Photo by Kristin Leong.

 

Note: This article was originally published on KUOW.org, the Puget Sound region’s #1 radio station for news.

Earlier this year I joined KUOW’s Curiosity Club, described as a supper club for inquisitive humans. The experience has brought me face-to-face with members of my community and given the opportunity to talk with local reporters who cover many Northwest issues, including politics. The experience has been quite unique being the contrarian at the table…

 

 

12 years ago, I moved to Seattle from the South partly to escape sexism and homophobia. I have instead been met with a different kind of phobia — fear of diversity of ideas. So, when I heard about the KUOW Curiosity Club, I wanted to be a part of it. I saw this experiment as an opportunity to work through differences, hear other viewpoints, and maybe, just maybe, change someone’s mind.

Our society is currently in crisis. We have lost our curiosity and replaced it with dogma. We do not listen, but instead, shout down. We see this example at the extreme on college campuses across the nation. Rather than allowing for spirited debate, many student protesters have decided to block entrances, shout down speakers, or even push administrators to just disinvite speakers with dissenting views altogether.

Unfortunately, I have seen this amplified in Seattle. I have experienced many Seattleites, from co-workers to friends, completely shut down a conversation because they disagreed with my viewpoint. From something as serious as homelessness, to benign as FDA labeling requirements, it seems no topic is safe from offending.

KUOW Curiosity Club feels different. At our first dinner, I noticed a difference between my approach to the stories and the approach of most of my fellow dinner party guests almost immediately.

Many in the Club first focused on the human impact of the issues raised by our “homework” assignments.

How does drug use affect the drug user?

What does it feel like to be the homeless person who feels forced to sleep in the park?

My approach, on the other hand, is often to immediately to jump to larger systemic questions and focus on finding solutions.

What measures do we need to take to stop drug addiction and clean our streets?

How do we solve these issues in the most efficient way possible?

I sometimes forget that humans are involved in the process. Our Curiosity Club dinner conversations have been a good reminder that we all approach problems differently.

As the contrarian in the room (well, the contrarian in Seattle), I appreciate the structure of Curiosity Club.

At our dinners, I can see others’ first reactions to my words. A pause. Even a cringe. But then, they keep listening. Their expression changes from judgment, then to curiosity and sometimes even a light bulb goes off. It means the world to me to be heard, if just for the sake of not being shouted down. At that moment, I imagine what it is like to be a progressive in a primarily conservative community and how their voice is not heard.

There was one moment at our second dinner that I found especially exhilarating. We were discussing ‘Heroin Saved My Life’: Shilo Murphy Stands Up For Drug Users.

This interview brought up many concerns for me. Shilo Murphy runs a needle exchange in the University District that provides clean meth and crack pipes and needles for heroin. This organization is directly responsible for thousands of needles being thrown on our streets and in our parks and playgrounds.

In a recent interview, a member of Shilo’s organization openly stated that they have a policy of giving a single individual hundreds of needles without the need to exchange dirty ones. That is a public health hazard.

If Murphy were a private citizen who wanted to tell his story, I would be all ears. I would appreciate his willingness to be open and provide a lens into a world I do not often see or understand.

However, that is not the case. Murphy’s work influences public policy and public funding. With this power, there must be accountability. Just like we would expect journalists to respectfully drill Durkan, Inslee and Bezos, we should expect the same level of media accountability for NGOs that receive public funding. I didn’t feel that the interview was hard enough on Murphy.

After I brought up these concerns, another Club member spoke up to disagree with my perspective. She shared that a family member had died due to his struggle with drug addiction and she urged us to remember that there are real people at the heart of all these policy debates.

She pointed out that people’s lives can be saved with access to clean needles and she emphasized that people struggling with addiction need compassion, not judgment or harsher laws criminalizing their behavior.

Was my perspective impacted? Absolutely.

Was my mind changed? No. However, I understand how such a traumatic and life-altering experience in one’s life could forever influence how that person views a public policy. When you suffer such tragedy, you never want another person to share your fate. It is everyone’s responsibility to listen and understand. Otherwise, no sensible policy change will ever be embraced by the community.

