Risk Management and Homelessness

My company is moving to a new HQ in Seattle’s downtown core. Crime rates are higher as is the concentration of homelessness (not that either is nonexistent just 1.7 miles north) . This is a risk in terms of employee safety, but another risk is employees being skittish about being in an urban environment–because of pearl clutching, which could affect employee retention or adoption of the changes. You can’t do a lot to mitigate genuine safety risks when people are outside of the building–because they are a) rare, b) random/unlucky, c) in the open air.

Nonetheless, we’ve taken security risks seriously and planned for a security officer to be available to escort individuals to their offsite parking garages, increased building security, and selected valet garages with fewer access points, decreasing the likelihood of intruders or car prowlers. We are also implementing a buddy system so people can coordinate walking to bus stops, garages, etc. with people they know.

BUT what we haven’t done is account for perceived threats: AKA homeless people. A large chunk of my coworkers don’t like homeless people and don’t want to be around them. This is because they incorrectly believe their safety is threatened by the existence of homeless people. It’s a weird risk. It’s an extremely common risk.We risk a mutiny as soon as the safety police start sharing articles about crime rates in the neighborhood on our community message boards.

How do you get your employees to treat their homeless neighbors as people? After all, we’re moving into their neighborhood. They were there first. Aren’t homeless people only a “problem” when we treat them poorly? Isn’t that why they are homeless in the first place?

Mitigation: have a volunteer day. Wear our company t-shirts. Introduce ourselves. Hand out food or clothes or toiletries or bus passes. Do something for our neighbors. Then they’ll be people to us, and we’ll be people to them, and those safety alarmists won’t get nearly the amount of traction they would otherwise.

Sometimes the best way to mitigate a risk is to act like a human being. Also, safety and security trainings just make people never want to leave their homes. Anything could happen and has happened, and there is no realistic way to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

I haven’t seen my boss’s risk log on this project, but I would be willing to bet a lot of money that at no point did he think that our employees might be a risk to our homeless neighbors.

Starbucks (Yay!) is Still a Corporation (Boo!)

A lot of corporations do things that are bad for the world, whether that’s the environment or people or both. Starbucks is not an exception to that.
 
In doing racial bias training in all their American stores, they are doing the right thing, insofar as there is a right thing. Yes, it’s PR. Yes, they should already have done it, and every company in America should start doing it yesterday and 20 years ago and 60 years ago, in perpetuity. 
 
If you are of the opinion that Starbucks shouldn’t exist because of your opinions about corporations in general, I don’t expect you to be happy with them. Nothing will make you happy about their behavior except for closing their doors.
 
If you have a less condemning view of Starbucks, you will appreciate the difference between Starbucks’ response and any major airline’s response to racist behavior on the part of their employees in the last couple years, or any police force after the summary execution of an unarmed black man or woman. You know that corporations are haneously bad at responding to backlash. You are relieved that Starbucks isn’t haneously bad in this way.
 
There are layers to this. Starbucks’ exploitative practices in sourcing and their use of non-compostable plastics is bad. They are doing a thing, unrelated to those bad things, that is not bad, at the very least, better than average.
 
The question for you, especially if you mostly don’t mind corporations, is whether or not to lean into the other layers. The other layers require something of you. If corporations are problematic, so might be how you spend your money on them. If Starbucks is exploiting POC in Central and South America and contributing significantly to our plastic problem, should you support them with your dollars? That’s a good question to ask yourself.
 
And I get that this is complex, that there are many, many people who depend on Starbucks for jobs and meeting places, and wifi. I get that condemning a corporation as whole runs the risk of, in fact, disenfranchising marginalized groups who use and depend on the services the corporation is providing.
 
