The Port of Olympia Uses Prison Labor

Yesterday I got a message from a friend who lives out in Tumwater out by the airport. They told me that a couple days ago an employee of the Port of Olympia came to their door with a courtesy notice that they’d be clearing brush in a field that the Port owns behind their house. My friend noticed them out their window yesterday morning and something odd struck them about it. The workers were wearing bright jumpsuits. They went out to get a closer look and sure enough, the jumpsuits were emblazoned with DOC – short for Department of Corrections – these were prison laborers.

My friend, being braver than I would have been, actually approached the guard and chatted him up. The guard told them that the prisoners were from Cedar Creek Correctional Facility and that they “work with the Port of Olympia all the time.” Meaning the Port of Olympia, as a standard practice, contracts for prison labor.

If you know nothing about prison labor today, let me tell you clearly that it is the remains of slavery in modern society. As plantations were disbanded, work camps were instituted throughout the south and new laws were created to make it easier to incarcerate black people and force them to work off their crimes, sometimes sentenced for decades for modest infractions. Modern day private prisons have a direct lineage to these early chattel-slavery work camps. This isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s not hyperbole, it’s plain fact.

I spoke with Commissioner EJ Zita on the phone and she seemed very concerned, and very much in the dark about this business practice of our port. I then emailed her, which she sent a long to Executive Director Ed Galligan and Airport Director Rudy Rudolph. It’s been about 24 hours since then and I’ve heard no response yet.

We’re in the middle of a campaign season that could change our port dramatically. 2 out of 3 seats are up for grabs. That means we can take the majority and make some real changes and that can include banning this practice. I hope that people will make this a campaign issue, and speak up about it at Port of Olympia Commission meetings. I also hope our cities will consider passing ordinances banning private prison labor from being used within their city limits. I’m sending an email to them right now, I hope you will too.

Read this Seattle Times article if you want to learn more about the shady private prison labor program in Washington State – the fourth largest in the US, raking in $70 million in product sales alone while still costing you and me $20 million a year in tax money.

Transgender Protections in Olympia NOW

It’s always a difficult thing to think of the right response when a friend is hurting or scared. It’s another thing when the actions of our government cause it. Our federal government feels like an ocean that we can’t fight lest we risk drowning.

But here in Olympia, we CAN do something.

Do our municipal codes explicitly protect trans folks from discrimination?
Do they explicitly require Public Accommodations?

According to Human Rights Watch, Olympia doesn’t have those protections explicitly including trans people in our ordinances.

Can our response to Trump be to protect OUR people?

Write your city council members an email asking them to act on this. Reach them at – a draft of a message is below.

Dear Council Members,

Once again, the Trump administration has targeted Olympians. Proud members of our community who serve in the military are facing a ban from that service, which they perform out of love of country and community, willing to give their lives in defense of our right to the pursuit of happiness.

In the past, we’ve stood up as a community, and you as council members have stood with us, to offer sanctuary and be a safe place for immigrants, Muslims, and other groups targeted by this administration. It’s another one of those moments in time where we will be judged by our response.You can do this by drafting an update to our anti-discrimination ordinance so that it explicitly covers trans people, and by creating public accommodations requirements explicitly written into our city codes.

We can do the right thing in Olympia by drafting an update to our anti-discrimination ordinance so that it explicitly covers trans people, and by creating public accommodations requirements for trans people, explicitly written into our city codes.



A Little Bit about Privilege

Things We as White People Take for Granted Expose People of Color to Terror
I can’t get it out of my head so of course, I’ll put it down here for you…
Yesterday I was talking to a black woman I know. Her son is getting his driver’s license. He’s older than most kids who get theirs for the first time because he’s been afraid to drive. Because he knows he’ll get pulled over. Because he sees what happens to people who look like him.
Close your eyes and think back to when you got your driver’s license for the first time. What do you feel? Freedom? Excitement? Accomplishment? Is that a warm, fuzzy memory?
Now imagine you’re scared to drive. You’re not scared because your parents bought you a stick shift and you’re nervous about it, or because you get freaked out on the freeway. You’re scared because driving opens up another avenue to your death. Nearly every day you see people who look like you killed for driving. Not driving leaves that avenue closed, exposes you to less risk.  This is, in the definitive sense, terror. You can’t, if you’re white like me, really even begin to imagine the feeling, so don’t try too hard here today.
Just ask yourself where you are right now after reading this. Have you ever thought about the difference in how you approach something versus how a person of color does, or why?
Tell this story to a white friend and talk about ways we can start to dismantle this. Don’t stay in the abstract, only talking about systems of oppression. Don’t point the finger at anyone but yourself, YOU (and ME) perpetuate this if we’re not constantly working against it. What are some things you can do, today or this week or month, or every day, in the community or among your peers to start to chip away at the blinders we wear, and the complicity we share?
We live in a society where a young man who is well down the road to becoming a doctor is scared to get a driver’s license because he knows it exposes him to violence. 

