Dae Shik Kim Hawkins has lived in Seattle for three years. He quickly realized the city is not the progressive paradise it appears to be, especially for people of color. He writes, organizes and preaches around the reality of disenfranchisement and prioritizes having everyone at the table as a means of building a truly cohesive and inclusive social justice movement.
How did you get to Seattle and into the social justice sphere?
I moved to Seattle [in 2014] to attend seminary. While I was there I got involved in some of the grassroots organizing in Seattle and [met] some cool organizers like Nikkita [Oliver]. We did university organizing together and after I left seminary, I continued to do more work with them.
What is the issue you find yourself working on the most?
What’s big for me is looking at social justice movements that are currently happening. I’m a big believer in making sure that coalitions and movements are centering the right people. I often find myself in different types of organizing spaces and one of the first questions I’m always asking the group is whose voices are being centered at this moment and are we centering the most impacted as we think about messaging, branding, who gets to speak and showing up? I’m passionate about that because there’s a real fear around getting these victories in movements, but they aren’t victories for everyone. What that does is delays the process for the most impacted to get the care that they need.
You do a lot of work trying to make sure there’s accurate representation.
Yes, trying to work through that process, but also trying to check my own privilege as a cisgender male that doesn’t identify with a disability. It’s making sure I have people at the table that mention things I may not be aware of because it’s not my experience. Without the people directly from different communities being [at events] and building something, I think we, just as individuals, are going to fall short on making sure liberation happens for everyone.
What are some points of contention you run into in activist circles in Seattle?
I think a lot of good organizing has come out of Seattle. But at the same time it’s still a city of mostly White liberals. Oftentimes they’re progressive in language but when you break down their actions, they’re not actually very equitable. We see displacement continuing to happen, we see gentrification start to increase when there’s been a clear grassroots effort from people of color pushing back on that. We continue to see corporations like Amazon not be held accountable for the resources they continue to take from the city. It’s hard to continue to fight when people think what Seattle is doing in the context of the rest of the country is super radical. I’ve been told by other liberals that I’m ungrateful because there’s a lot of privilege in having progressive elected officials. There’s a lot of gaslighting going on.
What has been your most meaningful action against homelessness?
I’ve spent the last week being more intentional about monitoring sweeps. I’ve seen the misconduct of police officers when treating the houseless community. They search their stuff, even though the Seattle appeals court found that they have the same tenant protections as anyone else. Organizers are aware these things are happening. It proves once again that public pressure and protest works. It’s unfortunate because writing and documenting these sweeps exposes the only reason why Seattle cares about the houseless epidemic: because it’s starting to affect the north-end neighborhoods. For the Black and Brown community, this problem isn’t something new. But it’s also not something that elected officials paid attention to or prioritized. And it’s not a coincidence that these sweeps are increasing. I went to this sweep at Ravenna woods and the people told me [tenants in] apartments behind the encampment shot potato guns at them and threw beer bottles at their tents. When they called the police, they were dismissed. But when complaints are coming from tenants actually doing harm to real people, the police answer. The city answers. People get swept like trash.
How do you want people to get involved?
When you live in such a bubble of comfort, having empathy does remain challenging. Residents of North Seattle are starting to care because homelessness is starting to affect their status quo. I think the first step for people like them is to understand that waiting for experiential evidence is a privilege. With solidarity movements, a lot of oppressed communities come together because they know what it’s like to not have a seat at the table, because they know what White supremacy has done to their group. [However] we live in a city with mostly White liberals who fight for a lot of things, but often these things are still centered around the White experience. [As] displacement continues, it’ll be harder for a city like Seattle to understand that there are voices missing in the movements, [and] harder for people more impacted than them to seek liberation. The first step for a place like Seattle is to come to that realization.
Dae is an organizer for Seattle People’s Party and writes twice monthly for the South Seattle Emerald. Contact him on Twitter or read his work on Medium.
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