I confess to not liking Starbucks’ products, so I do not personally spend my money there (side note: I am calling a moratorium on the practice of giving Starbucks gift cards as office gifts; please, get anything else at all). But Starbucks is inescapable in the world, especially in Seattle, so I know I have to contend with them one way or another.
I don’t feel like I have clear guidance or an opinion on this issue. Rather it has simply struck me as I see some of social media feeds consumed with debate about this that there is a difference between saying “oh that is better than usual; I will save my outrage,” and “corporations are bad; this is no time to let this one off the hook.” I’d even go so far as to say they are not mutually exclusive. I don’t think there is ever a good time to let a corporation off the hook, but just like with the airlines, I feel completely powerless to steer the fundamental function of the business model. If I don’t have to be outraged over their response to an employee calling the police on two black men for absolutely no reason (especially because I am already furious that the police were called in the first place), I will keep living my life, which includes not buying Starbucks 99.9% of the time.

King County Chair Resigns

Yesterday, King County Democrats Chair, Bailey Stober, resigned.

I wasn’t there, because I was celebrating my most holy of holy days, Pascha, known to western Christianity as Easter. The long and short explanation for why I celebrate Christ’s resurrection on a different day from everyone else is that most of the eastern church is on an old calendar and they refuse to change.

That feels like it should be an allegory for the King County Democrats in this whole saga. Workplace harassment, sexual harassment. You’d think a county that includes the Most Progressive City in the Country™ would have responded better to these issues. Instead they allowed Bailey to drag out this process for a full two months.

It feels fitting that he resigned on Holy Pascha. Sorry to my fellow Democrats who have a gag reflex at religion, but bear with me while I revel in this symbolism.

In the words of St. John Chrystostom, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns.”

Record scratch.

Wait, his resignation isn’t effective until midnight on Saturday of this week? Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Nonetheless, Stober was found guilty on all five counts of workplace misconduct. We won’t have to have a meeting of the PCOs to vote him out, and the key players can move on with their lives.

There is a lot of work for KCDCC in the coming year, relational and emotional rifts, broken trust, and just plain old financial insolvency. The work, the real work of electing Democrats, still needs doing.

I understand if you are a woman and you feel disenfranchised right now. Your party doesn’t seem to have your back they way you thought it would or the way it definitely should. I have learned something in recent years that has become one my centrally held beliefs: The Patriarchy is not just a poison spread by our political and ideological opponents; The Patriarchy is endemic to every one of our systems and institutions. Voting for pro-choice candidates and funding Planned Parenthood does not undo that. Women can be both victims and enablers. The work is hard because The Patriarchy designed itself not to be overthrown. I know that’s not encouraging, but I hope you’ll stay anyway. I hope you’ll keep doing this work in this party, even in KCDCC, especially now that it’s time to vote in a new chair.

36th Legislative District March Meeting

Bailey Stober, Chair of the King County Democrats, still hasn’t resigned. He could resign via e-mail at any time, though he has intimated that he has an important announcement to make at the March 27th meeting, location TBD.

Last night, however, my home legislative district voted on a resolution calling for Stober’s resignation. Unsurprisingly, some of the women at the center of the controversy, Natalia Koss Vallejo and Mona Das, were present, though they are not residents of the 36th. Bailey was also there at the start of the meeting but left shortly after we started.

I have been attending 36th meetings regularly for just over a year. Even though I had project management classes on Wednesday nights for 9 months, I would sometimes skip class to attend and participate in local democracy.

I am an acting precinct committee officer. At first, I was accidentally assigned to two precincts. One of my only interactions with Bailey was over e-mail rectifying this error and asking that he only sign off on one precinct appointment. Thus, I became an acting PCO in precinct 36-3699. This means, I have a vote in our meetings.

The 36th district is known for being the bluest district in the state—encompassing Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Magnolia, Queen Anne, and even Belltown. We consistently vote for democrats up and down the ballot. We are so sure of our candidate’s victories in our own district, that we adopt a district each year and canvas for them. While I would like to see more people of color in positions of leadership, I can’t deny that the executive board is solidly progressive. A couple members even attempted to change our bylaws to be able to endorse candidates who aren’t Democrats, like Nikkita Oliver. In communities of color, especially the Black community, north Seattle has a bad rap, and that’s not wrong. We’re a wealthy district and we live in desirable, majority white neighborhoods where property values are some of the least affordable. I can only afford to live where I do because I have a roommate. I would need to be making 22% more than my current income to afford my below-market apartment on my own (but we can talk about that later).