Independence Day

“Today is a national holiday commemorating July 4, when American colonies declared their independence from England in 1776. While many in the U.S. hang flags, attend parades and watch fireworks, Independence Day is not a cause of celebration for everyone.

For Native Americans, it is a bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought disease, genocide and the destruction of their culture and way of life.

For African Americans, Independence Day did not extend to them. While white colonists were declaring their freedom from the crown, that liberation was not shared with millions of Africans who were captured, beaten, separated from their families and forced into slavery thousands of miles from home.” – Amy Goodman, Democracy Now

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.

The Resistance According to Elizabeth

On February 4th, Elizabeth Warren gave a speech that could go down as a defining oratory here at the outset of our resistance to the Trump Regime. Inspiring words from the Senator from Massachusetts.

I’m going to cut to the chase: We’re gathered today in Baltimore during a moment of crisis – for us as progressives, for us as Democrats, for us as Americans.

We’re in a moment of crisis, and I want to talk honestly about it. Let’s start with a simple fact: Our moment of crisis didn’t begin with the election of Donald Trump.

We were already in crisis.

We were already in crisis because for years and years and years, Washington has worked just great for the rich and the powerful, but far too often, it hasn’t worked for anyone else.

We were already in a moment of crisis because for years and years and years, the economy has worked just great for those who have already made it, but far too often, it hasn’t worked for anyone else.

We were already in a moment of crisis because for years and years and years, we’ve been living in a nation where opportunity is quietly disappearing. A country that is giving fewer and fewer kids a real chance to succeed.

We all know that this country was never perfect. That systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, and bigotry meant opportunities weren’t spread equally. But over the past generation, we made a shift – a shift from a country bending in the right direction to one where the door to a better life – to a middle class life – has been getting further out of reach with every passing year.

For a long time, I have shouted from every rooftop I could find about how the middle class was on the ropes. How it was evaporating. How if we weren’t careful, it could be like the Arctic ice – melting every year, until it’s gone completely, never to return. And make no mistake, as the middle class melts, the opportunities for the poor shrink to the vanishing point.
People don’t just wake up one day and elect leaders like Donald Trump because hey, “everything is awesome, but what the hell, let’s roll the dice and make life interesting.”


People don’t elect leaders who break all the rules – who violate all the norms ― when things are going pretty well.

They don’t elect leaders who campaign for office by attacking communities of color, or religious groups, or immigrants, or women when things are just swell.


Men like Donald Trump come to power when their countries are already in deep trouble. When the economies of their countries are deeply flawed. When people in those countries start to lose hope for a better future and start looking for someone to blame. And men like Donald Trump rise when those with money – and power – get a little worried about their own privileges and decide to help out one of their own who promises to look out for them.

In November, America elected Donald Trump.

Yes, the Russians helped.

Yes, the FBI director helped.

Yes, he lost the popular vote by three million.

But we cannot let ourselves off so easy. Not as progressives, not as Democrats. The excuses end now – right here in Baltimore. We hold ourselves accountable.

And we need to figure out what comes next.

There are some in the Democratic Party who urge caution. They say this is just a tactical problem. We need better data. We need better social media.

We need better outreach. We need better talking points.

Better talking points? Are you kidding me? People are so desperate for economic change in this country that Donald Trump was just inaugurated as President, and people think we just have a messaging problem? What planet are they living on?

This is bigger than talking points and tactics, and yes, even than Twitter.

This country is in an economic crisis. For more than 30 years, working families, middle class families, poor families, students, seniors have been squeezed harder and harder, and now they are at the breaking point.

Republican politicians have pushed one policy after another that has favored the rich and powerful over everyone else, and far too often, Democrats have gone right along. And no matter how extreme Republicans in Washington became, Democrats might grumble or whine, but when it came time for action, our party hesitated and pushed back only with great reluctance. Far too often, Democrats have been unwilling to get out there and fight.

That ends today. It’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and to get out there and fight.

