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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Raising wages in Seattle has reanimated old conversations about the value of work

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 4:22 PM

JAN TREECRAFT
  • Jan Treecraft

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.

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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.


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Thursday, May 29, 2014

One of the billion tales that yes, all women, can tell about sexism

Posted By on Thu, May 29, 2014 at 2:14 PM

click image RUTH ORKIN'S "AMERICAN GIRL IN ITALY"
  • Ruth Orkin's "American Girl in Italy"

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.

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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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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The work three Spokane kids are doing in Africa can help Spokane get better at helping itself

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 12:44 PM

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A few weeks ago, I went to talk to Kohl Crecelius — co-founder of the lifestyle brand and poverty-fighting nonprofit Krochet Kids — hoping to figure out why he doesn’t live in Spokane anymore.

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Kohl and his other co-founders — Stewart Ramsey and Travis Hartanov — all grew up here, in the vicinity of Colbert and Chattaroy. Stewart used to play soccer with my brother, for what that’s worth.

They began crocheting in high school, mostly to have the best hats on the local slopes. Later, in college, volunteering around the world — and especially in East Africa — brought them into intimate contact with desperate poverty. The trio hatched a plan to teach impoverished women in troubled countries to crochet amazing-looking hats and clothing they could sell to other brand-aware, socially conscious people, and they’d pay the women a living wage and get them out of poverty. The rest has been well-documented by many media outlets, including this one, so I won’t rehash it needlessly.

Except to say they had a powerful idea that became a transformational nonprofit. Starting around the same time as companies like Tom’s Shoes, Krochet Kids was on the leading edge of our current wave of social ventures — companies that try to take the best of the for-profit sector and the nonprofit sector in order to generate revenue while making the world a better place. KK is a nonprofit, but only 15 percent of their revenue comes from traditional fundraising — a staggeringly low number. The rest comes from selling awesome clothing to cool kids.

That’s some innovative shit.

So, with all that as background, I went to talk to Kohl hoping to find out why, although Krochet Kids has its origins on the mountains of Eastern Washington, its office is in Costa Mesa, California. Did they find a mentor? Investors attuned to social ventures? A culture of innovation that inspired them?

The answer is pretty mundane: sun, surf and snow-type stuff. They have great things to say about Spokane, they host some of their biggest fundraisers here, and Kohl still calls it “home.” The more interesting story, it turns out, is what’s happening in Uganda. Specifically, what happened after they started paying that living wage.

It quickly became clear that money wasn’t enough. The women needed an education, so Krochet Kids created an education program to teach economics, budgeting, business plan creation, health and wellness, disease identification, “and, you know,” Kohl says, “just helping them understand their rights and privileges as human beings.”

It’s designed as a three-to-five-year course. They’ll graduate their first 50 women — who Kohl says have now become teachers, community leaders and business people — this year. For every success, though, he says they identified another need.

Before a person can formulate a business plan, they have to identify their community’s needs, figure out which of those needs they are well-suited to impact, and develop the solution. That’s a complicated calculus. So they began employing local women as mentors, “people who are college-educated — teachers, counselors — but who still understand the local struggles.” Kohl says they look for people who “will care for the whole person. People who can just love on the women, but then help them contextualize the things they’re learning. It takes visionary leaders.”

The needs kept coming. With education and mentorship, interesting, important business ideas began to form, and Kohl says they realized something else was missing: investment capital.

So they started a credit union, self-capitalized by the women in the program, and able to lend money to start-ups at lower rates than commercial banks. SACCO (the Savings and Credit Cooperative) is now the largest credit union in Northern Uganda, financing the startups that will create more good jobs and, the hope goes, create a beneficial cycle that radiates outward from KK and touches entire communities.

Taken together, Kohl says what they’re doing transcends employment, education, entrepreneurship and capitalization alone: “It’s giving people permission to have dreams.”In the last decade or so — roughly the time Krochet Kids has been operating in Africa (they’re also now in Peru) — Spokane has given itself permission to dream, too.

