I sometimes wonder if the people in charge of and concerned about downtown Spokane live in the same downtown Spokane that I do. If you based your knowledge of Spokane on the comment threads of local news outlets, letters to the editor and the loudest opinions within business leadership, you’d probably believe that our core is positively overrun with hoodlum youth, aggressive and dangerous panhandlers, and all-purpose chaos. On the contrary, while I do get asked for money during maybe 15 percent of my outings downtown, I don’t witness any of this behavior at a noticeable level. I notice that there are people around, on a good day, who are up to all types of things. There are business men walking five abreast on the sidewalk with coffees, people on cell phones, shoppers laden with bags, young people cradling either guitars or puppies, skaters, people in electric wheelchairs dodging through the sidewalk traffic.
In short, there are a wide variety of humans co-mingled in one space. They don’t all look the same, they don’t all share the same values, and the day-to-day of their lives vary wildly. This is as true next to River Park Square and in Riverfront Park as it is at the STA Plaza. However, the characterization of the Plaza’s inhabitants and users casts bus riders as dangerous, poor (which is bad and probably also their fault, right?), and a nuisance to polite society. I have a hunch that the critics of the Plaza are comprised of the group least qualified to have an opinion on the matter: people with cars who almost never ride the bus. I tend to agree with what Bruce Nourish pointed out in his Seattle Transit Blog post about the Plaza feud: “What really ails Spokane’s retail plutocrats is not the people of the Plaza, but their own ignorance."
Part of my ongoing frustration as a decades-long STA patron is people’s attitude toward bus ridership. Their complaints about slow service, or a lack of service in their area, or lack of connections make up a self fulfilling prophecy. Without the patronage of more people in Spokane, equalling more money for STA’s operation, the services cannot improve. More people ride the bus than ever before in Spokane now and it’s due to many factors. And they are all kinds of people representing a cross section of the bottom 80 percent of income earners in the area. Here are some photos and short interviews that I conducted on Wednesday, Aug. 20 around 3 pm on the south side of the Plaza. I hope that for those who are ignorant about bus ridership in Spokane or in general, these examples can show you that there really isn’t anything to be afraid of. After all, can you read while driving or have an undistracted conversation with your kids or friends?
Jarrod commutes to Cheney for both work and school. He said that, “The only bummer [about taking the bus] is that it takes longer... but that’s what books and smartphones are for.” Overall he describes STA as a good transit system. “They stop frequently. You don’t have to walk too far to find a spot.” As for the Plaza’s downtown location, he wouldn’t change it. “It is literally in the middle of everything.”
On Wednesday, Scott was heading out the the VA. He said that he takes the bus at least six times a week, mostly to appointments. His favorite aspect of riding the bus? “It’s really convenient, pretty close to where I want to go.” He, too, had a book with him for company on the ride. Other than putting up with the occasional crying baby, he doesn’t mind taking the bus. He was familiar with the concerns about the Plaza. “A lot of kids and homeless come here, but they will be around no matter what, no matter where it is."
Khaled takes the bus to and from work every day. “I have a good time and the people are fun," he said. “This is a good place, because you can learn how to go anywhere from downtown."
When I told Traci I was taking pictures to show that bus riders are just normal people, she laughed and agreed. “It’s just a big pot of everyone here,” she said. On Wednesday, Traci was on her way to the Maple CHAS clinic, but she takes the bus anywhere she needs to go for the most part. I asked her to describe the Plaza in three words. “Not that bad!”
Steven was on the way home from taking the placement exams at SFCC when I talked to him on Wednesday. He doesn’t take the bus often, but said that the downtown location “seems to be working.” His only complaint was that the bus takes a while, but that he’s glad it’s “fairly cheap to ride."
Mohammed takes the bus anywhere he needs to go in town. On Wednesday, he was even getting ready to move from an old apartment to a new one using the bus. He didn’t seem discouraged by this task and said, “It is a great bus! I love to be able to use it every day.”
With Mohammed was Mahadi, who didn’t want his photo taken. He was on his way to his school, just across from the Riverside entrance of the Plaza, the Spokane College of English Language. He doesn’t have a car, like many other bus riders and me. He said, “It is a great thing that this city has the bus because all the people depend on it."