It’s up to us—the progressives. We need to make very clear that we, as progressives, as Democrats, as Americans, stand for a BOLD, progressive agenda. Stand for REAL solutions to this crisis. Stand for changes that will make a difference in the lives of millions of people. We need to make clear we will fight.

What do we fight for?

We fight for basic dignity and respect for every human being—everybody counts. All people are entitled to be treated with respect.

We fight for economic opportunity – not for those at the top, but for everyone. We believe that every one of our children deserves a fighting chance to build a real future.

We are not the minority party. We are the opposition party, and we need to talk about the key difference between us and them every day—and we need to say it in the plainest possible way:

Donald Trump has stirred ugly racism, sexism, and hatred in this country, and the Republican politicians smiled and climbed right into bed with him. That stink will be on them for decades to come. The national party that embraced bigotry. To every person in America, we need to say loud and clear: You don’t like how women are treated? Or Latinos? Or Muslims? Or African Americans? Always remember that the bigotry stirred up by Donald Trump is perfectly ok with the Republicans in Washington. They will confirm his Attorney General, they will look the other way on religious bans, they will shuffle their feet over a Supreme Court nominee who thinks employers should decide what kind of birth control women get. Republicans are afraid to stand up for what is right. Afraid to stand up for basic American values.

Well they can nurse their fear. We are not afraid. Democrats are the party of all the people – every single one. We believe everybody counts and everybody gets a chance. Nobody – nobody – gets cast aside. That’s the difference between Republicans and Democrats in Washington.

And one more: Donald Trump and the Republicans in Washington are on the side of the rich and powerful, and they are using every tool of government to help them get richer and more powerful. To every person in America, we need to say loud and clear: You think Wall Street has too much power in Washington? You think giant corporations call too many shots in government? You think billionaires get all the breaks while your family has to watch every nickel? Always remember: the Republicans are not on your side. They’re rushing to unleash the big banks. They’re rushing to gut the consumer agency that has forced banks to give $12B back to customers they cheated. They just pushed a backroom deal for giveaways to big oil companies and another for giveaways to investment advisers who cheat seniors. They’re ramming through a cabinet of ethically challenged billionaires with long histories of grinding working people into the dirt. And the corporate CEOs and the Wall Street bankers and the lobbyists are so happy they are doing little money dances in the halls of Congress.

The so-called “leaders” of the Republican Party can keep their rich friends.

That’s on them. But what’s on us? We need to be the party of hardworking people – every single one. We need to be the party of every family and every small businesses and every person who hasn’t made it yet. We need to be the party of every person who believes we should all get a chance to build something for ourselves and our families.

We need to say what we believe in, then we need to fight for those beliefs.

The world has changed a lot over the past few months, and let’s be honest – there’s no hotline number we can call to learn how best to deal with rising right-wing extremism in this country. Like a lot of you, I’m still finding my way, finding my footing, day by day, step by step. We make mistakes. But with each passing day, we learn.

The lesson of history is that when faced with a danger like Donald Trump, opposition needs to grow. Opposition needs to be focused. Opposition needs to be bold. Most of all, opposition needs to be willing to fight.
Things are moving fast, and time is running out – for us to grasp what has happened, and for us to make clear ― in every way, from every mountaintop we can – that we will fight back.

A Muslim ban? We will fight back!

Ripping health care from millions of working people? We will fight back!

A Secretary of Education who doesn’t believe in public education? We will fight back!

Giveaways to giant banks so they can cheat people and blow up our economy again? We will fight back!

A budget director who wants to cut Medicare and Social Security? We will fight back!

A Supreme Court nominee who will take away women’s rights? We will fight back!

You bet we will fight back! And you better believe we’ll keep fighting for our progressive agenda.

Next week, many of us in this room return to Washington. Eyes will be on us. We do not control the government. Many times, our side won’t win.

But we have our voices.

And we will add our voices to the voices of millions of people in this country who are standing up to say that the character of this nation is not the character of its President.

No. In our democracy, We the People decide the character of this nation.

When we protest, when we make phone calls, when we carry signs and ask questions, when we make our voices heard – that is when we affirm our uniquely American character. We will resist every single effort to make America into a small and spiteful place. We will resist every injustice. We will resist every effort to divide us. We will resist every effort to disgrace our Constitution. We will resist every single step toward the takeover of our government by billionaires, bankers and bigots.

This is not the moment we asked for, but it is the moment we have been called to. This is our test.

The hour to fight is upon us – and we are ready. We will fight back, side by side. We will fight back.