Draining The Swamp, Thurston County Style

Thurston County commissioners oust director of public defense

Thurston County to hire public defense director this summer

If you’re not following this story you should be, and here’s a quick-quick recap:

Daryl Rodrigues was the Director of Public Defense for Thurston County. Then we had an election last year and a couple Trump acolytes got elected. They immediately started “draining the swamp” and that meant firing people as if our county government was The Apprentice. Daryl is a spectacular individual who worked for tribes and as a mental health professional BEFORE he attended law school. He took that spirit of service into his work and championed alternative courts such as those for drugs, mental health, and veterans in order to prevent the cycle of people through the system and ultimately onto our streets with no way to get a leg up. This obviously wasn’t the approach our Cowboy Commissioners wanted to take to criminal justice in Thurston County… being of the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” ilk.

What’s the point?

The point is we should be paying close attention to who they hire. Be ready to head to the meetings, give testimony, and break out the torches and pitchforks if they hire someone with any less commitment to restorative justice. We don’t need privatization and more cells, we need jail diversion programs. We don’t need tougher laws, we need programs that break the cycle of incarceration.

I hope you’ll join me in urging our County Commissioners to do the right thing.

Philando Castile: What Part Do You Play and What Are You Doing about It?

First, watch this video. Warning: he says some swear words.

Now, take a minute to think about the following questions, keeping yourself, your experiences, and your actions in the center. Don’t think about how “they” are, think about how YOU are.

  • Where do you see yourself in his words?
  • What work will you do to change it?

The part of it that resonated with me the most when I watched it the first time was about how we’re taught to fear black people. Now, my experience was of growing up in a mostly black neighborhood, and for most of my life, if you told me I was afraid of black people, or prejudiced, I’d laugh it off at best, if not get defensive and pissy. I can see now, and think back to times in my youth (or even today still) where that manifests itself and I perpetuate that fear of the black male. It’s not a conscious thing and when I feel it rise I check myself and think it through, trying to harness it so I can wash it out.

What work will I do? I think the internal work, calling myself out anytime I feel blink reaction swelling up, is a big part of it. I think if more people did that internal work we could make some progress. Externally I try to be there to hold space for POC when I’m asked – and stay away when I’m not invited. I try to increase awareness in my fellow whites by creating or sharing provocative content that hopefully gets people thinking, and, more importantly, try to have these kinds of conversations in person with my friends and loved ones.

I never feel like I do enough – because I don’t. There’s an intersection here with my white male ego. It thinks I should be able to fix it. It doesn’t like feeling powerless. It wants to be a hero and swoop in and save the day. It doesn’t want to admit that this is bigger than me.

It is though. It’s systemic, pervasive, ingrained. I cringe when I hear people say, “Nobody’s born racist.,” because while that’s a nice sentiment if from the moment you’re born you’re told that a jolly fat man comes down the chimney once a year you believe it’s true until you don’t anymore. You stop believing it when your intellectualism starts to set in – that is, when you develop the ability to separate emotion from rationality. You think, “It’s not physically possible for one person to do all that, and then what about the flying reindeer…”

But for some reason as a culture white people are not able to exercise intellect around race. The idea that all, or most, black men are dangerous criminals is just as ridiculous as the Santa story, yet we allow ourselves to continue believing or accepting the excuses we’re given. Tamir Rice was a little boy playing with a toy in a park. Philando Castile was a beloved public school employee riding in a car with his family. Charleena Lyles was a pregnant single mom who called the police because she needed their help. All of three of them were killed for being black. There’s no other explanation. Not when we see white people resisting arrest, punching cops, brandishing knives at them, or murdering multiple people of color in a church and then get arrested peacefully and taken out for burgers.

White people, we have to say the words out loud in public: They were killed because they were black. That’s a known-known. Say it over and over to everyone whenever it comes up. We have to accept that that’s the way our society is. We can’t live in denial anymore. We have to get to work on it. No more excuses. No more “I’m not racist because I blah blah blah…” If you don’t talk about it in rational terms and accept your own complicity, then yes you VERY are racist.

I hope that you’ll answer the above questions for yourself. Journal about it. Talk about it with your partner or a friend. Start to deconstruct this for yourselves and then turn the corner and start doing the work of dismantling it on a larger scale. That can take many forms and I’m sure there are people right here in this community who will join you in the work.

A Conscious Choice

I wanted to share an exchange I had on a racial dialog group I am active in. I referred to the societal programming of white people to believe they’re white and that it makes them better than others. An astute moderator called me out and said basically that I shouldn’t give a pass to people by using language that removes the conscious choices people make. Saying people are “programmed” absolves them of complicity by making their decision not to resist the status quo a passive one as opposed to something they’re actively doing. I love this group because of the direct way moderators call people out on things like this. We need more of that, or we need more white people willing to hear call outs and not get defensive.