Although we disagreed, I related to this Club member at that moment because I understand how challenging it is to have honest conversations about issues when we’re emotionally attached to them.

I had a similar reaction during our first Curiosity Club dinner when we were discussing When A 14-Year-Old Chooses To Die Because Of Religion, Can Anyone Stop Him? This story is about a teenager who died after refusing a blood transfusion because of his Jehovah Witness faith.

Thinking back, I wish more people had challenged me that night. As soon as I opened this story, I felt a rush of blood through my body. I was immediately angry. I felt that because I was also raised as a Jehovah Witness that I should be heard.

After thinking about our dinner conversation that first night, I realized that my personal experience should in no way influence a judge’s decision about what is the right age of consent to end one’s life. I realized that my perspective is not rational, it’s emotional. Emotions are not the way to shape laws and policies.

If I could sum up my experience, I would say that Curiosity Club helped me to bridge seemingly opposite parts of who I am: a data-driven policy wonk fixated on results, and a human being who has lived the consequences of decisions crafted by lawmakers who are completely distant from the judgments they make every day.

What if there were Curiosity Clubs all throughout the country? What if we all sat down at a table to first hear each other and then work to find solutions? What would our society look like? How could we find solutions? That’s a tall order, but I am happy to be a part of the first step by being part of this experiment with KUOW.

KUOW Debate

Last month I took the stage with the Salon.com TV Critic, Melanie McFarland, in an Oxford-style debate to affirm the proposition: Politics is ruining our culture. To argue against was GeekGirlCon Cofounder, Jennifer K. Stuller, and Professor & historian, Dr. Daudi. Which side do you take? Could you be swayed? Take a listen to hear both sides of the debate.

 

 

 

Childish-Gambino-this-is-america

I had the pleasure of joining host Bill Radke and professor in acting and directing and head of performance at the University of Washington School of Drama, Valerie Curtis-Newton, on KUOW’s The Record. We discussed many of the topics you might be thinking about this Monday, including:

Is Amazon and Jeff Bezos doing enough to help Seattle?

Why have 25,000,000 people already watched Childish Gambino’s This is America, and what does it mean?

How do we separate the art from the artist?

Listen to the discussion now.

 

Recently the Seattle-based digital news publication, The Evergrey, asked a very important question: We may know what each of candidates’ political platforms is, but what will they be as leaders? I worked in human resources for a decade. I understand how critical this is, yet I never questioned why we don’t do this in society. Why we don’t demand that debates include questions that urge candidates to reflect on their past work experience and share what they learned. How they failed and succeeded.

The opportunity to actually ask our mayoral candidates themselves these types of questions thrilled me. The Evergrey’s Leadership Lab was the opportunity. Along with a few other engaged members of the community, I sat down to 45-minute interviews with Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon. Again, our job was to steer them away from policy and push for information about how they lead. You can get the details on these two interviews, plus interviews with our four city council candidates at The Evergrey.

In this election, it’s sometimes difficult to make out the differences between two candidates. All of them are pushing for more taxes, bigger city government and no real solution to homelessness and housing affordability. For someone who believes in a fiscally conservative approach to our city’s problems, you may just want to skip voting altogether this election. But learning the leadership skills of each candidate has made me believe there will be a profound difference in how each of them tries to tackle their policies, and how people with our viewpoints will fair. Here are a few takeaways from each conversation.

Cary Moon

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Photo Credit: The Evergrey

 

I left my interview with Cary feeling like I understand her as a human being more, rather than just a politician with a specific platform. Hearing how Cary has approached her leadership roles in the past helps me to better predict what kind of mayor she would be. I think it would very different from what we’ve experienced in Seattle. There was such a huge emphasis on the systemic racism of Seattle, yet no specific evidence or data to support her claims. A leader wants data. A leader needs evidence to drive decisions and changes. I did not get much from Cary. There was another point in the conversation where Cary went on to discuss the time where she took over the family business at a factory in Michigan. The cultural differences were stark between Cary and the employees. Cary told us there was a point where someone referred to her as a “career girl.” After that, she made some changes and then everything was great. That’s it? Where were the pain points? Where did you clash? How did you decide what changes would benefit both the employees and company culture the most, and why? The details were skipped. The data was not shared. That worries me. Cary says she wants to be bold and pursue big ideas. Big ideas are great, but that’s after the boring, tedious, details are sorted out first.