From ballsy municipal projects like the Riverfront Park plan to our town’s young chefs taking our city seriously as a place to create a real culture around food, we have set increasingly lofty, increasingly ambitious goals for ourselves to change this region and, increasingly, a young generation of smart, educated, idea-and-conviction-driven people are wanting to accept those challenges.

But when I talk to smart, young people about the obstacles they’re facing, it sounds a lot like the problems Krochet Kids encountered in Uganda. And if the problems are the same, it stands to reason the solutions would be similar too.

Maybe what we need in the Inland Northwest is more of what Kohl and his team have begun to build in Uganda: mentors to help bright young leaders plan for the long game, and courageous institutions willing to stake the funds to get them there.

I believe deeply that the sooner that happens, the faster Spokane grows. The longer we wait, the further behind we fall. ♦

Luke Baumgarten, a creative strategist at Seven2 and former culture editor of the Inlander, is a co-founder of Terrain and the founder of Fellow Coworking. He tweets @lukebaumgarten.


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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How race plays a role in white-on-white crime

Posted By on Tue, May 27, 2014 at 1:05 PM

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Just before our nation’s holiday to honor the departed, a twisted shooting spree brought an end to seven lives in California. People say acts of horror and crime leave us wondering why? Social media outlets spark with the latest ideas on our quest to unearth the reasons for the tragedy and possible solutions to prevent similar incidents in the future. But is it really so hard to decode what’s going on?

In a country with enough guns to arm every man, woman and child, gun violence hits the news hard and often. The recent slaughter in Santa Barbara is just one more incident in a long list of homicides. And, thank our lucky stars, the shooter isn’t a black guy.

As black families, we brace ourselves watching news like this, waiting to see the killer’s picture on the screen. In America, you can be sure if there is no picture of the killer, the suspect is white. If the shooter is black or even if there is an unconfirmed “suspect” who is black, the photo will jet to the screen like lightning. And then the race talk ensues with words like “thug,” “criminal,” “ghetto” and “black man” loaded side-by-side like a round of hollow points, aimed to dehumanize and vilify black people. Conversations get tense at work and school, where colleagues let racist statements slip before filtering and kids repeat the commentary they heard at home. Or, some places like our own lily-white Spokane, a black nonprofit received hate mail after a young suspect’s picture hit TV; the letter demanded that black women should be sterilized because it’s in their children’s nature to be violent.

But what happens when the killer is white? Where is the race talk and hate mail? Well, that’s absurd to expect any race talk, right? Part of white privilege is immunity from race critique; isn’t that essentially at the core of white supremacy anyways? No, instead of deploring the horrid condition of “white men,” these stories unfold in one of three ways: 1. He is mentally ill; 2. He was feeling isolated or having a hard time; or 3. He was abused as a child and therefore is just repeating the violence perpetrated on him. Scenario 1 is how Elliot Rodger is already being described and treated in the media and in the psyche of the American people.

But in the case of this Santa Barbara shooter, why are we not looking at the role of assumed white innocence in the death of his six victims? The police officer who interviewed Rodger prior to the slaughter said he was “polite and kind” and didn’t search his residence because there didn’t appear to be any weapons or cause for concern. Recall when one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims escaped and, running bleeding and naked to police, sought protection. Against the pleas of two black women standing by who were convinced the victim was in distress, the police turned the youth over to blonde-haired blue-eyed Dahmer who proceeded to rape and kill him. He looked innocent (read white), so that’s all they needed to know. And if a third story is the charm for understanding this concept, in Atlanta a white man pulled up to an elementary school and breezed through an elaborate security system while packing multiple guns, including an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition. America still operates on the basis of assumed white innocence, and it is quite literally an issue of life and death.

