Seattle may finally be ready for something new. The electoral victories of socialist Kshama Sawant, democratic socialist Tammy Morales and the rejection of all the corporate-backed candidates, except one, sets the table for policy changes. The decisive leftward swing on the council and the repudiation of all but one of the Amazon-backed candidates paves the way for major shifts in affordable housing, police accountability, climate policy, restorative justice, homeless services, rent control and more.
It may seem that a third term for Sawant maintains the status quo. This superficial understanding is precisely the narrative promoted by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and their candidates.
But, as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins said, “the third time pays for all.” With this election, Sawant is no longer a council outlier. When the City Council is sworn in, she will be the longest-serving member and she will have strong allies. This election is a game-changer and a deal-sealer in our city politics.
A few years ago, the poorly branded head tax was unanimously adopted by the City Council as a way to build affordable housing by taxing big businesses. Amazon temporarily stopped construction on a building and reminded everyone they were going to build an alternative headquarters in a different city, scaring every councilmember but Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda into rescinding the tax.
In January, Amazon and the Chamber will face a City Council that has every reason to reinstate the policy with gusto (hopefully with a more appealing name and greater emphasis on targeting the big businesses that can afford it). Even Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez showed up at a rally at the Amazon spheres protesting the company’s massive spending. The winds of change are no longer swirling in turbulent circles — they are about to blow into laminar flow.
Becoming ready for something new takes more time than we wish. We are eager to embrace stark and clean change narratives, but that is not real life. Recovery communities teach us that relapse is usually part of recovery. When we wish to adopt habits of exercise, creative expression or spiritual practice, it takes multiple attempts before we succeed. The sacred texts of many religions tell stories of cyclical changes rather than linear ones. Odysseus takes a score of wrong turns on his journey. Siddhartha pursues dead ends to enlightenment before becoming the Buddha. Saint Peter is revealed as a fool, coward and doubter again and again on his way to becoming the rock on which the revolutionary Jesus movement would be built. Perseverance and the humility to evolve is at the heart of a real change narrative.
The lesson I am taking from this election is that change does not come in a single night, through a single action or through a single person. Change does not come even in a single year, by a single strategy or from a single movement. Transformation is a slow, rocky, gritty process, but it is not a fantasy. When the time is right, the heart is prepared and the table has been set, both soul and society may finally be ready for something new.
Rev. John Helmiere is the convener of Valley & Mountain-Hillman City.
Read the full Nov. 13 - 19 issue.
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