Tower developer and Seattle legend Marty Selig testified that if developers could not pay the $20 surcharge and still make a profit, "they shouldn't be in the business."

We polarized. We made t-shirts that said "Developers Stole My Downtown and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt." We made an issue of the Mayor's clear allegiances. We held a well-attended "Zoned Out" forum on downtown issues and put our council members on the spot. We beat up on weaker kneed allies who were more willing to compromise than we were and got them to back off. We took what had been a sleepy technical issue and made it a moral crusade.

We called their bluff. The downtown establishment kicked and screamed all the way to the final vote, but their dire prognostications of the flight of investor capital to the wilds of Bellevue failed to materialize. What's more, the more they threatened, the less support they seemed to have on the Council, and the more attractive siding with the democratic will of the people became.

As we continue to work on issues of housing affordability, wage equity, and civil rights, we need to remember our successes, and that the downtown interests don't always prevail. People power can trump money and clout, if you're smart about your organizing and play to win.


"Uta" Urban said...

"People power can trump money and clout, if you're smart about your organizing and play to win," says it all. I'm constantly frustrated by the naivete of activist Seattle. You are not naive - I doubt you ever were. Thank you for recounting that victory.

former real change friend said...

yes, that was a great victory.

given that sage is a program of the church council (and michael ramos of the council was sage's director at the time of this campaign) i wonder how the cc feels about the nasty way you've treated them in this blog lately?or are you dumping them now that this campaign's over? I'd be pretty ticked off with you if I were them. hopefully they're indeed christians and will forgive and forget.

Tim Harris said...

Our "former friend" assumes many things that aren't true. For the record:

A.) Real Change's relationship with SAGE is is fine working order, and they had a table at our event.

B.) Ditto our relationship with the Interfaith Taskforce on Homelessness, also a project of the Church Council. Little Known fact: David Bloom organized the beginnings of the IFTF while on the Real Change payroll as our "Faith Organizer."

C.) The fact that I have criticized the United to End Homelessness November events as a shallow, depoliticized approach to a structural problem that plays into the hands of federal co-optation of the issue of homelessness doesn't mean that I have no respect for the Church Council or the other many fine programs that they support.

D.) The fact that I have chosen not to play by the rules that Sandy Brown defines doesn't mean that I don't think he's a good guy who does a lot of important work. I disagree with where the Church Council has aligned on this issue as an institutional player. That doesn't mean that I hate them, or that they should hate me.

People need to grow up.

former real change friend said...

in other words, it's ok to treat your friends like crap.

Trevor said...

I know this is a little off topic, and probably not super mature of me, but the poster's depiction of Nickels the monster made me think of it.

Probably the harshest dig at Nickels I've read was when Dan Savage described him as having "gained so much weight he looks like Ariel Sharon dipped in goose fat and shaved coconut."

Tim Harris said...

Why is it that the petulant and wounded (and generally anonymous) posters never have a thing to say about the political issues raised?

former real change friend said...

a related question: why does every one of your political positions come with a personal attack?

Tim Harris said...

A.) They don't.

B.) Politics isn't abstract, People and institutions stand behind positions.

C.) People in this town have raised hiding their political positions behind the veil of relationships to an art form.

D.) People who answer questions with questions are ducking the issue.

former real change friend said...

you're wrong if you think you can successfully advocate without respecting personal relationships. i'm guessing that's why united way's table was empty at your breakfast.

Tim Harris said...

United Way remains a valued friend, a community sponsor of our event, and an ally where our interests meet. And all of our tables were full, including the two we set aside for overflow. Taking strong stands attracts support. People respect that.

And in case you haven't noticed, you're illustrating my point.

former real change friend said...

spin spin spin

Anonymous said...

Hey, FRCF:

You style also reminds me of another Seattle tactic: duck the issue, and make inflammatory remarks, so as to anger your target, allowing you to later discredit them as hot headed and irrational.

Such a tactic is way more toxic then anything you've attempted to illustrate; the issues are avoided.