Equally alarming is the persistence of assumed black guilt. Researchers at Stanford University conducted studies where police and others, cued with an image of a black person, quickly deciphered very blurred images often associated with crime such as a gun and determined a threat almost instantly. We see this play out in the courtroom and forensic lab, not just for perpetrators but for victims as well. In 2013, 600 percent more white-on-black homicides were deemed justifiable than white-on-white homicides. Even when black youth are shot, their corpses are often examined in search of “evidence” that may implicate them for sharing responsibility for the crime. Will the bodies of the white sorority girls be tested for substances in the Santa Barbara slaughter, and if they had alcohol in their system, will they be assumed partially responsible for their own murder? In the case of black victims, we are responsible — not the killers, not the laws, not the gun culture, not the racism, not our schools, not our community, not you.

So, when do we initiate discussion about the lack of moral fiber in white men? When does it become politically correct to address the connections between racism, sexism and violence in the white community? Maybe we could start with George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn, Theodore Wafer, Randall Kerrick … or Elliot Roger. ♦

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.


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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Marriage Equality comes to Idaho, but we’re not done yet!

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2014 at 11:45 AM

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Pending a stay of the court decision, county clerks in Idaho will begin to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples this Friday. Finally, all Idahoans will be given the freedom to marry.

It’s a big deal and it should be celebrated. Even if the decision to overturn Idaho’s marriage ban is delayed, we’re now much further down the road to justice for all our citizens.

But the scary thing is that in too many parts of Idaho, once a couple gets married and sets a picture of themselves on their wedding day on their office desks, they could be asked that same day to clean out their desk and never come back. When they got home, they could find that their landlord had decided to end their lease based solely on their love for their new spouse.

This is because Idaho has failed to expand our Human Rights Act to protect people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

For years now, the legislature has failed to even give the issue a public hearing. They have closed their eyes and covered their ears to the discrimination faced by too many Idahoans. And without seeing and hearing from the people affected, it has been difficult for them to open their hearts.

Yesterday, Idaho Governor Butch Otter filed a preemptive request to stay the decision to allow the freedom to marry in Idaho. I believe he already knew that history, the law and our Constitution would require the ruling from Chief Magistrate Justice Candy Dale to come down in defense of ensuring equality for all of Idaho’s citizens.

But today, the Idaho Statesman reports for the first time that I can recall, that Governor Otter believes the legislature should finally hear from the public about the need for an expansion of the Idaho Human Rights Act. Even as he tries to hold progress back, he admits that it is time to take the next step forward.

Some local cities haven’t waited. In Sandpoint, we took that step at the end of 2011, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations. We were followed by Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Moscow and others — including the City of Pocatello.

The immediate battle to protect the rights of all Idahoans is taking place next Tuesday in Pocatello, where a small group of residents are trying to take away the rights so many have fought so long for. The city’s anti-discrimination ordinance is on the ballot and its fate could determine the momentum and the politics for expanding protection across Idaho.

Standing up for their city and its values is the group Fair Pocatello. They want to make sure that someone isn’t fired from their job or denied housing just because they are gay or transgender. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve actively supported and donated to this campaign — so should you, by the way!)

This is a battle we must win on the road to justice. For as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It’s amazing to be alive at a time when we can watch that bending take place and add our own weight to more swiftly point it in its ultimate direction. ♦

John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, is the executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. He has been active in protecting Idaho's environment, expanding LGBT rights and the Idaho Republican Party.


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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Silver bullet from Seattle

Posted By on Thu, May 8, 2014 at 10:53 AM

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One of the authors of the new $15 minimum wage that seems to be taking the West Side of our state by storm was in Spokane Wednesday, talking about how most of what we think we know about the economy is wrong, about the welfare queen that is Wal-Mart and about demand for soft, fluffy pillows.

Nick Hanauer shared his thoughts on income inequality to more than 100 people at the Davenport Hotel — ironically, pointed out event sponsor and local business owner Ron Reed, in the Marie Antoinette Room. Hanauer is a surprising messenger, since he’s a card-carrying member of the 1 percent, having helped the startup of Amazon.com, among many other successful businesses.

