Goodbye to our 2017 Fellowship Class

Goodbye to our 2017 Fellowship Class <3

For the past ten-weeks, all 15 Fellows poured their energy into leading some of the most important campaigns in our area: De-Escalate Washington I-940, Decline to Sign I-1552, Washington Voting Justice, and banning conversion therapy in Renton.

Combined, the Fellows obtained over 3,000 signatures and registered dozens of new voters. This translated into over 3,000 individual conversations around LGBTQIA+ advocacy, voting access, and police accountability.

For those who have ever lead campaigns, you know first hand the difficulties of creating field plans, pulling turf, lobbying elected officials, and canvassing. These tasks were no exceptions for this Fellowship class. Through extreme canvassing temperatures, difficult conversations around oppression, and yes even rejection out on the field, the Fellows continued to be intentional and committed to their campaigns. Nothing wavered them. They went out into the field every week engaging young people and pushing forth progressive policies.

This last Sunday was the final day for the 8th Washington Bus Fellowship Class. It was a bittersweet moment. What started with 15 Fellows sitting around our conference table in the office, nervously making small talk ended with a deep commitment to each other, an understanding of collective healing, and passion for building people-led power. I know they will go back to their schools, workplaces, and communities to continue to put into practice what they learned this summer.

I have said this before, and I will say it again, with these Fellows out in our communities we are going to be ok. The social equity change we want to see will happen. Follow the work they will be doing in their communities.

Read statements from the Fellows below to get a glimpse at their experience this summer.

-Cinthia Illan-Vazquez, Fellowship Organizer

And a word from the incredible staff who led our summer Fellowship program…

Sa(you)want Rent Control?

Sa(you)want Rent Control?

Last week, nearly a thousand people gathered in Town Hall to witness the debate on rent control. The atmosphere was tense and the crowds were restless, highlighting how pressing the issue of housing affordability in Seattle has become.

Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata led the argument in favor of rent control. Both Sawant and Licata described the severe burden that the increasing rent prices are placing on low-income households, and called for the need to limit these large price hikes through the rent control policy.

“The housing market is broken, and needs to be fixed,” Licata stated, “Without rent control, there is no answer to these skyrocketing rents.”

State Rep. Matt Manweller and Roger Valdez, a developer lobbyist, painted a far more negative side of rent control. They explored rent control in cities such as San Francisco and New York, linking the policy with the rise of dilapidated housing and the lack of housing growth in these areas. For them, the problem is centered on the widening disparity between supply and demand, and rent control does not address this.

“Rent control does not work,” Valdez asserted, “Build more housing – it’s that simple.”

However, addressing housing affordable is never that simple. Housing affordability has been a growing problem in Seattle since the late-1970s, and is only getting worse. Even so, history and experts are not on the side of rent control.

The debate was held in a very crowded Town Hall on July 20th, 2015.

In a rare consensus, nearly 93 percent of economists agree that rent control creates more problems than it solves. Nevertheless, Sawant and Licata are convinced that it can work.

“At end of the day, we can recite all facts, but this is about vision,” Sawant concluded, “if you want Seattle to be a vibrant, dynamic, and culturally diverse city, then we will need policies like rent control.”

Each city is unique, and it is impossible to predict whether such a policy would work. However, if any city could break the pattern, my bet is on Seattle.

This blog post was written by Allen, a rising senior at Duke University and the Bus’ 2015 DukeEngage Intern.

Youth Homelessness Training @ New Horizons

Youth Homelessness Training @ New Horizons

On the night of July 1st, I attended Ropes, a homeless youth training program run by New Horizons’ staff, Joseph Seia and Tristan Herman.

The training was both intensive and interactive. At first, we were asked to name the various causes and characteristics (both stereotypes and realities) associated with youth homelessness. Then, we were taught to analyze ways in which volunteers can appropriately support these populations to minimize power differentials and transactional relationships. We participated in a role playing exercise, in which we were given identification cards of respective homeless youths, and asked to achieve a set of goals (i.e. SSI, transitional housing, a bed for the night, medical care, etc.) from service organizations played by other training attendees.

