I don't want to write this. That I feel compelled (I mean, I always feel compelled) says something about the state of our city, and the state of opinion toward renters, immigrants, young people, and low-income families. But, here we are - Seattle, on the one hand, is on a path to a more inclusive government that is more responsive to all residents, and encourages greater participation - even from disaffected people - while on the other hand has folks actively fighting against this type of progress.
This is, of course, a tale of two issues that are separate, but still managed to be linked together. The first: a proposal to include a voter registration form in the packet that landlords provide new tenants. The goal: make it easier for people to keep their registration current, and provide that reminder during a stressful time (moving) to change your registration address. I'd go so far as to add this requirement to closing documents for home buying. Anything we can do to increase voter registration among eligible voters, and increase participation in our democracy, is a good thing. And we're talking about a single page of paper as part of a stack of documents that landlords have to give regarding landlord-tenant laws, mold, fire safety, etc.
As a Democrat, I wholeheartedly support utilizing all avenues possible to increase voter participation and lower barriers for voter access. Unlike some of my contemporaries, I would go so far as to allow voting for non-citizens in municipal and state elections, and lower the voting age to 16, while making it easier for felons to restore their voting rights. The decisions our elected officials make have an impact on all of our lives, and should be subject to scrutiny from all residents of our community.
But back on point - this proposal is pretty much small potatoes. The problem: Council Member Kshama Sawant proposed it. As I've stated before - I really like Kshama, and have enjoyed working with her on policies here and there. I'm annoyed by her constant attacks on my Party, but like the Republicans, Socialist Alternative exists to compete with Democrats. However, a good idea is a good idea. And this is a good idea. But because of the vitriol surrounding Kshama in Seattle, it is, unsurprisingly, being attacked as overly burdensome for landlords. The undercurrent of the responses: I don't like Kshama, so I don't like any idea she proposes.
Here's the funny thing - the responses I'm seeing go so far as to say that the State should track when people move, and mail them a voter registration form when they move (or include it with utility or city light transfers). As I am sure my friends understand, that would mean an increase in taxes (or decrease in services), or an increase in utility rates. All so landlords don't have to include a single sheet of paper in a packet that many just download from the city (so it would be included in that download).
I'm sorry, folks, but I'm not buying that argument. And I'm also just going to have to say "NOPE" to folks who want to lecture renters about "how easy" it is to figure it out. As noted above, renting in and of itself is stressful. And moving as a renter often is as a result of either (a) increases in rent, (b) changes in family dynamic (new baby, new spouse, new ex-spouse, death of spouse), or (c) changes in a job. There is the application process, the potential to be denied numerous times while paying $40 or more for the pleasure. Changing utilities, making sure the cable gets installed, finding your routes to work, moving stuff, unpacking stuff, etc. etc. So forgive me, but I don't think that it is too burdensome for a single sheet of paper to be included in the move-in packet - a sheet that will increase voter participation, and mean more folks have updated registrations.
And if your belief structure is such that you think that increasing voter access by inserting one sheet of paper into a move-in packet is overly burdensome for landlords...well, I'd check my values on voting rights and access for low-income folks and marginalized communities if I started down that path. All because I don't like the messenger.
Which brings me to topic 2. Take a look at this gem:
For those who are in the know - the City of Seattle has been proactively working to increase civic participation among groups that typically avoid city politics. One of the most earth-shaking examples was the citation of an age that skewed well above the median resident age in Seattle as reason to cut ties with the Community Councils. Now, whether a complete severance was the best policy is a question not being presented here.
Rather, it's what the city has also done: actively worked to increase participation in civic life through the Renters' Commission and the Community Involvement Commission. There has been the work to let young people be engaged in participatory budgeting, getting middle and high school kids more engaged in their communities. This is a win.
By attacking this, and insisting that city focus only on voters, we see the impacts of institutional discrimination. A brief list of people less likely to vote (for various reasons):
Communities of Color
But more often, it is homeowners, and older white people who vote with perfection. All while having the time and the resources to siphon more funding for their neighborhoods, continuing the lack of investment in redlined, marginalized communities. The assertion that the city should peg outreach based on voter participation is one of the most classist and racist - whether implicit or not - things I think I have ever seen. By changing the focus in this direction, we would simply see continued decimation of the black population in Seattle, and an extension of disproportionate spending cuts in areas that low-income residents live.
If we want people to participate who haven't even been on the sidelines for generations, that requires showing that government works for them. The idea that government should wait for people to show up before providing needed community benefits is ludicrous. When we as Democrats discuss the need to increase voter participation and lower barriers to ballot-box access, that must also be accompanied by advocating for programs that give people a reason to vote. And increased outreach to communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, and young people does just that.
Now, perhaps that is what's terrifying. Changing the power dynamic so that those with a voice represent a more diverse segment of the population - particularly when compared with what we have seen in the past. But I am excited to see the outcomes of greater participation from all ages and all communities.