Sam was about to catch the bus into Browne’s Addition to go to Rosauers, one of the only grocery stores near downtown, when I asked her about STA. She takes the bus almost every day and described it as loud. “It can be kind of sad sometimes. But it also opens people up for conversations. Like, do you want to talk for 20 minutes? And I guess that can be a good thing."
Bret has been riding the bus for 10 years. On Wednesday, he had just finished up working downtown. He was very familiar with the ongoing disapproval of the Plaza from certain business interests in the city center. He said, “Moving it isn’t a solution. It’s just an easy target. [The critics] have to blame their poor business acumen on something and right now it’s the homeless and the street kids. But where else do they have to hang out?” He pointed out that as a business person, he likes having the Plaza right in the middle of things because it brings people, many of whom are customers, to the businesses who rely on them for success.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love Spokane," he said. “But in some ways, Spokane is still really in an early 20th century mindset. The 1950’s aren’t coming back."
The hazy, smoky air still makes my stomach curdle with fear.
I was 4 when the regional disaster known as Firestorm torched the Spokane area. On Oct. 16, 1991, heavy winds downing power lines sparked more than 90 separate fires around the Inland Northwest, burning more than 100 homes and blackening the land all around. I vividly recall Firestorm’s terrifying uncertainty, and now view it as one of the most impactful events of my childhood, growing up on 20 wooded, rural acres in Stevens County.
After the first flames ignited and sent embers flying, my parents quickly packed up our valuable belongings — antique furniture, family heirlooms, photographs and important documents — and rented a storage unit in Spokane. My mom packed clothing and we made the short drive to my grandparent’s 80-acre farm above our home on a hill. It was safer there, with more routes out if the fire moved in. One night during the fires, my dad took me outside, lifting me up on his shoulders. There, in my striped nightgown, I saw the mountain vista in front of our homes glowing with orange flames against the black night sky.
We were lucky. The firestorm burned for days all around the region, but our land and our homes remained untouched. It was the first memory I’d have of many more fires to threaten our rural community. Each one filled me with more terror than the last. Just as anxiety-causing were summer’s hot, dry spells, lightning storms and windy days that all meant high fire danger. The fires alone didn’t make fear course through my body, but the materialistic thought of losing everything in a fire’s wake.
As residents across the Inland Northwest woke up this past Friday morning to a brown sky blocking out the rays of a blood red sun, the dense ashy air left a fine, grayish-black powder on everything it touched. Street lights stayed on long past sunrise, and the world was cast in an ominous, yet eerily beautiful, goldish glow. These remnants of wildfire stirred up my long-dormant feelings of dread. I tried to imagine the emotions of residents of Central Washington — the people in Brewster and Pateros who lost everything in the still burning Carlton Complex fire. In place of a desire for empathy was something stronger — guilt. Guilt that here I was, conjuring up old childhood fears of losing my home to a raging wildfire when they just had.
When natural disasters — tornadoes, hurricanes, mudslides, earthquakes, tsunamis and forest fires — strike, our collective reaction is to consume breaking news reports. We become almost morbidly fascinated by the images and stories of destruction fed to us, all so accessible on our social media accounts. At the same time we ache for the losses of others due to what’s largely attributed a random event. The Carlton fire was sparked by lightning; the whims of changing winds paired with the intense summer heat propelled it toward towns with little warning.
Every region of the world comes with its own set of natural threats. Those who choose to call these places home do so with some understanding of the chance they might be affected by a mostly unpredictable disaster. But until one happens to or close to us, that probability doesn’t dominate our thoughts.
Most of us will never lose our homes to wildfires. But when we see it happen on such a tragically large scale like the Carlton Complex fire, we’re reminded of our vulnerability to the odds and also comforted by it. Homes can be rebuilt and things replaced, but the scars of any disaster will live on in the landscape and its victims memories forever. ♦
Not yet half way into summer vacation, families like mine are starting to feel the pinch of added expenses, restless kids and less income. In fact, the mental stress of financing the months of summer can become so all-consuming that our relationships turn tense and we risk losing the enjoyment of the season.