My framework for the “awakening” process for white people has been rooted in the Man Box concept, as I learned it from Tony Porter via his anti-sexism work. To apply it here… all white people are born in the White Box. For generations, nobody even knew there was a box there. Over time, some folks started being aware of the box, then opening the lid, poking their heads out, now some folks are finally starting to try to climb out (I don’t think anybody is out, and I’m not sure it’s even possible right now given the way our society is structured).

So I guess this means to me that there are some (most?) white people who are still oblivious that the box is even there. And then various stages of denial, guilt, shame, ignorance, awareness, acceptance, resistance, etc. So ignorance isn’t an excuse but it is a real condition and, like in AA you have to admit there’s a problem. I’ve always called it programming because that assumes that one can be reprogrammed. You admit that society has taught you a way of being and start working to unlearn and relearn a better way.

What does this bring up for you? What has your racial awakening process looked like? Where are you now versus how you were taught as a kid? Did the things you were taught perpetuate racism? Were you taught that everyone is equal and now feel like that did as much damage as being taught to be actively racist?

Your “Moral Victory” Is an Extension of Your Privilege

Jon Ossoff was supposed to be the savior of us all. His campaign was the first major shot across the bow in the Trump Resistance and a first strike toward steering Congress back to the left and away from the forces of evil. He was hand-picked (from out of district), well groomed, and well-funded (a $30million loss). They turned him into the best moderate Republican candidate money can buy. And they lost, not by much but an L is an L.

Then I started to see columns and talking heads claiming a moral victory in the race. They had gained ground in a district where Rs usually win by 20%… They gained ground…etc.

Whatever. That’s a lot of excuses.

Ultimately, when we’re talking about elections where things like human rights, women’s right to choose what they do with their bodies, and black lives are on the line, there’s no carving out a victory. It’s a loss for the people who will suffer under leaders who think they’re less than.

People of color can’t entertain a fantasy where this was somehow a progress for them. They’ve been told a lie about progress and change since slavery ended, and Philando Castile’s murderer was set free a couple days ago.Justice doesn’t exist on a spectrum

Justice is one of the few things in this universe that doesn’t exist on a spectrum. We are just society or we aren’t. We win or we lose. We live or we die. There’s no moral victory to be had when our society lacks morality. When moderate whites are arguing amongst themselves on the internet about a legislative race in Louisiana instead of lighting the torches and storming the castle for Philando and Charleena

When moderate whites are arguing amongst themselves on the internet about a legislative race in Georgia instead of lighting the torches and storming the castle for Philando and Charleena there can be no claim of morality. You’ve got work to do.

 

The Break Is Over

Hey, friends.

You probably didn’t notice – (well Jemmy did, but the rest of you probably didn’t – that I have been utterly silent for the last couple months on the blog here.

It’s been a busy time, AND, I just haven’t felt motivated or particularly inspired to write about anything. The muse comes and goes, I suppose.

Well thanks to Jemmy’s reminder that I’m a writer, I’m writing this. And hopefully, more to come in the future. I have a new vision for the work I want to be doing in the community. There’s a framework for it in my head and I want to share it with you. There’s also a lot going on currently with local campaigns that I want you to know about.

So I might post more often and if I post too much, you should let me know. You should also let me know if there’s anything I SHOULD be talking about that I’m not or anything you want my opinion about, please let me know. Your feedback is important to me and will only inspire and inform my work and my writing. I hope this can be a conversation, not a monolog.

Also, if you need something to put a smile on your face in these times just walk by the Olympia Family Theater across from City Hall on the mornings when the little kids are all dressed up and playing in the lobby. That’s a scene of carefree bliss that I NEED more of these days to combat the dismal veneer over us since November.

 

Cheers!

Democracy, Olympia Style

Inspired by the John Oliver’s segment on Gerrymandering…

I got to thinking some more about changes I’d like to see here in Olympia.

I first broached this topic in my grandiosely titled piece, A New Way Forward for Olympia, where I got a bit too far into the weeds. I want to fix that by going back up to the 10,000-foot level and providing a simpler layout of my plan.

What I’m talking about is a city charter. To get there we have to either convince our sitting council to put it on the ballot or gather the requisite signatures from voters via citizen initiative. After the charter vote, we have to have a freeholder election. 15 freeholders would need to be elected at-large who would then write the new charter for the city.

