The Real Change Summer Fund Drive continues, and today, as this issue hits the street, we're holding a No New Jail Rally for I-100 at City Hall. The campaign to stop the city from building a $226 million monument to the failed policies of the past has succeeded beyond our hopes.
When Real Change began our organizing to stop the jail last fall, the most common response to our campaign was, "Why? It's a done deal."
Turns out, it wasn't. The "nonrenewable" contract with the county that was due to expire in 2012 has, due to the efforts of King County Councilmember Dow Constantine and the City Council leadership of Tim Burgess and Richard Conlin, been renewed to 2015 while the city and county work toward alternatives.
King County District Attorney Dan Satterberg has taken a leading role in advocating for solutions to crime that do not involve a commitment to increased incarceration. Peter Holmes, a strong candidate for City Attorney, feels the same way. Even Jan Drago, the downtown establishment warhorse who is the strongest contender to unseat our deeply unpopular mayor, says the jail isn't necessary and is the wrong way forward for Seattle.
And yet, despite their growing political encirclement by those with the imagination to commit to a different future, the Nickels administration remains committed to an expensive exercise in social failure.
A new report issued by the city workgroup on alternatives to the new jail predicts a sudden escalation in arrests and the need for new jail space in 2015, the year the contract with King County expires.
Much remains to be done. The business of creating a paradigm shift that values early intervention and investment in human potential over punishment and criminalization is a long-haul organizing project. Entrenched power is not easily stopped, and the necessary community-wide commitment to a new vision of the future is a work in progress.
Real Change has set the ball in motion. We have provided the leadership and the staffing for this campaign despite our other challenges. On July 22, I-100 will turn in more than 13,000 signatures gathered by our volunteer campaign. While this number falls well short of the numbers we need to make November's ballot, we have organized more than 40 allied organizations who understand the need to move past increasing punishment and incarceration toward investing in human potential.
We have shifted the frame from inevitability to possibility and sparked an authentic community debate over class, race, poverty, and incarceration. The foundation has been laid for a long-haul organizing campaign that transcends single-issue, divide-and-conquer politics as usual.
July 22 is not the end of an initiative signature gathering drive as much as it is the beginning of a community-wide process of envisioning alternatives, building power, and creating true, structural change.
Marian Wright Edelman, the visionary leader of the Children's Defense Fund, has described incarceration as "the new American apartheid," where "poor children of color are the fodder."
Here in Seattle, African Americans are incarcerated at six times their representation by population. Blacks are similarly overrepresented among those who are homeless. The new Seattle prison isn't a race issue. Nor is it a poverty issue, a criminal justice issue, a drug treatment issue, a housing issue, or a gender politics issue. It is all of these things, and it is none of them.
If we are ever going to make progress against homelessness, we need to stop throwing people away. This idea that some people just don't rate caring about, and should be locked away in ever-greater numbers until they're no longer a problem, has to end somewhere.
This can only happen when people and organizations step outside of their immediate self-interest and come together to create a bold and exciting new vision for the decades to come.
The I-100 campaign takes on the realities of race, poverty and power that lie behind a municipal commitment to increased incarceration. While this has been, without question, the most ambitious organizing Real Change has ever done, it is also the most necessary.
We Need Your Support, Now
Real Change is experiencing a year of simultaneous challenge and possibility. Circulation is at its highest ever and rising, with at least 17,000-18,000 copies sold each week. We are winning prestigious awards for our quality journalism. Our organizing is high profile, visionary, ambitious and successful.
The grassroots donor support that makes up the majority of our budget has grown each year, as has our earned income from paper sales. This funding combination offers enormous independence, and with that, a large capacity for organizing that entails political risk.
But we have clearly arrived at that point where the need to take our resources to "the next level" is too pressing to be further ignored. Either we grow or, if we can't, we make some hard choices about priorities. If we have to decide between creating systemic change and meeting the immediate needs of our vendors, the vendors will inevitably win.
The strains right now are huge, and some hard choices are upon us. We are working hard to create a future for Real Change that takes us sustainably into the next decade.
This month, we continue toward our goal of raising $160,000 during our summer drive. Two of our supporters have offered a match to help us on our way. Gifts of $100 or more from new donors and $250 or more from current supporters will be doubled until the $10,000 that they have committed runs out.
The stakes for Real Change right now are supremely high. Please support the work, and help us to be all that we can.