Here are a few ways I’ve tried to make or save money to fund that kids’ camp, movie night, Silverwood excursion, evening date, camping trip or kayak rental when I’m empty in the pockets:
1. Dig Deeper. I found an extra $25 just by going through winter coat pockets, looking under the seats in my car and digging in the sofa. That’s dinner or a movie for two.
2. Babysit Pets. My 12-year-old would love to own and breed all kind of animals, but I am not a big pet fan. Our compromise is that he can babysit non-vicious dogs and cats at our home. He’s already earned enough to pay for two Silverwood trips, snacks included.
3. Sell Your Stuff. I admit, I have no patience for sitting in the sun all day running a yard sale or managing ads on craigslist, but I am trying out Tradesy.com currently for selling clothes and have found some of the local shop-and-swap networks to be quite effective.
4. Use Your Body. I’m not suggesting organ donation or red-light-district activity, but plasma donors are always needed here in Spokane, and there are medical research teams looking for test subjects for products you might already be using, like allergy meds or nasal spray.
5. Rent What You Own. I’m not a big fan of having random roommates, although we do host international students on occasion. But, renting out a garage or toolshed for storage is less invasive to your privacy and can add enough supplemental monthly income to cover a road trip by fall.
6. Tap Your Talents. Making a summer camp out of your skill set, teaching a few private (art, music, dance) lessons, or teaming up with a friend to trade your expertise are all great ways to turn a profit. I am trading art lessons for guitar lessons and have also taught with Spokane Art School and other organizations on a class-by-class basis.
7. Be Exotic. Yes, this area has its limits, but there are some fun ways to explore and express in Spokane. I participated as a vendor in the new outdoor art event, Bazaar, and will be spicing up things in August as a model for the Blackwood Art Clothing line at Runway Renegades. Participating in events that pay in excitement or networking can bring fresh ideas to your life.
8. Go Hastings. Buy-backs aren’t hugely lucrative, but if you have upgraded to BluRay or no longer have an Xbox 360, why keep the archaic stuff around? Entertainment and gaming stores usually buy back or trade consoles and games.
9. Pawn It. Sometimes you will get just as much or more for your equipment, electronics, musical instruments or jewelry at a pawn shop as you will sitting in the hot sun (or rain) all day running a yard sale. My kids pawned enough of their outdated items to purchase a couple hundred dollars of new entertainment gear.
10. Stop Paying Bills. Maybe you don’t really need that iPad on your phone line anymore or aren’t using Hulu Plus or tanning and going to the gym during the summer. For some companies, you can temporarily put your services on hold, revise your plan or eliminate your membership altogether. I saved about $85 a month by revising my services this summer. ♦
Rachel Dolezal, formerly of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene, is an award-winning artist and activist who teaches courses in art, Africana history and culture at area universities.
As much as my chest swelled with pride when Al-Jazeera — Al-Ja-frickin-zeera! — covered the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales in Washington state from the vantage point of my ancestral homeland of North Country Homes Boulevard, the story troubled me.
Not because the scene, of a strip mall in our northern ‘burbs, described beautifully by my former Inlander colleague Leah Sottile, was so exactly what you’d expect that it verged on self-parody.
What troubled me was the location itself, and what the location says about the way our city council and other deciders in Spokane have chosen to stunt the full bloom of possibilities, including the massive economic upside of legal, recreational marijuana.
Legal weed could transform our neighborhoods economically, and we’re forcing it to the hinterlands.
I know the strip mall in question well. It’s exactly at the Y where Division splits to become Highway 2 and Highway 395 — a convergence of suburbs, and the very nexus of everything we as a city are trying to move away from. Very little of cultural interest happens for a half-mile in any direction. There’s a Ford dealership, a Rite-Aid, a handful of national fast-food restaurants, and many, many lanes of high-speed traffic.
That’s not just the hauteur of a city slicker talking. My parents live northwest of the Y, near Pattison’s. My grandpa lives southwest a pace, down Country Homes. I have coworkers and friends who live on Five Mile, Wandermere and points beyond. No one drives to the Y unless they’re trying to get somewhere else very, very quickly.
It’s a tangle of arterials, not a hub of culture. And yet it will soon host not one, but two marijuana stores. Satori — just across Division — will open soon.
