Shaun Scott is a politically active millennial, who is, unsurprisingly, interested in how millennials participate in politics. The filmmaker-turned-organizer and writer is a New York City native who has lived in Seattle for 25 years. He worked as an organizer for Jon Grant’s city council campaign, is a member of Seattle Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and he currently writes for City Arts Magazine.
What’s your assessment of the political climate in Seattle?
While I was working with the Grant campaign, I wrote an op-ed in The Stranger called “Progressive is a meaningless word in Seattle.” If everyone is able to signal how much they care about vulnerable populations, then the standard has to rise. I’m disquieted and feel very confrontational that all you have to do is make these superficial changes and not do anything about what’s underlying the structure. It speaks to the failure of imagination we have in Seattle. Looking at it [as] a democratic socialist, I think we need voices in activism that are going to take us out of being self-congratulatory. It’s important to have the sense that we’re doing all that we can to make Seattle actually affordable for people who are below the median area income. So that they can come here and not just survive, but thrive. There’s an undercurrent of complacency so I have all the respect in the world for DSA and the Transit Riders Union, Real Change as well, that exists to push the conversation to a place that it probably wouldn’t go if not for them.
What are the main causes of homelessness in Seattle? What are the solutions?
I’ll go backwards and talk about solutions, then talk about some of the causes. I read a book called “The Color of Law” recently, and it’s about the history of racially exclusive zoning in American cities, and Seattle is cited in this book. For so many decades, the political climate in Seattle and the conversation about housing has been historically dominated by people who enjoy the orientation towards single family homes. The author comes to the conclusion, and I agree, that if you have the situation for as long as we had, housing decisions are made to enfranchise essentially racially exclusive areas. Ravenna, Greenwood, neighborhoods that were originally zoned in a racially-exclusive fashion. It’s a tremendous amount of distribution of wealth out of the hands of people of color and into the hands of people who are very privileged. To correct that, we have to have steps in the present that are as drastic as those made in the past. An example of this ... If you were to really have a housing mandate at the local level that was truly designed to make use of the city’s race and social justice toolkit, the city would buy [houses in the market] and redistribute them at 30 percent of the price to people of color. Land the city already owns, they would immediately fast track and make them zoned for dense housing. It has to be this radical and explicit, otherwise the same interests that historically kept people of color from being able to buy or even rent in Seattle are the same interests that are still active in the housing conversation today. So I think that’s the solution and it also gives us an idea of what the problem is. Going forward means acknowledging the mistakes the city’s made, and institutionally it’s hard to build the corrective spirit it would take to fix this.
Tell me about your book.
I wrote a book called “Millennials and the Moments That Made Us: Cultural History of the United States from 1982-Present.” It’s an extension of where I’ve been with politics over the last few years, and reflecting on this general condition that you have people who are around the age of 35, let’s say. You really haven’t known anything other than a climate where we look for market solutions to everything: housing, health care, even policing and the criminal justice system. In all of those areas, the failures of that approach are identified when you look at folks who already have the leverage to buy into a market-driven system. You’re going to exacerbate disparities where they already exist. My book looks at how popular culture has served as a way to legitimize that social order. It’s a book about popular culture, but really it’s a way of using popular culture to talk about politics.
Shaun’s book, “Millennials and the Moments That Made Us: Cultural History of the United States from 1982-Present,” will be released on Feb. 23, and Town Hall is hosting a signing on Feb. 24.
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