Since the summer of 2003, Neal Lampi has contributed to Real Change in many ways. Lampi is a familiar face at Real Change, having purchased the paper as a vendor, a customer and through his time as field organizer.
Although he has lived in Seattle for years, Lampi considers himself a visitor. He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and went on to live across the country in California, Colorado, Montana, Ohio, New Mexico, North Carolina and Tennessee. Within Seattle, he worked at Seattle First Presbyterian Church as a board member and shelter coordinator.
Lampi worked as a field organizer for Real Change between 2009 and 2020. Lampi learned about the necessity of representation in forums and events that he helped coordinate.
“When I came to Real Change News, I was organizing a forum on race and class, and I invited three white men to share,” Lampi said. “I wasn’t even aware that I had invited three white men to share. I didn’t recognize that I was leaving the subject of oppression, a minority, out of the conversation. But I wouldn’t make that mistake again today.”
Another significant moment during Lampi’s time as field organizer was when someone explained white privilege to him.
“I thought, ‘You’re crazy. Do you know there is no such thing as white privilege?’ ... And I considered myself pretty progressive. But I didn’t appreciate the hardship that an entire segment of our population has endured since the foundation of this country,” he said.
Throughout his time at Real Change, which includes the expansion and move to the current location on South Main Street, the organization has consistently prioritized the opposition to sweeps in King County.
“Real Change News started in opposition to the sweeps around the Kingdome. Real Change remains in opposition to the sweeps,” Lampi said.
However, for the past 27 years that Real Change has existed as an organization, sweeps have not gone away.
“The measures continue to be characterized as ‘humane’ or reframed as something that we have to do. But we’re still doing the same thing. We’re still sweeping. I don’t care what you call it,” he said.
Lampi saw that selling the paper can be not only a means of employment and income, but also a way of being connected to the community. He noticed this while conducting vendor orientations while working as a field organizer.
“I got to see people on day one and then to see them three weeks later, and they’re starting to sell. They’re starting to make some money, and they walk a little bit different,” he said.
He has also experienced a sense of community during his current time as a vendor. For years, vendors that Lampi worked with would tell him that selling Real Change was about more than the $2 per paper. He was skeptical at first.
“But you know what? It has nothing to do with the $2. It’s that moment of recognition, like, bam, thanks. Selling the paper breaks the isolation of poverty,” he said.
Lampi plans to embark on a new adventure after his years in Seattle. His next chapter is quite the departure from selling the paper.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to sell the paper, but this is not what I need to be doing. There’s other things I need to be doing,” he said. “And I’m going to a farm where they raise freshwater oysters and chickens and goat products.”
Before he leaves, Lampi can be found at Ken’s Market selling the paper.
Read more of the Nov. 17-23, 2021 issue.