In the last month, I have been to two KC Dems meetings, and I have written about those experiences, the climate of the room, and the lack of process in place to address the need for Bailey’s resignation. I don’t know what they are like when it comes to less contentious subjects, but I will say that being back in my LD was a comfort. And that comfort was not the familiar faces of my neighbors, but came directly from the top, from the leadership of our chair, Jeff Manson.

I like Jeff. I have always liked Jeff, even when I have paused to ask myself why this progressive district is led by a white man. The answer is in his presentation of last night’s resolution. It is rare for a chair to present on a resolution. The impartiality of the chair is a valued tradition and Jeff adheres to it. However, Jeff broke with tradition last night, and presented on the resolution calling for Stober’s resignation, not before explaining his reasons and giving space for anyone to voice their objections. No one objected.

I had prepared a statement in defense of the resolution. As Jeff spoke, passionately and precisely, I felt affirmed. He was touching on all the points I had planned to make. He was saying things that I have said during this conflict, in whispers, between eyerolls, in post-meeting car rides. He was saying those things, not in opposition to power, but as the person in power. I felt my insides melting—trepidation gave way to hope and feeling seen. Jeff stated at several intervals that he believed the accusations of sexual harassment and emphasized that our resolution’s scope only included whether we believed Bailey should resign as chair, making an apt distinction between kinds of due process.

When Jeff finished, we had several technical questions, none of which came across as hostile. Before anyone had a chance for debate (at which point I would have volunteered to make a statement), a member made a motion to “call the question.” For those of you unfamiliar with Robert’s Rules, this is how to end debate on something when you think further debate would not be fruitful or you are in a time crunch. Calling the question needs to be approved by a two thirds majority. Otherwise, debate is allowed to continue. The motion passed handily. Moments later, the 36th LD unanimously passed the resolution calling for Bailey to resign as chair of the King County Democrats, 96-0.

Here is the statement I would have read, had there been any call to do so:

“I was raised in a conservative environment where I saw multiple men abuse their power with no consequences. I am a survivor of sexual assault. I cut all ties with the Republican party, because I knew that my voice as woman would be discounted, not matter my qualifications. I joined the Democratic Party guided by the belief that this was a party that supports, empowers, and believes women. Allowing Bailey Stober to continue as chair of the King County Democrats only sends a message to women that we only believe them if they accuse our political opponents.

Even if we were not in this moment, if the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements were not the focus of our public discourse, King County Democrats is broke. They are not financially viable and will not become viable as long as Bailey is chair.

But we are in this moment in time. The #TimesUp and #MetToo movements are central to our discourse. So, I urge you, if you are inclined to lament to lost potential of Bailey’s leadership, to instead consider the lost potential of the women in the organization who will be disenfranchised if Bailey stays.”

I firmly believe that this passed because Jeff spoke in favor of it and because he so rarely does so. I believe that Jeff and other leaders have built a healthy organization, an environment where women and workers are supported, protected, and believed. Jeff volunteers are chair in service to the party, not so that the party can serve him. The last line of our resolution called for 36th Dems to investigate and put into place the correct procedures for removing our own chair in a similar situation. This is significant, because it signals Jeff’s understanding that his wisdom is not infinite, and that we need transparency and process to protect us from abuses of power.

This is in such stark contrast with Bailey’s behavior since allegations of creating a hostile work environment and sexually harassing his employee surfaced. Bailey has tried to use Robert’s rules and the lack of process to stall and protect himself. He has performed political theater, and all but used the Trumpian line “fake news.” This is abuse. Even if somehow all the allegations against him were false or misleading, his behavior toward the executive board of the KC Dems has been abusive. Culture is created at the top. And the atmosphere of abuse created by leadership is toxic and infectious. It created the mentality that the leaks to media were worse than the accusations being made. It allowed Bailey to draw out this process, further deteriorating the function of the organization.