Meanwhile, the entire South Hill has not a single legal weed store. Nor does Kendall Yards. The only licensed store anywhere west of Division or south of the freeway is basically in Airway Heights.
Part of this far-flinging is state-mandated. The law itself requires a 1,000-foot-buffer zone from schools, parks, libraries, child-care facilities and a bunch of other places, which cuts down on options.
But that wouldn’t have stopped a pot shop near 14th and Grand, one the city’s much-touted CC1 “centers,” the pedestrian-focused commercial zones that Spokane’s master plan decrees shall be the nodes around which to build our next several decades of culture and commerce! CC1s are those special little places inside our hippest neighborhoods where we want people to put art galleries and restaurants, spas and hard cideries. Garland is a CC1, so are South Perry and the International District.
CC1s are the ideal place for something progressive yet commercial like one of America’s few legal pot shops to go. That is, if we viewed pot as a cultural experience like craft beer and local wine.
But the city council has decided that, no, pot is more like strip clubs and porn than it’s like alcohol and ramen burgers. In September of 2013, acting on the hand-wringing of concerned citizens in the Garland neighborhood, the council voted to prohibit marijuana stores, processors and grow operations from CC1 zoned areas. Take a moment and think about the wisdom of the city council letting “a small group of Garland residents and business owners” decide our entire city’s policy on marijuana. Does it make sense to you? It doesn’t to me.
When I cried out to Facebook about the injustice of zero weed stores on the South Hill, Councilman Mike Allen responded: “There is a spot up on Regal that qualified as a potential location. We only had one state liquor on the Hill.”
He’s right about that liquor store thing. But that only points out how the council’s weed policy is actually more restrictive than the old liquor laws. The one store Allen speaks of was at 29th and Grand, next door to what’s now Manito Tap House. Grand and 29th is a CC1, though, so weed is prohibited.
Right now, the only approved location even close to one of our vibrant, or even potentially vibrant, tourist-attracting centers is a location near East Sprague on Ralph Street. But even that is far removed from the International District, closer to Axel’s Pawn Shop than Sonnenberg’s Deli.
Here’s the economic reality: illicit marijuana use is the second-biggest illegal drug market in America, bringing in an estimated $100 billion dollars (in 2010 dollars) every year since 2000. That’s a huge pile of black market money, and guess what? We’re one of only a handful of interesting places in America where weed is now legal. Think of how that money might fit into the mix of an area like Perry, or the section of Sprague we’re so keen to revitalize with all those directed development dollars! People buy some weed, get high “in private” (read: behind the building they bought it in) as the law decrees, and then stick around to sample liberally the neighborhood’s restaurants and whatever else catches their attention.
And think of the tourism! America’s a big, populous place. That’s a captive audience of stoners I’m sure would be eager — stoked, even — to get high and ruminate on just how Near Nature, Near Perfect we are. Quick aside: Visit Spokane, love you guys, but if you aren’t planning a “Weed in Spokane, Washington” tourism campaign, someone needs to lose their job.
But first, we’ve gotta get smarter about what legal pot is and how it can fit into the vibrancy we’re trying to create in this increasingly interesting city. We need to start treating marijuana as a consumable for connoisseurs, not as an obsession for degenerates.
And what a coincidence! We are now — right this minute! — actively incubating, to sometimes stunning effect, connoisseur markets in food, beer and wine, with interesting offshoots like hard cider, liquor at Dry Fly and on-tap Kombucha in Coeur d’Alene. We used to be 10 years behind the times. With on-tap Kombucha, we’ve cut that gap to like 4 years, tops. That deserves a round of applause!
So why, then, do we continue to be so behind-the-times about weed? And why are we relegating a 100-million-dollar connoisseur culture to the hinterlands of our community?
Spokane is the best it’s been in my lifetime, and I’m incredibly excited for the future, but the kombucha-on-tap thing is an apt touchstone: We’re still mostly catching up in the culture game.
We have an opportunity with weed to lead the national conversation, rather than follow it.
Such opportunities are rare, and we should seize it. ♦
Luke Baumgarten, a creative strategist at Seven2 and former culture editor of the Inlander, is a co-founder of Terrain, which organized Bazaar on June 21 in downtown Spokane.