“I am the problem,” he said, “rich guys like me.”

Hanauer — a devoted capitalist and noted TED talker — worries that too much greed is shrinking the middle class and will spell doom for many American businesses, like our own Coldwater Creek, which recently closed. He talked about his family’s first business, Pacific Coast Feather — makers of fine pillows. He says business is tough right now because fewer people can afford a high-quality headrest. “Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, they just need one pillow,” he said. A healthy middle class, however, needs lots and lots of pillows.

Last June, after five years of working the issue, his silver-bullet solution was published in a story in Bloomberg News: The $15 minimum wage. Crazy. Insane. Un-American. That was the reaction among the usual Forbes/Wall Street Journal/Republican Party axis. But guess what? The City of Sea-Tac passed the idea into law, and Hanauer says it’s looking 95 percent likely the city of Seattle will do the same very soon.

With more money to spend, lower-wage workers can buy more pillows — and taxpayers can stop buying food stamps for workers at Wal-Mart, which pays their employees below a living wage and leaves it to all of us to fund the difference.

Bill Clinton used to say the best social program is a job, but in recent years, as the chasm between the rich and poor has become ridiculous, there’s been a pretty big caveat added to that sound-bite. A crappy, low-paying job creates even more social problems, but a well-paying job is, indeed, a very good social program.

In an expensive place to live like Seattle, that means $15 an hour; or, as Hanauer put it, “maybe $12 an hour here in Spokane.”

OK local progressives, a citywide $12 minimum wage: You have your mission, should you choose to accept it.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The meaning of May Day and our responsibility to stand with “lawbreakers”

Posted By on Wed, May 7, 2014 at 12:50 PM

TAYLOR WEECH
  • Taylor Weech

Spring dresses or police barricades? Maypole dance or march? In school, May Day was all about making some type of paper cone receptacle for flowers to be anonymously left on neighbor’s doorsteps. There was a schoolyard-appropriate dance involving a pole. As students grow out of seasonal craft projects in their curriculum, the day fades back into obscurity.

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Many countries celebrate May 1 as a public holiday focused not on spring, but on workers’ rights. The U.S., which is not one of those countries, put significant effort into rebranding International Workers Day throughout the 20th century with efforts including Americanization Day, Loyalty Day and Law Day, while redirecting the focus on labor issues to September’s Labor Day. Despite those efforts, workers have kept the origins of May Day — which is placed at the beginning of the month to mark the Haymarket Affair in Chicago in 1886 — in mind when planning observance through general strikes, public demonstrations and other collective actions in defense of workers’ rights.

In 2006, the focus of activists and workers shifted to highlight the struggle of immigrants, particularly those from Mexico, in the U.S. Among low-wage workers in this country, Latino immigrants face all of the hardship visited on other workers, plus the threat of deportation and the racist and xenophobic fears of their neighbors, pushed hard by the corporate-owned conservative mass media. That year, immigrant activists promoted the Great American Boycott, also known as “A Day Without An Immigrant,” to highlight the value of the work done by people coming here from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin and South America.

Demonstrations cropped up all over the country, concentrated in California and other agricultural areas that most heavily depend on migrant workers, including Eastern Washington. That year, MEChA de EWU organized a march in downtown Spokane to bring the issue of immigration reform and its intersection with workers’ rights to light. This video shows some of the ignorant attacks they faced and shares the message of human rights and dignity that the marchers wished to express.

This year, student leaders with MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) de EWU partnered with organizations throughout the community to march, as they have in years since 2006, to continue spreading their message. To my knowledge, there were no attacks on the marchers, verbal or otherwise, like the ones shown in the videos. There was no counter-protest and bystanders on the sidewalk were overwhelmingly supportive, lending cheers and applause, raising fists and peace signs, and in at least one case, joining in the march. Perhaps in this case, common sense is beginning to triumph over fear-driven nationalism among the general public. I hope it is true.

