Dori Monson dubbed it #RVgate, thus setting the lowest bar for “scandal” that the world has ever seen. Someone parked a used RV on a street in West Seattle and, for a couple of fever-dream days, Seattle freaked.
For those of you fortunate enough to have missed out, here’s what happened. Former City Council candidate and serial outrage artist Ari Hoffman went on KIRO’s Dori Monson Show to suggest that someone tow homeless people’s RVs to City Council members’ houses.
In the race to the political bottom that is this year’s City Council elections, trolling incumbents with real, live homeless people is the sort of mean-spirited idea that gets traction. So, when an old RV showed up in front of politically-targeted Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s house, assumptions were made.
In the end, the RV that drew so much attention was not a political stunt, although some made it that. It was real life. Two people, out of options, just trying to survive. As people will do.
In the end, there was a bright spot. #RVgate gave Seattle an opportunity to see what our better selves might look like.
Councilmember Herbold and her District 1 opponent Phil Tavel both issued statements. Herbold, ever the practical one, pointed to her leading advocacy for the city’s RV Remediation program that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has expanded in her 2020 budget.
Tavel, to his credit, called for civility in our political process. “I understand that people in Seattle are frustrated,” he said, “but am disappointed that this is the outcome.”
Monson chose a different direction. After a vandal spray-painted the vehicle with “Dori 4 Gov” and an advertisement for Monson’s own KIRO radio show, the talk radio host went full demagogue.
“You see, there is something much greater at play here. And that is that people have had it. We finally seem to have reached the boiling point. We are sick and tired of the drugs, the crime, and the absolute mess that our region has become. Now it looks like there will be some serious citizen revolting going on.”
Reaching ever lower, Monson even took a swipe at Greta Thunberg.
“What does the Left do? … They use children as their human shields. They riot and throw bricks through windows. Whereas this person has parked an RV in front of someone’s house … and is now done. If you don’t want to be bothered by this form of protest, it doesn’t have to bother you at all. It doesn’t invoke your children. It doesn’t stop traffic. It’s not violent. It doesn’t involve you one bit.”
That’s where he was wrong. As we’ve seen over and over, when you ramp people up with division and hate, regrettable things happen.
This is where the RV stops being a symbol and starts being about reality. Turns out, there were vulnerable people behind the story — 21-year-old Briar Rose Williams and 25-year-old Michael Cox — who bought the vehicle after they ran out of other options.
The couple had simply parked the RV two blocks from a family member’s home and planned to clean it out and move to an RV campground. They weren’t looking to take center stage in a media shit storm. They just wanted a place to live.
Monson’s rhetoric, to say the least, complicated things for them.
A three-day tow warning was issued by the city. A KIRO radio reporter broke in and tweeted a video of the trash and clothes inside the RV. Someone vandalized the RV with graffiti.
A media circus ensued and an angry mob gathered. A glass bottle was thrown at the couple, and a knife got drawn on Williams.
Happily, cooler heads prevailed. As it became clear that the couple had been victimized, an online campaign raised $5,000 for them overnight.
But the classiest moment of all came when Councilmember Herbold met the couple face to face in front of her house. “I’m really sorry those people threatened you,” she said. She then offered to park her car in the street so they could use her driveway.
That’s what treating people like people looks like, and that’s the Seattle I want to live in.
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace. He can be reached at director (at) realchangenews (dot) org
Read the full October 16 - 22 issue.
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