Last week, Mayor Ed Murray warned of an "initiative process that quite honestly I believe would end up in a mini-version of class warfare," if dueling minimum wage initiatives are on Seattle-area ballots this fall.
At a 15 Now conference held yesterday at Franklin High School, several hundred participants filled one side of the school gym and Murray's remark became the object of ridicule. The class war began long ago and intensified in recent decades with widening economic inequality, several speakers said (shorter version: capitalism is class war). And it's time us non-oligarchs started fighting back.
Rhetoric aside, the conference felt distinctly mild and banal. 15 Now's supporters calmly voted down, by overwhelming majorities, a series of amendments to its ballot measure that would have transformed it to more of a full-throated, socialist policy platform.
The votes proved that those who depict 15 Now supporters as fanatics allergic to compromise and pragmatism are wrong. 15 Now sounded like the opposite of Occupy—even as speakers, including Kshama Sawant, repeatedly paid homage to the movement. The group voted down amendments that would have:
A) stripped out the 3-year phase in of a wage increase for small businesses and nonprofits
B) narrowed the definition of small businesses
C) added language opposing deportations and prison labor
D) removed exemptions for unionized hotel workers, who said the robust healthcare plans they've negotiated could be threatened by the wage increase (the vote was 186 to 72)
The majorities were so overwhelming for the first three amendments that no count was necessary.
(This seemed to me like an only nominally democratic process. 15 Now's amendment has already been filed with the city clerk, so in effect, they were voting on whether to file a completely new amendment now, which would set them back a few weeks in the signature-gathering process. The prospect of that delay was used as a talking point by speakers against the amendments, which made it feel like the game was rigged against speakers on the other side, though they were given equal time. The moderator expressed a clear bias against the amendments, and the voting process of raised hands was cumbersome.)
Council member Kshama Sawant was a powerful voice for clarity, focus, and strategy. She said the best things you can say to a group of well-meaning, fired-up lefty activists, when arguing for the small business exemption: "We're not going to win this charter amendment with the people who are here. We need to build this movement. We're trying to win some of the people on our side who want the fear mongering addressed." In her closing speech, she told them, "You haven't done your job [organizing for 15 Now] if you're only talking to people you agree with."
At the same time, she pointed out that the city's Income Inequality Advisory Committee, made up of business owners and advocates like her, was never likely to arrive at a singular agreement of the kind sought by Mayor Murray—an agreement the mayor has said he wants backed by a "supermajority" of committee members. "We have a supermajority in Seattle," Sawant said, "70% of Seattle wants a strong $15."
She took OneSeattle's poll purportedly showing a dip in support and turned it around: "There's a little bit of red baiting there [in the poll question]," she said. "And yet, if 50% of Seattle agrees with it, I take that as a vote of confidence."
The committee's current proposal—which Anna revealed here—"is a Christmas list for big business," Sawant declared. It includes a 3-4 year phase-in for big business, "which means while the CEOs of Starbucks, McDonald's and so on are making an average of $9,000 an hour, they get another three or four years to keep those workers in poverty." She offered a reminder that those companies are represented on the committee by the Chamber of Commerce.
Given the inclusion of tip and healthcare credits, 5-7 year phase-ins for small businesses, and no built-in cost of living adjustments, "It's not a deal that works for us," she said. "It's a crappy deal." She said the committee never seriously considered her proposal, which mirrors 15 Now's.
In the end, the conference approved 15 Now's existing charter amendment, for which they need to gather a minimum of 30,000 signatures between May 24 and roughly mid-July. I imagine they won't have any trouble exceeding that figure. When an organizer asked who's up for gathering 100 signatures per week, a few dozen hands shot up.
Former Stranger writer David Goldstein, by the way, killed it with a rousing speech on how to get under the skin of your political enemies (Tim Eyman featured prominently) that had the crowd in stitches. Here he is, voting along with Sawant:
Waaaaait a second... is the firebrand socialist holding a Starbucks iced coffee in her right hand? Man, what a sell-out!