One group of people who can help undo the damage done by the aggressive, racist rhetoric around Mexican immigration is the media. The only media mention of this event was a story the day before on KREM, which repeatedly referenced the “worry that violence could come to the Lilac City,” based on police attacks and vandalism at May Day demonstrations throughout the Northwest in the past. Fears were allayed by citing the number of police officers who would be present at the march. This sensational focus takes the story back to the realm of fear and overshadows the message of peace and equality. While it’s good to shed light on a story like this, and to interview organizer Jackie Vaughn about the reasons for marching, it is also unhelpful to continue to use the phrase “illegal immigrant.”

How can a person be “illegal”? Seeing the vitriol of the Spokanites in the video from 2006 coupled with the nonsense on cable news focused on the danger of “illegals,” we can at least conclude that the phrase resonates with some. As a nation built by European immigrants, it’s ridiculous to restrict further movement of people into it, particularly the movement of those who are actually indigenous to the continent. Free trade only worked out for the employing class in the U.S. and for global capital as a whole. The fine print in the concept of free trade is that only the money gets to move around freely; the people, the labor force that generates the profit, still get borders and harsh penalties for crossing them.

But when the economic policy creates a situation in which you can’t work in your own country, and extraction industries and cities have made it impossible to survive the way your ancestors did, what other option do you have? A simple definition is that an “illegal” is one who breaks a law. At last Thursday’s rally, SEIU organizer Isaiah Day invoked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s agreement with St. Thomas Aquinas, saying, “A person has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. Unjust laws are out of harmony with moral laws. What is a just law? Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

It is certainly degrading to human personality to detain and deport half of the members of a family. It is degrading to be forced to work in a privately run holding facility for immigrants while you await deportation. It is degrading to be separated arbitrarily from your family by borders for years — or forever. People degrade themselves when they invest energy into believing a border is real, especially when they strive to make it more physically real with militarized walls. Talking to the young activists at this rally, I believe that their long-term goals are compatible with mine: equality, restoration of the Earth, real self-governance and freedom. In the short term, many are working to protect their family members who are undocumented. While President Obama granted permanent residence to young people in school under the DREAM Act, that doesn’t go far enough, and rings hollow when his administration’s deportation record is also considered.

Amy Núñez, a leader of MEChA who danced and spoke at the march, shared the story of her parents’ struggle to work in the U.S. and raise her and her siblings here, providing them with education and food on the table while being separated from their parents, her grandparents, who were still in Mexico unable to get visas to visit. She asked at the end of her speech, “It is because of my parents that I am here, so why not offer them a path to citizenship as well?”

A “path to citizenship” immigration reform approach can be one part of a path forward for a more sane humanity. The more that workers in the U.S. who claim the benefits of citizenship by geographical lottery can have solidarity with our sisters and brothers who ended up on the wrong side of the line when the elite classes decided a little more freedom might line their pockets, the more effective we can be at breaking down systems of inequality. ♦

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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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

More parents are speaking out about bullying in Spokane Public Schools

Posted By on Tue, May 6, 2014 at 11:25 AM

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Despite over a decade of increased national attention to the issue, countless awareness campaigns and the establishment of National Bullying Prevention Month, Washington state schools are still plagued by bullying and harassment. In addition to being shoved into lockers and beat up at recess, kids are also experiencing an unprecedented wave of social profiling online. There is no sanctuary. The impact is devastating, and it’s hitting Spokane hard. With lawmakers giving it little attention, perhaps failure to improve student outcomes isn’t a surprise. But for parents who are forced to send their children to a psychologically and physically unsafe environment to get a public education, the situation is unbearable.

“It’s so political right now,” says Lisa Hanson, a parent of two bullied daughters in Spokane. “There isn’t a lack of bullying but a lack of reporting and investigating.” She believes that Spokane schools are minimizing harassment and covering up evidence of bullying cases to score higher image points rather than doing anything to effectively curb maltreatment of students. “They are basically putting power in the hands of the bullies, and we are just along for the ride.”