Last night was a breath of fresh air to me, because I was finally in a room where my leader wasn’t trying to gaslight everyone.

King County Democrats Call for Chair’s Resignation

If three weeks ago Bailey had stood before the body and announced he was an alcoholic, that he was seeking treatment, and would step down as chair at least for the duration of the investigation, he would have a future political career. If he had done so on Monday night, he might still have had a future in politics. However, after a 38-13 vote calling for his resignation at last night’s King County Democrats Executive Committee Meeting yielded only contention from him, Stober has forfeited his political future.

I do hope that Bailey addresses what appears to be alcoholism. I hope he learns how to be kind, when so often he has chosen not to be. But the Democratic party is not worse off without a man who abuses his power; intimidates, bullies, and threatens employees, volunteers, and colleagues; fat shames women; and bankrupts his organization.

I attended Monday night’s meeting. This time, Bailey made a motion not to go into Executive Session, meaning, the press and I were all allowed to stay in the room. It was the only motion he brought to the floor that passed all evening. The whole atmosphere had shifted in the few weeks since the last meeting. I sat with the accusers, victims, and allies who did not have a vote or a voice in the meeting. A couple alternates and a voting committee member sat with us as well, and we conferred about each development and how to respond.

I felt assured that we had reached a turning point when Bailey’s second attempt to make a statement in his defense was voted down. He was trying to amend an approved agenda and had indicated that he had evidence to present (presumably against his former employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo). However, this was not a trial, the agenda had been approved, and they had set a specific end-time. He didn’t get his six minutes or his 15 minutes. All he could do was stall the inevitable.

About 2 hours in, we were less than a third through the agenda. Miraculously, though (or because of the presiding chair), we made it all the way through every agenda item, including setting a deadline for calling a special PCO meeting, a motion calling for Bailey’s resignation, and a motion preventing him from chairing the next meeting.

These are big wins for women, and they signal the end of Bailey’s tenure as chair. I don’t want to overstate this success though. The victims don’t get what all victims want, need, and deserve: a heartfelt apology. Bailey has upt to this point continued to deny any and all wrongdoing. While some form of justice will eventually be served, it will be justice delayed.

I need to talk about something equally contentious, but having noticed it, I cannot unnotice it, and I feel like I need to say something.

I observed that some of the most vocal defenders of Bailey were Black. As a community, that is a reality we need to attend to going forward. I think Bailey needs to go, but I am worried it will alienate people whose voices I value—people whose voices are too often silenced and overlooked. I can’t tell a black woman that something isn’t about race. If I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that pretty much everything is about race. The victims and accusers don’t have to feel a racial motivation for race to be involved. I acknowledge the racial history both of this country and of this county. Bringing down Bailey feels like yet another way that white folks and non-black POC make it impossible for black folks to thrive. That is a sentiment that makes sense to me and is valid for a lot of reasons—not the least of which include losses by candidates such as Erin Jones and Nikkita Oliver. I say this knowing that many witnesses and allies are women of color, and I know there is a diversity of opinion on this, even among Black members of KC Dems. I want to acknowledge the tension I observed here, and not minimize those natural and justified feelings. If I need to silence Black men and women to justify my position, then my position is wrong.

I know this piece might leave me looking conflicted about the way forward for KC Dems. I am not. There is ample evidence that Stober has behaved problematically, and the narrative here has reached a critical mass. KC Dems will not be a viable organization unless Stober steps down or is removed. I do care about relationships, and I do care about the message being sent and to whom. I do genuinely care about achieving the intersectional ideals I espouse. One comment I hear repeatedly in arguments calling for Stober’s resignation is that we are sending the wrong message to women and workers, the message that we will not protect them or believe them. That’s not the message we want to send or should be sending. Let’s be equally cognisant of what message ousting Bailey sends to our Black members.

King County Democrats Meeting 2/27/2018

In case you haven’t heard, King County Democrats Chair, Bailey Stober, has been accused of harassment, creating a hostile work environment, and misappropriation of funds. He is currently under investigation and refuses to acquiesce to demands that he resign.