When does a corporation become human? Does it happen at conception, when the articles of incorporation are filed? Is it when the final member joins the Board of Directors or when they make the final change to the bylaws? The day they go public? Or does it happen when five out of nine Supreme Court justices decide that an obscure piece of the Constitution could be interpreted to mean that corporations are, and have always been, basically human in their function? Since the Citizens United decision in 2010, this absurd idea has become legal reality with effects that empowered the U.S. oligarchy to run rampant with no meaningful consequences.
As of this morning, the situation is even more strange. The Supreme Court defended the religious freedom of employers to deny birth control as part of their health benefits offered. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in her dissent, “The exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities.” She is consistent and correct in noting that a corporation is an artificial legal entity. It does not breathe, eat, reproduce or get sick. One would hope that this point wouldn’t require clarification, but this is a world where a CEO’s imaginary friend’s feelings just became more important than my health, your health, and the health of your daughters, wives, sisters and friends.
All laws are a fiction to some extent. They are written by people in an attempt to give structure to the unpredictability and danger of life, but often backfire and eventually, as is true in this case, become so detached from real reality that they’re rendered meaningless. Sure, the federal government will likely adjust to provide the contraceptive coverage that’s been exempted from these few companies, but the point here is less about the specific instance of absurdity and more about the size of the pile of absurdity it’s landed on.
The decision also highlights one of the main issues with large scale indirect governance. Power is shared equally within the power structure regardless of expertise, background or understanding. Predictably, the majority who supported this decision are all men. Once again, men make decisions about women’s bodies and health from the comfortable distance of legal abstraction in the same way that the overwhelmingly wealthy seem to find it easy to cut so-called entitlements for the working poor while also destroying opportunities to leave those programs.
In such an unbalanced system, where millions of people can be affected by the bad decisions of a few, being accurate doesn’t even appear to matter. Justice Samuel Alito, who authored today’s decision, claimed that it would not “provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.” When women are the only group directly targeted by a law, it is a discriminatory law on the basis of sex. This type of discrimination is illegal. Imagining that an individual’s religious practice should have any bearing on any other person’s life is bizarre and disturbing. Despite the dissonance, that’s just the way things work around here, unless we decide to stop giving our power away to the most delusional among us. ♦
Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She's advocated, among other things, for environmental sustainability and all-ages access to the arts. She shares writing, photography and her podcast at truthscout.net.
Lazy, entitled, uneducated burger flippers, the latest menace to society in Washington state, are coming to shut down every small business and inflate prices until no one can buy anything at all. They refuse to get better jobs, they refuse to go back to school, and they want more money. They exemplify the entitlement society we hear so much about in the media and now they want $15 an hour for work that, let’s be honest, could be handled by machines. Earlier this week, Seattle passed a plan to phase in a $15 minimum wage over seven years and depending on who you consult, it’s either the beginning of the end of capitalism, or further proof of an insidious socialist takeover of our beloved free market democracy.
In case your sarcasm filter is shut off, I don’t actually feel this way about minimum wage workers, particularly since I have spent the majority of the past two years as one. The relatively low cost of living here and the lack of financial constraints in my life have made this a fairly comfortable choice for me. I left the better-paying, benefit-providing professional world to make coffee and freelance part time because, frankly, I want to work as little as possible for money. I am in a position where I have the luxury through my circumstances (no car, no kids, no debt) to be much more comfortable in this class than many others are. Technically, I am making poverty wages, but it’s easy to stretch them out in a place like this. On the flip side, it means that I don’t have savings to speak of, need to carefully scrimp and save if I want to travel, and that my health plan involves crossing my fingers and taking lots of vitamins.
Given comments I’ve seen online responding to Seattle’s wage hike and the prospect of it spreading to other cities, there are some misconceptions about minimum wage workers. The dominant perception of the minimum wage worker is the burger flipper referenced above, a person in high school or without college plans supporting their personal expenses, but in fact she is more likely to be college educated, a parent, and over 20 years old than ever before. With over three job seekers for every open position and with the majority of new jobs created since 2010 in the low-wage category, ignorant calls to “get a better job” fall on frustrated ears. It would seem that the only people making this tired argument about burger flippers are people who are insulated from this problem, generally privileged, or retired.