I played the character of 25 year-old Sage, an African-American transgendered female, who had recently escaped the confines of an abusive relationship, and had no financial backing. In our role play, Sage was denied SSI from DHHS because her illiteracy prevented her from filling out the right forms, denied transitional housing because of her anxiety during her housing interview, and was sent to jail for not being able to pay two tickets for jaywalking (is that even a real crime?).

Throughout the exercise, the police did little to help Sage and the other youth—rather, they were stifling.  Right before the exercise was over, Sage received a change card, detailing a hate crime incident that left her in the hospital. She could not afford to pay the $1200 medical bill, and she was sent to jail. Again.

The exercise was difficult for everyone involved—service organizers were torn between wanting to do what was humane (denying no one) versus what they were told to do (stick to bureaucratic routines, rules, etc.). The exercise helped me to realize how readily the homeless are dehumanized or victimized by not only the public, but by government and law enforcement officials as well. Playing the role of Sage was especially difficult given her gender identity—in almost every scenario, she had a significantly harder time achieving her goals than did cisgender youths participating in the same exercise.

Joseph stated, “How you receive [trans youths] at the door [of any organization] will determine whether or not they continue to come back,” highlighting the importance of LGBTQ education in his work. As hate crimes increase on the streets, the world becomes infinitely more cruel towards LGBTQ homeless youth. Violence aside, Joseph and Tristan explained how internalized oppression is one of the most lasting and dangerous effects of youth homelessness. Tristan argued that one of the biggest obstacles New Horizons faces is “young folks’ really low self-worth… this unshakable sense of inferiority.” Internalized oppression drastically increases drug and alcohol abuse on the streets, as well, making it even harder to reach out for support.

This training was super helpful (thanks Joseph and Tristan!) and informative. I’d strongly recommend attending—you won’t be the same person when you leave.

This blog post was written by Natalie, a Public Policy major at Duke University and the Bus’ 2015 DukeEngage Intern.

How Much are You Willing to Pay?

How Much are You Willing to Pay?

What is college notorious for? We’re not talking crazy parties and stressful finals. We’re talking about something near and dear to everyone’s hearts: tuition costs.

Many students go into college thinking that a bachelors degree will give them access to better paying jobs. Education is also a way for everyone to get access to opportunities which will put them at a level playing field with others. But tuition costs are causing college students mo problems than they signed up for.

Tuition costs are at the highest that they’ve ever been and the amount students need to pay for higher education doesn’t seem to be going down anytime soon. Public universities and colleges are seeing the most dramatic rise in tuition.  Most costs from increasing need for research funding and salaries for staff.

Unfortunately routine budget shortfalls since the beginning of the Great Recession (especially in the state of Washington) have dramatically increased the portion of higher education that students themselves are paying. Where the state used to fund 80 percent (yes, you read that right, eighty!) it is now below 30 percent.

As tuition continues to rise students are beginning to more seriously weigh the costs and benefits of higher education. However, by 2020, around 70% of jobs in Washington will need some kind of post secondary education.

With rising tuition costs dealing with student debt is going to become more difficult for people. What do you think? As a young person, how are you dealing with your student debt?

Hope For The New American Electorate

Hope For The New American Electorate

It’s always bizarre to see the political phenomenon you learn about in class manifest outside in the field. This weekend I got an up close and heartbreaking look into why politics work how they work.

This weekend the YVEC campaign took to Broadway street in the lovely city of Tacoma in a valiant effort to get all of its eligible residents registered to vote. Walking around Tacoma pride, I myself was encouraged to see droves of queer brown youth, out and proud. What would happen if all these beautiful people were registered and excited to vote, I thought? What kind of world would we live in then!

