As we close out the second month of sustained protest against anti-Black racism and police brutality, organizers are working to turn the protests’ energy into legislative action. From demands to defund the police and invest in communities to calls to cancel rent and provide direct cash assistance to struggling working families, the overarching rallying cry is clear: Stop propping up the failed systems that hurt Black and brown communities and start prioritizing the things that allow us all to live safely, joyously and free.
This is not a vague demand. It is a direct call to action for lawmakers at every level of government to take a long, hard look at who the status quo serves, who it fails and how we harness the power of our offices to meaningfully address the vast racial, economic and environmental inequities that exist between the two.
It’s a demand that has gained even more urgency over the past days, as Trump deploys federal agents to suppress the movement in Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Albuquerque and other Democratically-led cities. This level of militarized state repression is not new: The ICE and border patrol agents snatching protesters off the street in Portland are the same forces that have been targeting immigrant and refugee families for decades.
What’s new is our country’s awakening to the reality that Black, brown and low-income communities have been living for generations: The police exist not to protect and serve the people, but to protect private property and serve the systems that let the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful, while the rest of us get poorer, sicker and lose more and more of our basic freedoms.
So as the streets literally swell with demands for a new future and a new policy mandate, Democratic lawmakers have a choice to make. Will we finally follow the lead of the Black and brown organizers who have been fighting for structural relief for decades? Will we champion a bold agenda of structural change that meets the scale of this moment? Or will we refuse to take meaningful action and fall back on empty promises and piecemeal “reforms”?
As a SeaTac councilmember and a proud leader of the MLK Working Families Party, I believe that it is the moral mandate of all lawmakers to connect that vision to policy responses that address the needs of the moment and beyond. And in every city, a big part of that mandate means taking a long, hard look at our budget.
Budgets are moral documents, and SeaTac’s current budget is an immoral one that fails to meet the urgent needs of this moment. SeaTac spends $11 million on police and less than $600,000 on the life-affirming services that keep our communities safe and healthy. Members of the SeaTac council have approved millions of dollars in tax breaks for corporate developers since the pandemic and have granted million-dollar deals to the ultra-wealthy at the expense of our immigrant community.
This is unacceptable — but it’s the case in far more cities than SeaTac. Across the country, Democratic lawmakers are bloating police budgets and giving even bigger tax cuts to the rich, all the while continuing to siphon much-needed funding from community services.
If we want to build for a better future, we need to ease the burden from our Black, brown and immigrant communities. We don’t need austerity budgets that cut deals for the ultra-wealthy while balancing our national crisis on the backs of already struggling working families. We need to house the homeless and take meaningful steps toward safe, stable and affordable housing for all. We need well-funded schools and family-sustaining jobs in every neighborhood. We need to protect our low-wage workers by culturally redefining how we view essential work. We need to fund the service organizations that provide health care, services to children and families, mentoring to youth, food, counseling and other services that sustain our communities.
And like Working Families Party National Director Maurice Mitchell makes clear, Democrats need the political will to make it happen.
City councilmembers nationwide have the opportunity to work alongside community and movement leaders to build just, equitable budgets that uproot systemic racism and white supremacy in all their forms and take active steps toward a just recovery for all. It’s time we listen to the urgent needs of our communities and harness the collective power of our offices to meet them.
The people are showing up. The time for change is now. We need to keep organizing, marching, caring for each other in solidarity and mutual aid. There can be no letting up when we are so close to real justice.
As a father, a member of the immigrant community and SeaTac City Councilmember-at-large, I know my actions will be measured for years to come. This is our moment.
Read more in the Aug. 12-18, 2020 issue.