We divide along class lines, but only on the micro level. Small business owners, many of whom are barely scraping by or actually operating at a loss or in debt, are pitted against their own poverty-wage workers. Meanwhile, large corporate monoliths like Walmart and McDonald’s fight to frame their franchises as small businesses, too, despite their incredible profits and CEO pay at 1,000 times (or more) than of frontline workers. The professional class, people who already make a living wage and scrape by more comfortably than we do in the service and retail industries, get offended that a burger flipper or barista should make as much as they do, ignoring their reliance on the cheap labor that gets them their daily latte, dry cleans their suits and cares for their children. We see this misplaced animosity rear its head during conversations about unions, too, while corporate media and corporate-bought policy ignore the real roots and outcomes of incredible wealth inequality.
A fascinating conversation has begun in the wake of the 15 Now! campaign, which has spread to other cities including Spokane in recent months. It has more facets than are possible to cover in one short article. It seems that, for the first time in my lifetime, serious conversations about the failings of capitalism are taking root. As a person whose political views are marginalized by the limited dialogue in this country, I welcome the renewal of a 100-year-old conversation about labor, ownership and the role of work in our lives. At the turn of the 20th century, what is now remembered as the vague “labor movement” was largely split between socialists — who advocated for similar policies that we see their new breed fighting for today — and anarcho-syndicalists who were more interested in radically altering the role of work, technology and ownership altogether. These were not wholly separate philosophies and there was enough overlap in belief that the groups worked together to achieve labor gains, including the eight-hour day, the weekend, paid vacation and sick leave, and safety for industrial workers.
During this time, the same debate we hear today was unfolding regarding the role of the state in regulating the market. Both free market fundamentalists and the new Keynesian intervention believers foresaw a future in which either the market alone or with help from the state provided broad prosperity and advances in technology that relieved most people from the sweat of prolonged labor. John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930 that the biggest problem of the following decades would be boredom and a failure to know how to appreciate our extensive leisure time. He guessed that “we shall endeavour to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while. For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!”
Thirty years later, at the World’s Fair, Isaac Asimov shared his thoughts about work in our time. “The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine.
“Indeed, the most somber speculation I can make about A.D. 2014 is that in a society of enforced leisure, the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!”
Both predictions could have come true by now, I think, were it not for increased consumerism fueled by aggressive advertising and cheap goods, and a new category of jobs that emerged in the vague category of administration, management and general bureaucracy maintenance. These jobs represent the shift from an economy focused on creating stuff, to one that largely manages data, strategizes about ways to keep consumerism growing, and endlessly perpetuates itself through consulting, training and brainstorming. The people in these relatively new fields work long hours and generally receive more than minimum wage. They support those in the service industry including restaurant workers, fast food, retail, child care and building maintenance, most of whom make minimum wage. Were they not working so much to maintain their lifestyles, they would have the leisure time to cook for themselves, brew their own morning coffee and tend to their own children. The cycle continues forward instead as people strive to outpace their student, housing or credit card debt while wages stagnate and inflation soars. The family of 2014 requires the equivalent of three 1960s breadwinners to make ends meet. This means both parents at work and a credit card, a single mom working three part-time jobs (a situation George W. Bush once lauded as “uniquely American”), or living on less than a technically livable amount each month.
Ongoing economic desperation has been so normalized that college graduates in my generation simply expect to work for free for a significant time in order to earn the opportunity to work for pay. I have observed my peers cheering a new service, SponsorChange, which pays down student loan debt in exchange for volunteer hours with various nonprofits and charities. To a population already convinced that they need to work for free, and take on tens of thousands in debt before earning a spot at the job market table, this sounds like a sweetheart deal. On second glance, though, the arrangement is a literal reboot of the indentured servitude that brought so many to the U.S., rather than into the job market debt-free, three hundred years ago. This phenomenon is part of the broader issue of the important work that some of these groups do, like environmental restoration and direct level human services, being undervalued by market forces. There is work to be done, but finding a paid gig that helps people is a complicated undertaking. It turns out that in a system that values growth at all costs, undoing the problems created by the growth is the work least valued by the mystical market.