The afternoon went on and although the sun seemed to follow us more closely, voter registrations were piling up at our booth. Yet my excitement and energy to register members of the new American electorate: young people, queer identified people, people of color, low income residents and young single women, began to dwindle. Time after time again I ran into Black folk, queer identified folk, youth folk and any combination of them, who did not believe their vote would count.

One particular incident with a black man gave me a glimpse of how severely these communities were impacted by years of under representation in politics. I asked him if he was registered to vote, and he told me he was not. Disheartened, I moved on but he called me back and continued on to explain why he did not think Black people even had a place to vote when they had years and years of oppression they had yet to overcome. I tried to tell him what we were doing at the Bus and how we thought we could change that, but he was not the first or second or even the third individual of color I tried to engage who expressed that sentiment. I decided to put down my clipboard, sit down and hear what he had to say.

At the end, he did not register, but I got his name, thanked him for his time, and we agreed to disagree. During the entire 15 minute conversation I watched as one of my fellow fellows registered 2-3 enthusiastic older white voters and wondered if I had wasted my time. Later, during a debrief conversation with Karter (our field leader and Fellows Staff member), he told me that although many individuals do feel disillusioned with voting, sometimes it’s not about convincing them to register. Sometimes it’s about taking the time to listen and understand why they feel the way they do.
Although this interaction got me to think significantly about what work is actually possible in changing the dynamics in politics, I did leave Tacoma with hope. Earlier on that day, I managed to register a voter, a young black man who Karter had spent a while trying to register. I knew he only registered with me because he was trying to flirt with me but still. The fact that he was more comfortable registering with a young black girl rather than (no shade) Karter, says we got something right about who should be out here doing this work. If we see people like us encouraging us to do something, it might not erase years of disillusionment – but, sometimes, that might be just the trick. And we have to keep trying until all the young queer black folk are registering all the other young queer black folk. Until then, no ask has gone to waste.

This blog post was written by Gladys Gitau, 2014 Bus Fellow and Campaign Manager for the Youth Voter Engagement Campaign (YVEC), a campaign aimed to engage the new American electorate by registering young voters as well as underrepresented voters.

Historic Vote on $15 Minimum Wage

Historic Vote on $15 Minimum Wage

The plight of low wage workers has been put on the shelf for far too long and Seattle’s push towards better pay has been an important step forward in recognizing the problems these workers face. On June 2nd, 2014 the Seattle City Council approved the $15 minimum wage. This vote serves as a milestone decision and gives hope to many low wage workers in other cities around the United States where income inequality is hindering their daily lives and driving them to poverty.

What does it mean now that Seattle has approve the 15 dollar minimum wage?

Currently, low wage workers in the United States struggle to pay bills and provide for their families because they don’t make enough money to account for those costs. Some people believe an increased minimum wage will be good for Seattle’s economy  and will lift thousands out of poverty. However, others worry that it puts a lot of stress on small business owners and reduces the number of jobs because higher wages would force employers to try and compensate for labor costs.

SO…what is Seattle doing to address these concerns?

Seattle is the first major city to take such swift action in addressing the issue of income inequality. Still, the city is taking  the aforementioned concerns into account by implementing an incremental plan. Starting April 1st, 2014 the minimum wage will increase to either $10 or $11 depending on the employer. City council members have worked hard to reach a compromise which they feel “recognizes the harm caused by stagnant wages and the harm to local businesses should [they] move forward too quickly.”

The hope is that the increased minimum wage will give low wage workers some room to breathe. Although there will continue to be conflicting views and many challenges , there is no denying that the organizational efforts of those who were part of the increased minimum wage movement were successful. Their victory will serve as an example for many cities and states across the country. San Francisco is already following in the footsteps of Seattle. Last week, San Francisco’s mayor proposed a measure that, if approved by voters in the fall, would increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 by 2018.

This blog post was written by our summer Bus Intern Amulya Cherala.

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