Yesterday I drove to the Tacoma Convention Center to witness the founding convention of Sound Alliance and watch my friend Revel speak to a crowd of nearly 2,000 on behalf of Real Change. We were one of 80 organizations there to support the launch of this very necessary cross-class, cross-issue organization that builds power for the bottom eighty percent.
While we're not members yet, Real Change is definitely in the courtship phase. A number of us have been to their trainings. We have adapted their relationship-focused organizing style as a means of creating real solidarity across class. We helped their housing committee frame the broad goals for Sound Alliance's housing agenda. It was inspiring to see nearly 2,000 people letting Governor Gregoire and House Speaker Frank Chopp know that people are organizing and expect accountability.
Without pressure for the broad, structural change we all need, homeless people will get little more than a shit sandwich with extra mayo, which is pretty much how I'm visualizing the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness these days. We need these people, and they need us.
My brain took the day off today and I didn't think to bring a camera. It's too bad. Seeing Revel make the case for housing, reflected on the huge screens to either side of the stage, made me very proud to be her friend. Maybe I'll find a photo later. For now, I'll just put up this postcard of Emma Goldman speaking in New York's Union Square in 1916, because it was kind of like that but with a better sound system. Revel's speech is below.
Hi. I'm Revel Smith with the Real Change Organizing Project. I live in very low income housing in Seattle and I've been disabled with Multiple Sclerosis for 10 years. This disease slowly erodes the nerves in my brain and spine. Without warning I experience symptoms such as blindness, vertigo, the inability to walk, the inability to speak, and memory loss. But I can pray with sincere thanks that, for me, treatment successfully slows THIS train down.
But there is something worse, something much bigger which we ALL have to face. Lose your job, experience a change in income, get sick, have a family that is less than supportive, find yourself caretaking for a loved-one . . . any one of these life-changing events can occur overnight. Then what do you do to get an affordable, safe healthy home for yourself, much less your family? How do you find this kind of shelter in the Northwest when you become vulnerable?
I used to have a good career in healthcare, and participated in my community. When my ability to work was compromised, the first thing to go was housing. When I looked for help, my impressive resume and strong sense of responsibility meant nothing. It would be a long wait.
So a friend’s family let me live in the unfinished basement of the fixer-upper home they'd just bought. I attempted work again and became eligible for a tax-based apartment for "working poor." I was *that* place for 6 months when I finally became too sick to work at all. I used-up my last month's rent and left. I had run out of options. So I moved to a room in a bonafide slum and applied everywhere I could for help. Finally, in 2002, I got a HUD apartment through a housing organization in Seattle. I was "in". Those were the days.
I've never lived in a healthy or safe apartment situation. Federal and Local funds are unavailable to maintain buildings that exist. Section 8 is closed again ( I was one of thousands rejected when the housing lottery reached capacity– another 2 to3 year wait). Safe secure housing is something I dream about. I don't know when I'll get it, but I can't wait.
We call this particular barrier to survival a "housing crisis". It's a human catastrophe. In the Northwest it's unconscionable. It dehumanizes the least and poorest of us. The middle class is being destroyed as affordable apartments in this major city are turned into high-rent condos. Billion dollar highrises eclipse people trying to survive on the streets outside. It’s up to a 3 year wait now, just to get a modest place you can consistently sleep eat bathe and live in.
Survival is a right. Housing is a right. It's time to unite with others who understand the nature of poverty and how to cope while actively working to improve this broken system. I joined the Real Change Organizing Project because they "get it." We are all peers it this grave situation, no matter what our background or class. With tears in my eyes I realize, it’s through allies like Real Change and Sound Alliance that we will find solutions and thrive.