The next few years promise to be an interesting time to be alive and to be working. I hope to see a mass shift in priorities and a disillusionment with the man-made ideas of debt, labor and the dignity of work. Sure to be called an irrational idealist, I believe we can have more wealth, more equality, less destruction, fewer hours spent working and more fun. Perhaps the arguments and conversations and, above all, the results of raising wages in Seattle and across the country can continue to spur us into different modes of thinking and acting at work and in the public sphere. ♦
Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She's advocated, among other things, for environmental sustainability and all-ages access to the arts.
Before #YesAllWomen started trending on social media in response to men’s (but not all men’s!) response to feminists’ response to the mass shooting in Santa Barbara this week, and before the shooting itself had occurred, I had completed a draft of the following essay about street harassment. I worried while writing about the reactions that I would receive in the comments. Maybe people will perceive my observations as whining about something relatively unimportant, they’ll think I’m too stuck up to give nice guys a chance, that I am projecting violence onto behavior that’s really innocent, that I need to learn to take a compliment. I felt a lot of pressure from past conversations to pre-empt the commenters in proving that street harassment is not flattering, that it is one of many disturbing expressions of male entitlement to sex and women’s bodies, and that it is part of a continuum of disrespect for female autonomy that too often culminates in severe or even deadly violence.
In an unfortunate twist of fate, the proof of that statement became the most visible news story of the weekend when Elliot Rodger completed his stated desire to bring “reckoning” to women who have denied him the pleasure he felt was his birthright and any men who might ally with them. Reactions from women online prompted a defensive reaction from men (and some women) clamoring to stifle the talk of misogyny in favor of discussing mental illness or gun control. What I hope the #YesAllWomen campaign can continue to show men is how commonplace many of Rodger’s remarks really were, how many of us have experienced firsthand the effects of widespread violence against women, and how quick our culture is to normalize it. By sharing our stories, especially with men who will listen, we can change the culture and begin to take gender inequality and gender-based violence to task.
Here is the essay I was working on, unamended except to add that, yes, all women have days like this one and too many have far worse days, but they’re all part of the same story. Let’s work together to write a new one in which women are respected, men are respected, and everyone has better relationships and a better chance to thrive, love, and grow as a result.
I am walking quickly because I have barely enough time to walk across downtown from Browne’s Addition and make it to the event on time. It’s one of the first days with more than a hint of summer in it and I get to admire the later blossoms on the trees, the slight breeze that is finally refreshing after the chilly winter. Walking has always helped me process my day and connect with nature and with the people around me. I enjoy it so much that I never bought another car after mine met its end seven years ago.
The first honk, accompanied by a simple “Yeah! Nice!” from the passenger seat, jostles me out of my late spring nature reverie, but I recover quickly. A simple honk-and-yell after 10 years of being accosted on the street isn’t enough to enrage me the way it would have as a teenager or as a newly minted (and brimming with righteous indignation) feminist. I make it to the Spokane Club with my confidence and good mood intact, and exchange smiles and nods with my fellow pedestrians. As I cross Monroe, the second honk-and-yell is hurled my way. I cut up to Riverside to avoid waiting for the light and it’s there I get my second “compliment” of the day. Walking past the businesses across from the STA Plaza, a young man is leaning against the bricks listening to music.
“Very nice!” he says, à la Borat, while making direct eye contact with me and smirking. I turn away and keep walking, the best solution I’ve found so far to these kinds of encounters especially when there’s no time for a confrontation and you’re on the verge of being late already. When he’s a few steps behind me, he yells, “Bitch!” and the single syllable is packed with disdain and loathing.
On a feisty day, I would flip him off or yell something back, but today I am determined to let it all roll off and stay in control of my mood. Being insulted on the street is just a reality I’ve learned to handle without a great deal of fanfare by this point in my life. I now have seven minutes to reach my destination and think that I am on target to avoid lateness if I hustle. I cut across a big surface lot, taking the diagonal to save time getting to Sprague. Since I’ve been primed for confrontation on this walk, I am paying more attention to the people around me than I did when I first left the house. Up ahead, between Mootsy’s and the corner at Washington, I see three men talking with each other. They see me and stop their conversation entirely, all turning to wait for me to pass.