“But what do you want to DO, Rob?!”

Glad you asked. There are four things I want the charter to address and will urge freeholders to adopt:

  1. Districts
  2. Elected Executive
  3. Oversight Committees
  4. A Path Straight to the Ballot for Citizen Initiatives

First, let’s establish some grounds for discussion: 1. None of these things can happen overnight and will require phases; in some cases spanning years. 2. There are a lot of details and legalities to be sorted out and let’s not argue over specifics, but instead, find common ground and consensus on a set of goals like the ones I’m proposing here. 3. All of this is very possible, and I’m not proposing anything that has not been done before.

Ok, let’s get into it.

Districts – Quite simply put, our history of electing councilmembers has skewed dramatically toward the SE quadrant of our city. In juxtaposition, the SW quadrant, which contains the highest poverty rates in the entire county, have not been represented at least as long as I’ve been paying attention. We need better direct representation of ALL our neighborhoods.

I propose we split the city into 5 segments based on Emmett O’Connell’s map.

We would need to ensure that our districts can’t be gerrymandered so some kind of check would need to be baked into the charter that prevented a simple vote of the council from drawing new lines. An update to the map would need to require public approval of some sort.

Elected Executive – Right now the way our city operates, one person controls the entire city and its operations. The City Manager is not elected by the people but hired by the city council, which sets goals and priorities and passes ordinances and resolutions. The City Manager is not beholden to the Open Meetings Act and is free to “advocate” for issues behind closed doors without any public disclosure. Changing to a Strong Mayor System would remedy this and bring some sunlight into City Hall.

Oversight Committees – In my previous piece on this topic I laid out the “advisory boards and committees” that I would want in place and the structure I’d like them to take. I want to update that by changing the thrust from “advisory” to “oversight”. This isn’t just a semantic change, I would give each committee actual oversight powers. If you have a grievance, you can take it to the committee and they’ll review it. The process for that is something we can build out later but I think it’s very important that people know where to take their issue. Council, as we know it today, doesn’t have the time or capacity to take on this role which means a lot of people feel unheard.

A Path Straight to the Ballot for Citizen Initiatives – This one is pretty simple. If the people get together and gather signatures to put something on the ballot, then it goes on the ballot. Last year we saw council attempt to block an initiative that met all the requirements to go on the ballot. They argued against the merits of the initiative, and whether it would hold up in court. Well, I don’t think that’s appropriate and I think it’s undemocratic. Right now the initiative process is the only direct way the people of Olympia can influence city government. So, if the people meet the requirements of the initiative process then it shouldn’t pass through council first, it should just go on the ballot. Then we vote and if the initiative passes it’s City Hall’s job to bring it into compliance and put it back up for a vote.

I’ll reiterate that there are a lot of details to be sorted, but if freeholders can agree on these four goals then I think we’ll make some great headway and steer the ship of local government towards participation, transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness.

If you actually read this far, THANK YOU. Share it with someone you think would appreciate it!

Obamacare v. Trumpcare

A few big differences:

ObamaCare expanded Medicaid to cover 11 million people who weren’t covered before. TrumpCare gets rid of that expansion. So right off the bat millions of people will lose their coverage.

ObamaCare contained an individual mandate. TrumpCare removes it but allows insurance companies to charge you a 30% penalty for lapses in coverage. This seems totally nefarious. They’re not getting rid of the mandate at all, they’re shifting enforcement to corporations. All those penalties that would have gone into public coffers will now go to the insurance companies.

ObamaCare required large employers to provide affordable insurance to their employees. TrumpCare eliminates the employer mandate. Pretty straightforward, millions more will lose coverage.

ObamaCare distributed subsidies based on income. TrumpCare distributes subsidies by age. Age-based distribution is arbitrary and won’t help people who need it the most.

ObamaCare included tax credits for out-of-pocket expenses. TrumpCare eliminates those credits. Another big hit on low-income people who can’t afford those expenses.

ObamaCare capped the amount insurance companies can deduct from taxes for top level executives’ salaries. TrumpCare allows them to write off the entire amount of their executive’s salaries. The Obamacare cap was $500,000. This lifting of the cap incentivizes higher pay for corporate executives.

TrumpCare prevents Medicaid from funding Planned Parenthood, a potential $500 million loss of funding because they provide abortion services. Although ZERO federal funds go to abortion services, as mandated by the Hyde Amendment. The actual language states “abortion providers” but you don’t have to be a science rocket to know who they’re talking about. This is a direct assault on Planned Parenthood and a big reason we need to get active and fight Trumpcare.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING

COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

#VoteHimOut