Hanson’s daughters, Kathryn and Kari, are 19 and 9. For Kathryn, Spokane wasn’t her first experience with victimization. When living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she was terrorized by her peers to such an extent that she considered violence. “I knew that if I kept going to that school, I would bring my dad’s guns to school. I just stopped caring,” she remembers. “Having those thoughts of violence was actually the most terrifying thing to me.” Hoping for a new beginning, Kathryn enrolled in Rogers High School when she moved to Spokane.

The jeering and physical aggression quickly resumed where it had left off in Iowa. Due to a medical condition that affects her appearance, Kathryn says students incessantly teased her. She followed the process of reporting incidents to school officials, but things only got worse. In addition to harassment for her appearance, Kathryn was scorned for being a snitch. Hopelessness and helplessness began to shut down her social interests and deteriorated her academic performance.

In a desperate cry for help, Kathryn told her school counselor, “If something doesn’t change, I am going to hurt myself or someone else.”

She was removed from the school campus immediately and admitted to the youth psychiatric center at Sacred Heart, but she says there were no consequences for her attackers. After returning to school weeks later, she collapsed in the bathroom stall one day. Curled up with severe cramps, Kathryn held her phone to her chest and braced herself against the pain. Other girls came into the bathroom and began taunting her. As a sick joke, they told school staff she was spying on them under the stalls. As soon as her cramps stopped enough for her to stand, Kathryn was rushed to the principal’s office, her phone was confiscated, and she was suspended for two days (although there were no bathroom pictures on her phone and the girls later recanted their story, saying she hadn't been spying on them).

Humiliated and deeply hurt, Kathryn stayed out of school for two weeks. Shortly after returning, she became overwhelmed and quit school altogether. Now that she has completed her GED, Kathryn hopes to get a degree in business and someday own a dessert shop that will help fund programs for victims of clinical depression.

Rogers High School Assistant Principal Brett Hale says, “We try to not let things get to the point of a student having to drop out of school, but sometimes they wait too long to report [bullying], and then they are too emotionally upset and feel like they can’t come back to face people who are aware of what happened.”

But it isn’t her oldest daughter’s memories that have Lisa Hanson all fired up today. Her 9-year-old, Kari, is experiencing verbal and physical violence this year at her elementary school, and she is worried that the school’s unresponsive and unconcerned approach is causing Kari to internalize the oppression. The once-bubbly 9-year-old now is withdrawn and muddles through her school days with self-doubt and anxiety.

“Kari used to love school and got great grades, but now she feels like giving up,” says Hanson. In response to a recent incident where Kari was repeatedly attacked on the school bus, she says the school has recommended that she find alternative transportation for her daughter. As with too many victims of bullying, the burden of advocacy seems to be dumped on the targeted kids and their families rather than being mitigated by the institution claiming to have a zero tolerance policy on the issue.

When Hanson recently started sharing her daughter’s experiences on social media, other mothers came forward to tell how they too had no luck with justice in Spokane Public Schools. One mother went the legal route and got a restraining order served on her child’s bully. Other families have also taken matters into their own hands, moving out of the district, resorting to online curriculum, homeschooling, or putting their kids in private schools.

Kevin Morrison, the district’s director of community relations, tells me, “This is handled at a building level. The principal talks to students to determine what is going on.”

He adds: “From a district level, we take these cases very seriously. But from a parent’s perspective, can we always get the results they want? Well, that can’t always happen for the greater good.”

Nevertheless, some students, like Kathryn, believe that if she hadn’t removed herself from the situation, she could have been another school shooter. In fact two-thirds of school shooters have shown a history of being bullied, and bullies themselves who are recognized as young as 8-10 years old are eight times more likely to have a severe criminal record by the time they are 30.

