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.



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.




Lisa Parshley for Olympia City Council, Pos 5

It’s local campaign season again and I’m jumping into it with a focus on winning progressive majorities on the Olympia City Council and the Olympia Port Commission. I’ll be Campaign Manager for a couple of candidates this year, and I wanted to tell you a little bit about one of them.

Lisa Parshley, a newcomer to local politics, is running for Olympia City Council, Position 5.

A little about Lisa… she is a doctor, a veterinary oncologist. She and her husband Tom own and operate the Olympia Veterinary Cancer Center. They have 50+ employees, pay everyone a minimum of $15, cover all medical and dental, and offer 3 weeks vacation every year. A consensus builder, she has held a couple of statewide leadership positions in veterinary industry groups, including helping one recover from financial turmoil, leading it through adversity among members and bringing divergent sides together, saving and strengthening the organization in the process. Lisa is running on a progressive platform with three main pillars:

Business For The Peopleour small businesses should be encouraged through opportunities, incentives, and by the example we set as a council to always consider the social, environmental, and economic interests of the community as a whole. A progressive business community can be the catalyst for social change and environmental protection; and it can lead the way toward a vibrant and robust local economy that inspires innovation and incubates great ideas.

Healthy Community/Healthy Environment –  For a city to be healthy it must embrace and protect all its people, without exception. This means ensuring diversity in our hiring practices and crafting policies that are inclusive both in outcome and in the language we use to write them. We also need to be decisive in our actions to meet the climate challenges ahead of us. By looking both “upstream and downstream” at the impact of our decisions, and by drawing upon the expertise right here in Olympia, we can act sooner rather than too late to address climate change.

Responsible Downtown – Downtown Olympia has always been about vibrancy and setting trends. Let’s harness that spirit to guide this great neighborhood through the period of growth it’s slated to experience over the next 15-20 years. As a regional hub, it bears the great responsibility of being the home, living room, playground, backyard, or job site of a half a million people from Grays Harbor to JBLM, and from Chehalis to Shelton. This also means we’ll continue to see folks who need our help, and it’s our responsibility to make sure no one is left behind, or falls through the cracks, especially if they’re suffering on our streets from untreated mental health or addiction issues.

I hope you’ll reach out to meet Lisa, I think if you do you’ll like her as much as I do. I should have website and donation systems set up this week and I’ll update everybody when I have it. Please donate! We’ll need volunteers to help with yard signs (nudgenudge Rob Alschwede), canvassing, house parties, and writing letters.

Thanks everybody, see you around the bend!

A Note to Olympia City Council Regarding Hate Speech

Text of an email I sent to council this morning. If you agree, please send them a note as well – citycouncil@ci.olympia.wa.us

Mayor Selby and Members of Council,

At the February 7th Olympia City Council meeting, during public comment, a citizen referred to people experiencing homelessness as cockroaches.
“Cockroaches” is a commonly used slur against this segment of our community. It strips people, who are suffering, of their humanity, and makes us think of them as a disgusting pest, to be stomped on. I’ve heard it used since I got started as a street outreach worker, about a dozen years ago.
This doesn’t represent my values, nor the values I’ve come to expect from Olympia, and I don’t believe it represents the values you hold, as a governing body, or as individuals.
I ask you to rebuke the use of this hateful term, and other such speech against this unprotected and marginalized group of people, and reaffirm the values you set in December in both the Charter for Compassion and Olympia Sanctuary City decisions.
I also ask that at future meetings, if hate speech is used against any group or person, that you immediately call it out, and remind the speaker of this community’s values.
I thank you for the work you do, the time you put in, and specifically for being innovative and taking the lead in our region on the issue of addressing poverty. Though we have a long way to go, the work is made easier by being inclusive, not exclusive.
Rob Richards