One of the most terrifying things happening in Seattle is the embrace of organizations that behave, frankly, like hate groups. Think Intentional Blight Seattle, Neighborhood Safety Alliance, or the king of them all, David Preston and Harley Lever’s Safe Seattle (who, along with NSA, have formed Unified Seattle). While some have managed to attempt a facade of caring, they all share a tendency to demand not to see poverty, by any means (except investing in human infrastructure) necessary.
Of course, some take it a step further. IBS and SS, and their affiliate Burien Voice, go the extra mile, harassing elected officials, press, legislative staff, and nonprofit organizations working on the front lines to decrease homelessness - these people have shown a truly vile method of engaging with the world around them. Lord knows I’m not saying I’m perfect, but with folks like Preston, his buddy Erik Justin Wise (of Eric Olson and Associates), and the rest of the Safe Seattle gang, I’m downright mild.
I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t labeling Safe Seattle as a “Hate Group” diminishing the term? To which I must respectfully disagree. While generally hate groups tend to focus on building animosity toward groups based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identify, and gender, Proud Boys use many of the same tactics to promote white supremacy that Safe Seattle does to promote an anti-poverty agenda (and not anti-poverty in the good way).
Take a look through their Facebook page, and you’ll see that time and again they target people living outdoors, and the people working to change that dynamic, pretending to offer a compassionate approach. But look closer, there is nothing rooted in science so much as rooted in a desire to do whatever it takes to rid their lives of seeing extreme poverty and its accompaniments.
You’ll also see a fair amount of sexism, and quite a bit of racism. (fun fact: all white people are racist, but to varying degrees, and how we respond to our own prejudices, I believe, dictates whether we are actively working to undo racism in our society).
So what do we do about this blight on our city? For one, don’t ignore it. While I don’t believe engaging with these groups is useful, pretending they don’t exist, or relegating them in your head as a fringe group, allows them to grow. As noted above, all white people are racist. But white people hate being called racist and, in my experience, hate acknowledging that they are (think “colorblind”). Groups like Safe Seattle, with their faux-compassion, appear to be “trying” to identify solutions, but the reality is: they’re not. This gives a “safe space” for people to promulgate ideas rooted in individual value-sets that assume all folks living in poverty come from the same places of privilege as the rest of us. By not challenging ourselves, we allow ourselves to avoid responsibility and accountability, and that translates into promoting terrible public policy.
For two, monitor with whom they are engaging. These groups have made clear that they intend to insert themselves into the 2019 City Council races, and some candidates, either desperate for votes or actually aligned with Safe Seattle’s values, are already aligning themselves with these groups. These candidates are not a friend of meaningful solutions.
For three, support your friends. Safe Seattle, Burien Voice, and IBS in particular are fond of a particular type of debauchery, not only diving head-first into personal attacks against people, but going that extra step, engaging in stalker-like behaviors. Following people in their workplace, taking pictures of folks living outdoors, harassing people trying to provide food and items for warmth to those sleeping in tents in the cold. These are truly nefarious actions by truly nefarious actors.
Finally - beyond electing folks who are data-driven solutions-focused, hold them accountable. Safe Seattle didn’t just appear. NSA didn’t just appear. They got here because politicians were unwilling to make hard choices to fund supportive housing, and address the growing homelessness crisis. We’re playing catch-up, and playing catch-up is expensive. The difference between meaningful solutions and SS approaches is life and death, however, so maybe less dithering, and more bold actions at all levels of government.
2019 can be a definitive year in Seattle politics. Not only rejecting the candidates whose values align with these hate groups, but giving them an electoral wallop, will be good for our city. We deserve better than this, and it will take strong wins from leaders that will approach homelessness, addiction, and housing affordability using data and facts to fully marginalize the clubs of hate. I have faith we can do it.