Jenny Durkan

Jenny_durkan_panel
Photo Credit: The Evergrey

Our conversation with Jenny Durkan was an interesting contrast. Speaking of data, I really appreciated one reflection on Seattle’s Decent Decree. As the U.S. Attorney who helped create it, Durkan has faced a lot of criticism for not taking the decree far enough. Her reasoning? She didn’t have the data to support it. Upon reflection, she would have looked for more creative ways to get it. I appreciate this approach. Leaders cannot just make changes based on gut feelings. There should be evidence-based strategies. Learning about Durkan’s work for LGTBQ rights in Washington state also left a strong impression on me. She is resilient. She understands how to work within the system and collaborate with people who have different viewpoints (Washington Republicans who did not support LGBTQ rights at the time) to make positive change. And, willing to come out of the closet while working as an attorney in the 90’s shows she can lead the way for others. Of course, I can’t forget that Durkan supports our city income tax, more housing vouchers and other policies that will give Seattle another fiscal hit. If elected, I hope she will reflect on her leadership in the past and use data, systems and ALL people to help drive her policy.

White Supremacy is back in the news thanks to a man who walked around Seattle wearing a Swastika armband, and the man who decided to punch him in the face.

The repetitiveness of these events is a point of frustration. Extremists will continue to use these incidents to embolden their small groups to continue to disrupt and derail the conversations we should be having in our country.

Let’s start with Charlottesville. Most media has estimated that 200-250 white nationalists protested on the first night. According to NYTimes’ The Daily podcast, that was after an organized GLOBAL recruitment of protestors. That’s right, they reached out to all the white nationalists on planet earth and were able to scrounge up about 200-250 pathetic men. But then, what did the media do? Act like this was news. Like it was important. Like we should care. Do you actually think the KKK ever stopped protesting? Do you think this type of behavior is on the rise because of Trump? Perhaps. But I have a feeling it’s probably because we as a society have decided to make something out of it and act like a couple of children with tiki torches is the greatest threat to America. The next day, as we all know, much violence ensued, the President made cringe-worthy statements and all of the sudden we had to act like white supremacy is a thing again. They’re getting all of this attention thanks in part to the media and so-called Social Justice Warriors.

Now, let’s take Mr. Swastika (that’s what I’m calling him). He was obviously doing this for attention. Obviously trying to get a rise out of people. And as usual, the opposition took the bait. Someone punched him in the face. Not only did someone punch him in the face, but the internet went on to celebrate this act of violence. Now the bad guy is the victim. And yes, the media has an obligation to hear his side of the story if they want to fairly cover the story. It’s a sad state of affairs that we have set ourselves up to give a platform to a Nazi. But now it boils down to a man suffering an act of violence simply for exercising his first amendment right. Thank you to the idiot who punched him.
Let’s be real- this is not about Nazis. This is not about the KKK. It’s not about white supremacy. It’s about Trump, and hatred for anyone who supports him. Why do I feel this way? Because there are symbols of fascist violence all over America that many people who oppose these Nazis not only condone but to some degree, celebrate. We all know about Fremont’s Lenin statue. Seattleites are in no hurry to see it come down but are furious about confederate statues on the opposite side of the country. In the very moment Colin Kaepernick calls America a police state, he wears the face of Fidel Castro, a man who slaughtered tens of thousands of his own people. Jay-Z, an outspoken supporter of #BlackLivesMatter, wears Che Guevera, who was responsible for many deaths, and, ironically, was racist against blacks.
This isn’t about shutting down “symbols of violence.” It’s about winning at politics. And until we can get past this, we will continue to overlook the reall issues that face our society.