“I want people to know that I have a different outcome because I chose to walk away,” Kathryn says. But, she can’t stand to watch the ongoing mistreatment of kids like her little sister. “There has to be some form of justice in schools.” ♦

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.


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Monday, April 28, 2014

“The Talk” on growing up black in the Inland Northwest

Posted By on Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 4:34 PM

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About the same time most parents get around to telling their kids about the birds and the bees, parents of black children in America sit their kids down for “The Talk.” This talk almost always includes the standard DWB and SWB (Driving While Black and Shopping While Black) components, but as a mother raising two black sons in North Idaho and Spokane, I had to draft a prologue, several chapters, a glossary and footnotes to the standard monologue. And while “The Talk” is traditionally an annual event or coming-of-age moment for many families, it is not a special occasion in our household, but rather a daily corrective for living in the Whitopia of America.

It was after they had already encountered biased incidents at ages 4 and 5 that I began an at-home remedial curriculum for surviving life as a black boy in a white community. I tried to prepare them for a wide array of styles and methods of institutionalized and individual racism, but I failed to anticipate some of the extremities our family would face.

One Saturday morning, my kids burst into my bedroom. “Mom, there's a rope hanging in the backyard; it looks like a noose!” I raced outside as my mind instantly tracked back to the parting words of a colleague at Howard University when we left Washington, D.C., en route to Idaho. “Don’t go there; you’ll get lynched!” I remember brushing off her comment with some theoretical statement about not living in a culture of fear. But that day my sons found the noose really broke my heart in a certain kind of way. I hadn’t told them about all the other incidents of harassment toward us before that day; I wanted to be their shield against the wave of terror that kept me awake at night. And now they were faced with a symbol of death when picking garden strawberries for breakfast. The police came. They interviewed all three of us, mumbled something about us getting security cameras and logged the incident as a hate crime. Our house was burglarized not once, but several times. There were nooses, swastikas and death threats.

Over dinner one day, my son asked, “Do those people who harass us have kids? Because I think I met one of them at school today.” He had been taunted at recess, being called names like “monkey” and other racial slurs. When reporting the incident, he had to educate the supervising staff about why “monkey” was offensive to black people. Thankfully, we had already been having “The Talk” for four years by then, so he knew how to back up his statements with historical references. He was asked to give the school’s only Black History Month presentation the next year. Educating educators and doing the job of professionals at 9 years old; gosh, they grow up fast these days.

On the first day in second grade, my son came home with a despondent face. Never mind the fact that he was stung by a bee inside his ear that day; what was really on his mind was that he was the only black kid in his class again. Perplexed, I said that two of the other kids in his class looked black. “They don’t know they’re black,” he said matter-of-factly. At 12, he still distinguishes himself as the only black kid at his school actually being raised by a black parent.

Living in this area, “The Talk” is much more than a primer on what to do when you get pulled over by a cop, or how to steer clear of the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s about making a midnight run to buy a set of headphones for your son to wear in between his classes so he doesn’t have to hear the “N” word as he walks down the high school hallway every day. It’s about protecting your kids from the psychological disorders which can result from growing up labeled as the “other” in their classroom and being presumed guilty until proven innocent.

We must tell them that, amid all the constant reminders of what the supra-dominant culture sees as normal, acceptable and healthy, they have a rich legacy, a hidden history that begins with the origins of humankind and civilization itself. And when they are mocked, demeaned, and even injured, to hold onto the belief in their own worthiness.

After opening a dialogue, maybe some of their questions will be hard to answer — like why our state and their elementary school is named after former slave owners, or why they will never see their best friend again because his parents pulled him out of public school once they found out about their interracial friendship — but we have to begin somewhere. Developing a responsive and open dialogue is a great place to start. ♦

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.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Starting at square one necessary to cure what ails us

Posted By on Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 4:51 PM

You are here. - NASA
  • NASA
  • You are here.