You can read more about these accusations in The Stranger, Seattle Times, and The C is for Crank. Included in the C is for Crank article is a video posted by Stober on his personal Facebook page.

Last night there was a King County Democrats meeting. I attended, but was not allowed in the executive session, which is always closed to the public. From what I gathered from hallway gossip, most of the two or so hours we sat outside consisted of people inside asking questions they knew the answer to in order to make a point.

I enjoyed myself in the hallway, meeting other PCOs and learning about how things work at the county level. At some point some committee members who identified themselves as serjeants-at-arms were sent into the hallway to make sure no one was standing too close to the door, in case we were listening in. Of course, we were listening in, but we couldn’t actually make anything out and had begun chatting instead. They should have been more concerned that everyone inside the room had functioning cell phones (aka recording devices) on their persons.

Later, one of the same serjeants-at-arms came out to tell a PCO not to leak sensitive information to the press. This was a bizarre admonishment, because the PCO wasn’t in the meeting and didn’t have sensitive information to leak. He said as much. By now it was ten at night, and we were all slumping a little. Maybe this why I was so incredulous about the rest of the evening.

The serjeant-at-arms came out again and told the reporter that they needed to monitor interviews. The reporter did not like this and refused to be monitored. The most absurd moment in this utter circus was when the serjeant-at-arms said to a committee member (whose voting credential had fallen out of his pocket and onto the floor without him noticing) “Do you pinky-promise not to leak sensitive information to the press?” I think this serjeant-at-arms knew that what they were being as was absurd, yet there was a self-seriousness about everyone’s tone and demeanor, but none of the training or actual professionalism required to make it believable. I imagined that what was going on inside the meeting room was equally farcical and more upsetting.

Once executive session ended, we were allowed back in the room. A few things happened that I think are important. First, confidential materials had been distributed during executive session that needed to be returned. However, rather than ensuring that they had all been returned before opening the doors to the public, they attempted to do so afterward. The acting chair announced that two copies were still missing and that if any committee member was found to be in possession of one they would be risking a charge of misconduct.

Second, when a motion was set forth to further the investigation into Bailey’s actions, the acting chair announced that there were no rules of debate in the bylaws. That’s right. King County Dems have no established rules of debate.

Third, the body decided they needed to form a new investigation team—the vice chairs who had done the preliminary investigation had been deemed too biased. Unfortunately, no such team existed, and they had no formal process at hand to appoint one. Rather than, say, draw names out of a hat or go through a strikethrough process, they agreed that the vice chairs could appoint two investigators, that Bailey could appoint 2 investigators, and that those four investigators would come to consensus on the fifth investigator. I don’t know of any investigation where it is considered ethical for the person under investigation to be allowed to choose any of the people conducting the investigation. The conflicts of interest seem self-evident to me, and I was disappointed that no one stood up to cry foul.

Finally, an amendment was made to the motion which ultimately passed that called for the investigation to include discovering who leaked a confidential memo to the press. This is not a bad amendment per se. What was bad was the framing. I confess that I had to leave the room for a moment when this amendment came to the floor. Few things make me more angry than miscarriages of justice. The woman who introduced the amendment said that the worst thing about this entire conflict was the leaked confidential memo. She has been presented with everything that Bailey is accused of, sat in the same room as the victims, and decided that where the organization is most vulnerable is due to an as yet anonymous whistleblower and not the reason for the whistleblowing. Her proposed amendments was met with applause. As a sexual assault survivor, as someone who spent years being ignored on this subject, this was triggering. I left. I walked down the hall into a different room, closed the door, and for the first time since I was a child, I screamed. I breathed, and then I went back inside in time to see the amendment pass. I have never felt more helpless.