“Great,” I think, “a tunnel.”
One is on the building side of the sidewalk and the other two are smoking by the parking meters across from him. The apparent leader of the pack looks to his buddies, and then back at me as he steps out into my path in the sidewalk. He puts one hand out in a request for me to slow down and says, “Hey, girl. You know you crazy hot, right?” It’s a strange rhetorical question and it’s the last straw of my mile or so of patience so far, so I just shrug dramatically with my hands out and yell, “Well!?” as I keep walking. They don’t call me a bitch, but I can hear the slap of high fives and a general noise of approval as they watch me leave.
I share this story here to give an example of what many women go through on their daily commute, particularly if they aren’t in a car. These encounters were fairly tame and on their own don’t prove much about gender-based power dynamics, but I should also mention that they occur in the context of ongoing gender and appearance-based harassment and violence. The context is what makes these instances so much more than what they’re usually characterized as when I share them with male friends, compliments. In addition to comments or expressions of approval about my physical traits on the street, I have also been followed on foot and by men in cars. I have planned or changed my route specifically to avoid being bothered. I have been late to work due to diverting my route away from people I perceived as threatening. I have had trash thrown at me from a car after flipping off a catcaller. I have been groped by a stranger in public. I have been photographed against my will in public and among people I believed to be friends. I have been vilified for putting “nice guys” in the “friendzone” rather than sleeping with or dating them as a reward for their kindness. I have been stalked, harassed and threatened by some of these “nice guys” after I rejected them. I feel lucky to have not been raped, beaten, or killed by a partner or stranger because the odds are not in my favor as a woman. The knowledge my biology endangers me has been ingrained in me since childhood. My experiences are not unique and are, in fact, far better than what a large proportion of other women have dealt with in their lives.
Despite all of this, and though I’ve been slandered as one, I am not a “man-hater.” I hate, well, hate. I hate inequality and injustice and unfairness. And I understand that while men benefit disproportionately from patriarchy, it still doesn’t give them justice or fairness. Men are taught that in order to be manly, they must vanquish other men in their chosen field, dominate physically, intellectually and sexually wherever possible, and gain power over the previously uncontrolled circumstances of their lives. These ideas lead to bullying among boys, a great deal of anger either turned inward or outward, and at the macro level, to destroying life on a mass scale through waging war. Obviously, there are men who fail or refuse to conform to these twisted notions of what it means to be a man. They are often punished for their non-conformity by their peers, by women who believe hyper-masculinity is normal or desirable, and by authority figures. This punishment still pales in comparison to the threats of daily life that come with being female.
Men, as the leaders of our institutions and as the far and away most frequent perpetrators of violence, have the power to end gender inequality and systematic violence against women and they don’t do it. If you are a man and you dismiss women’s concerns on these topics without considering how you fit into the picture, you are part of the problem. If you are a man and you harass women, feel entitled to our time or bodies, or commit other acts of violence or coercion, you are definitely part of the problem. If you are a person who makes excuses for this type of behavior, you are part of the problem. If you think that feminism means women dominating the world in the way men do now, or that it means anything other than ending sex/gender based oppression, your lack of research is part of the problem.
Are men so afraid of being treated like women that they won’t stand up against blatant violence? Though it’s less overt than murder or rape, street harassment is violence. Rather than being treated as part of a continuum of disrespect, dehumanization and violence, it’s treated as a harmless recreational pursuit and dismissed as “boys will be boys” behavior. This summer, I call upon the men who want a better world to stop “complimenting” women on the street, and to call out other men’s disrespectful behavior. If you have children, talk to them early and often about sexism, racism, inequality and justice. Kids seem to have a natural aptitude for identifying unfairness — have you ever given just one of your two children a treat in front of the other? — and if they learn about how it’s structured into our society, they will be better equipped to dismantle it. Perhaps your daughters won’t grow up with boys who have harmful ideas about who or what she is, and your sons will be stronger and better for learning the lessons, too. ♦
Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She's advocated, among other things, for environmental sustainability and all-ages access to the arts.
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