Happy belated Earth Day from a recovering save-the-world evangelist. I used to think that it was my job to save the world. That if we just recycled and composted hard enough, that everything would be OK. Today, I tend to find more truth in George Carlin’s words on the topic:

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“We’re so self-important. So arrogant. Everybody’s going to save something now. Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save the snails. And the supreme arrogance? Save the planet! Are these people kidding? Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves; we haven’t learned how to care for one another. We’re gonna save the f—-in’ planet? And, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with the planet in the first place. The planet is fine. The people are f—-ed! Compared with the people, the planet is doin’ great. It’s been here over four billion years.”

Comedians are among the only people in our society who can hold up the truth without getting shut down or labeled as crazy. Meanwhile, in the “real world,” absolutely ludicrous values reign unchecked. Our consumer culture has destroyed a hearty portion of the planet while most are still married to the ideals of capitalism, which by its design must expand to consume the rest. In the meantime, we in the so-called First World can’t seem to consume enough to fill the void left inside us. The vacuum of meaning in our death culture becomes more pronounced all the time. Pop culture fascinations include volumes of end-of-the-world lore, starring zombies and their hapless human counterparts alongside dramatizations of the day-to-day cycle of buying and selling — reality shows about pawn shops, cake baking, real estate, you name it.

“How come of all the creatures that bump or jump or swim on this sequined, spangled garden called Earth, we’re the only ones dumb enough to pay rent?” Jeffrey Stonehill asked this question at some point during the documentary Back to the Garden and it stuck with me. The more I explore the problems my generation has been tasked with solving, the more frustrated I become with the simple solutions that hang just out of reach. We have inherited a narrative in which jobs and the mystical, invisibly handed economy are the key and that without the complex global market, the planet would descend into chaos. When I look around, it seems that chaos has won out as a result of our economic system and its social effects rather than been staved off by its miraculous power.

Ours is a culture simultaneously repulsed by death and drawn to ultimate destruction. Politicians, pro-life until you’re born, supported by street corner zealots praying for the end of days abound. Under the constant cry of “Jobs! More jobs!” we assent in our desperation to do any job, even the kind that actively destroy the planet we call home. Unhappy people in this culture gobble down more drugs, illicit or prescription, than any society in history because they are afraid both to die and to live. What would it mean to really live? To be part of a society radically, rather than selectively, “pro-life”? How often do we stop in a day to just take in how incredible it is that we are flying around in infinite, majestic, cold, fascinating space on a rock that happens to host conditions favorable to what we call life? Do we then consider that all of the stuff on the rock, and beyond it, has been recycled forever? There is no new stuff. Perfect circles of interdependent systems ripple out throughout the universe and through you in every cell of your body. In short, it’s pretty epic! It’s easy to forget when we’re just trying to pay the rent.

So how do we use that knowledge to save ourselves and, perhaps, the world? I don’t have all of the answer to that, but here are a few ideas. One opportunity to take part in the whole list is this Saturday’s Earth Day celebration at Riverfront Park.

Make and share good art. Art is often the quickest way to connect to what another person feels, and we can’t build a better society without empathy. It also has the symbolic flexibility to question the status quo without being openly antagonistic.

Connect with nature. In the Northwest, we still have some amazing wilderness to explore. Particularly for children, it is so important to get out into it and internalize the value that we want to protect. It isn’t just the habitats and resources that need to be protected, but the experience of being part of the awesome whole of life referenced above.

Rebuild community. A shift away from the destructive systems of civilization and capitalism would not be smooth if we dove right in today. People in our society don’t have the connections to one another, nor the practical skills to rebuild self-sufficient community. The good news is that most people like making friends and everyone feels safer and more fulfilled when we work together to meet our mutual needs.

Listen to yourself. So many messages are crafted for us to consume every day (including this one!) that it’s easy to lose track of your own thoughts and your own truth. Finding any way to slow down and cultivate the memory of who you really are couldn’t do any harm at all. ♦


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