The events at Charlottesville has conjured stronger emotions than I have seen in a very long time. But once again, I am a cautious skeptic to the urgency for outrage over this entire event.

My social media feed has been full of my fellow Seattleites in utter outrage over White Nationalists marching. And, as usual, it’s much easier to sit on Facebook and point fingers at others rather than reflecting one’s own community.

The reason for organizing the march was to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate General during the American Civil War. I think the topic of removing statues and other symbols of hate and violence from our history is a complicated one. One that I am not going to touch in this post. I will, however, discuss the consistent problem of our society today: we readily throw stones from our glass house.

As all of Seattle is outraged over the protests in Charlottesville, enough outrage to form a march against hate this past Sunday, with three more planned this upcoming week. And yet, to my surprise, not one march has been organized to protest the statue of Vladimir Lenin that has been erect in Fremont for more than 20 years. Lenin was responsible for the brutal execution of thousands of his own people and as many as 1.5 million Russians died in connection to the violence and oppression in The Soviet Union during his rule. Even more, Lenin was soulless. A Letter archived at the Library of Congress exemplifies this in a letter Lenin wrote to the Penza Communists:

 

Comrades! The revolt by the five kulak volost’s must be suppressed without mercy. The interest of the entire revolution demands this, because we have now before us our final decisive battle “with the kulaks.”

We need to set an example.

1) You need to hang (hang without fail, so that the public
sees) at least 100 notorious kulaks, the rich, and the
bloodsuckers.
2) Publish their names.
3) Take away all of their grain.
4) Execute the hostages – in accordance with yesterday’s
telegram.

This needs to be accomplished in such a way, that people for
hundreds of miles around will see, tremble, know and scream out: let’s choke and strangle those blood-sucking kulaks.

Telegraph us acknowledging receipt and execution of this.

Yours, Lenin

P.S. Use your toughest people for this.

There’s no doubt about it. Lenin was the definition of evil. And yet, as we cry foul over the statue of a much more complicated character in history, this genocidal murderer stays up in our city without threat. Seattle, it’s time we start looking in the mirror before pointing blame at others.

The ballots have been counted, and although they will not be certified until August 15, it appears our two candidates for Seattle mayor will be Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon. Yes, there has been talk about a recount, but I’m going to put my money on these two.

With Nikkita Oliver being narrowly defeated in third place, it’s time to queue the victims. In an almost laughable turn of events, some voters who support Oliver (endorsed by the “People’s Party”) want Moon to step down so Oliver can be on the ballot. Let me say this again… The People’s Party! Doesn’t the fact that the people spoke and the people chose Durkin and Moon mean anything? Doesn’t the fact the people of color, low-income, LGBTQ, etc. had an opportunity to vote and they chose these two candidates over Oliver? How would this act be just? How would it reflect our nation’s principle of the democratic process?

I am most concerned about this proposal when I reflect on the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. People were beaten, jailed and even killed fighting for the right to vote, for their equal voice in elections. Sam Keller, a West Seattle resident and supporter of Oliver wrote in an open letter published on The Stranger, “A mayoral race between you [Moon] and Durkan will be two wealthy white women deciding what working-poor people of color really need. How will that end gentrification? How will that produce racial diversity? How can people of color, renters, people who are homeless, people who are underemployed, and/or people who have less than $400 in their savings account—like the average American—see themselves in this race? We can’t.” Keller distills all this down to lazy identity politics. She fails to focus on the fact the both Durkan and Moon are women. That Durkan is a lesbian. No, Oliver has more minority points, so only she can support other minorities. Keller also brushes over both Durkan and Moon’s strong resumes. Perhaps that’s why voters leaned more towards their candidacies. But most importantly, she forgets the foundation of our country is democracy, driven by the voice of the voters.

