One of the many people I’ve been privileged to know over the time I’ve done this work is Lisa Peattie, a retired MIT Urban Planning professor who, more than fifteen years ago, was my friend and Board President at Boston Jobs with Peace. Lisa is an avid student of social movements, and has written extensively on the subject of airport expansion protests. These usually involve massive land transfers that benefit a small group of elites at the expense on large numbers of those who are poor and low-income. In looking at the dynamic, broad-based and militant coalitions that these fights often engendered, she arrived at a brilliant insight.
While the technical details of land use certainly played a role in these protests, that’s not what made them work. Dweeby zoning talk doesn’t build movements. Technical details offer a hundred points of potential difference. By beginning with airport land-use protests, and then broadening to social movements in general, Lisa saw that all successful protest movements are grounded in what she called “the march up the moral hill of principle.” Organize from the universal principles that you feel in your gut. The details are relevant, but they’re not where one begins.
So when confronted with Mayor Nickels’ twenty or so pages of administrative rules and procedures that detail just how the City of Seattle will harass desperate people the fuck out of town, one thing was obvious: if we engage on the terrain that the City has created, they’ve already won. This fight in Seattle over homeless encampments isn’t about whether 48 hours is enough notice to destroy someone’s only belongings, or which belongings must be destroyed and which saved. This fight is about the criminalization of survival. It’s about elite interests waging class war on the most vulnerable people you can imagine, and then dressing that up to look like some sickly and perverse form of compassion.
Now that’s a fight worth having.
So when we kicked off our own speak-out an hour before the City’s public hearing, the intention was to steal the Mayor’s thunder and to re-frame the issue. We weren’t there to debate the details of a poor people’s holocaust. We were there to talk about morality, class, and our human responsibility to one another. As Rachael Myers prepped emcee David Bloom, she said, “We’ll begin with our moral triumvirate, and then move to an open mike.”
And so, here we are. The Moral Triumvirate. Sally Kinney of the Puget Sound Jewish Coalition on Homelessness, myself, and Reverend Rich “in whose church I have slept” Lang, talking about our “stewardship of each other’s right to live,” Seattle’s long, apocalyptic slide toward radical inequality, and calling out Mayor Greg Nickels as a modern day Pharaoh whose head is screwed so far up … well, you’ll have to watch.
Sally Kinney: An Inhumane and Immoral Policy
Timothy Harris: Waging the Fight of our Lives
Rich Lang: Taking on the Pharaoh