All the people asking Moon to step down are missing a fundamental point. Voter turnout was less than 34%. I am sure the 66% who sat out this election included many “people of color, renters, people who are homeless, people who are underemployed, and/or people who have less than $400 in their savings account.” Why aren’t we asking why they didn’t take action to get Oliver the votes she needed? Washington state makes it easier to vote than most. We mail our ballots, so no need to get the day off of work. You don’t even need to buy that stamp. There are voting centers to help those who need assistance filling out their ballots. There are even organizations who help homeless residents exercise their right to vote. We are living in a society that more and more expects to receive without action. Expects the government to fix its problems without contribution. Expects the candidate you want to be elected without even casting a vote. It is time we change our perspective.

 Which woman? That’s yet to be determined. After sifting through a whopping 21 mayoral candidates during primary season, the voters have spoken. As King County Elections is still counting ballots we know that the top three of the 21 candidates are women. As of Tuesday afternoon, this is how things are sizing up:

  • Jenny Durkan at 31.6%
  • Cary Moon at 15.56%
  • Nikkita Oliver at 13.9%

This is quite extraordinary considering Seattle’s first and only female mayor was elected in 1926, 16 years after Washington State’s Women’s Suffrage was enacted and just 6 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment

As of late, Seattle has been a city that strongly upholds diversity of many sorts in elected officials. A city of less than 10% African Americans elected Norman B. Rice for two terms. Our current Mayor, Ed Murray, is openly gay. Seattle’s congressional district 7 is represented by Indian American Pramila Jayapal. Our City Council is a beacon of diversity, made up of more women than men, Asian American, Indian American and Hispanic representatives.

When it comes to race, gender, and ethnic diversity, we set the standard. However, I want to see the same level of diversity extend to policy. Our top three candidates’ political stances are almost indistinguishable from one another, and that’s troubling. Voters need to have more choices when it comes to our city’s leaders. Just like a successful company intentionally allows for healthy levels of friction and discourse, we need different approaches to how the city will be run. No matter who is elected our next mayor, I hope she brings different viewpoints to City Hall. Hire experienced individuals who will both challenge her and represent all the constituents of Seattle. We need to bring more balance to the mayor’s office. Durkin, Moon or Oliver will have an opportunity to deliver on that.  

“Resistance” is the word of conviction in Seattle lately. The election of Donald Trump has sent some into a frenzy, taking every action possible to show their outrage and disapproval of his administration. Most recently, the Seattle City Council got on board to “Trump-Proof Seattle” with the passing of an income tax on the wealthiest citizens in the city. The goal of said tax was to be prepared if Trump pulls federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities, and chip away at the city’s “regressive tax system.” We’re yet to see if the funding will actually be used for either. 

But let’s face it. This is all a distraction. A way to pander to louder constituents while making grand gestures without any real impact. The question remains if this time-consuming act does anything to help Seattle’s urgent issues. As an aspirational stoic, I am reminded of a passage from one of the most famous Stoics, Marcus Aurelius.

 

“Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.”  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

 

The best answer to an administration you disagree with is simple: do your job. Be a good person. Act with self-control and contribute to your community. Aurelius reminds us in his timeless prose, if we all stay focused doing our work, and doing what is right, there will be no need to “resist.” 

Before Trump was ever elected president, Seattle had a growing homelessness issue. Before Trump took office, our chronic traffic congestion was only getting worse. Way before Trump was even the Republican nominee, housing affordability was a hot topic in Seattle. None of that has changed. There is still much work to be done, regardless of who is in the White House. With the exception of the ill-executed Travel Ban, nothing from the White House has really had a direct impact on our city. And if we were to use the travel ban as an example, it was the fact federal judges did their job that the Trump Administration is taking this case all the way to SCOTUS

You may be tired of the childish tweets. You may be concerned about what’s happening with Russia. You might be worried about the overall incompetence. It can be tempting to be “outraged” and to make bold gestures, but none of that will help Seattle. The best thing you can do is your small part. Take care of your family. Work hard and with integrity. Volunteer in your community. Stay informed on local politics. Do your job.