What all of this highlights is that a lack of process is dangerous. For the sake of expediency, the body just allowed the person being investigated to appoint his own investigators. I urge Legislative Districts and other counties to put processes into place about how to investigate your chairs or other leaders in your org. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have shown us that abusive men in power don’t get to stay in power anymore. While it is inconvenient, even painful, for the organizations that go through public accusations, it is made more inconvenient when you don’t have a way to sort through it. It’s painful for the victims most of all who, rather than feeling heard, safe, and affirmed, are part of a drawn out faux-trial. The longer this goes on, worse it is for everyone and the more likely it is that Bailey will continue to do harm. The best thing Bailey could have done was say “I’m sorry; what can I do to make it better?” and then gone and done those things.

Full disclosure, I think Bailey should resign immediately. He has said he wants due process, but if I learned anything last night, it’s that KC Dems don’t have one to offer, and it is partly Bailey’s fault as their chair. I fully believe the victims in this situation, but even if I didn’t, the accusations and the financial situation Bailey has put the organization in have reached critical mass. Bailey’s continued presence is a hindrance to fundraising efforts, fuel for our political opponents, and alienating to anyone who identifies as a victim of sexual harassment. Further, Bailey’s behavior since the accusations has been categorically unprofessional and childish.

My final anecdote from last night took place at the start of the meeting. Bailey, rather than opening the meeting by announcing his resignation, brought up the treasurer to give a financial report. She did so, painting a dire picture. KC Dems would be in the hole $3,000 if they paid all their outstanding bills. That doesn’t include pending litigation that is likely to result in a yet to be determined fine. A member of the Executive committee took this opportunity to pay his dues. Bailey also took the opportunity to perform a piece of theater. He handed over a check made out for $5,000 to the treasurer. He did not say where it had come from. This was met with applause. I cringed and rolled my eyes. Great. He is the reason they are in this financial situation to begin with, and $5K hardly addresses the $163K in funds he has depleted. In this moment Bailey proved his interests lie in himself over the wellbeing of the organization, that his is a politics of theater and not of substance.

Edit: The check for $5,000 has since been rescinded. It was the fulfillment of a 2017 pledge from Dow Constantine, according to the KCD treasurer.

Open Letter to SPD Officer Couet

Dear SPD Officer Couet,

We’ve never met. That’s not exactly true, but during the 10 or so minutes I stood centimeters from you on Sunday, August 13, as you propelled me backward with your bike, we never really got formally introduced. I was standing on a public sidewalk, and someone, not you, someone you take orders from, decided I was in the way. I wasn’t the only one corralled off a sidewalk we pay significant sales taxes to freely walk down. In a very technical sense, I wasn’t even part of the extremely valid, anti-fascist, anti-racist, peaceful protest. My heart was with them, but you blocked my body. Indeed, had you and your compatriots not decided I was in the way, there would be no record of my participation in Sunday’s march, no further evidence of SPD’s continued and blatant use of excessive force. But now I have bruises up and down my thighs where you pushed your bike into my body. You were wearing body armor and dark sunglasses. Your name and badge number were written on a piece of duct-tape, stuck to your chest piece. I was wearing a pair of jeans and a crop top. I wasn’t really prepared for the protest. I have been recovering from mono, so I just wanted to be a body for 30 minutes, before I got too tired. I wanted to stand in solidarity and denounce the very same Nazism you protected on Sunday, not let my illness overcome my convictions. I knew my gesture would be small—the absolute least I could do. And considering the arrests and pepper spray that others endured at SPD hands on Sunday, considering the recent murder of Charleena Lyles, my gesture was small.

When you told us to move, I just knew, I wasn’t going to help you. I looked at my boyfriend in silence, and we both knew. We would practice non-compliance. I put my hands in my pockets and I faced you. Why did I do it? I just did it.

You pushed me. You stepped on both my feet, causing me to momentarily lose a sandal. With each push, you yelled “Move Back,” and made sure your orders were followed. During those ten minutes, you never met my eyes. I looked, and I looked, silently, gazing. You were wearing sunglasses, but I could still catch the light off your irises, never looking me in the face. As you pushed and pushed, I thought to myself, even here, even now, you, officer Couet, are human. I will give you humanity by looking you in the eyes. Why did you never meet mine? You would not afford me the same courtesy I was affording you. Maybe you just haven’t read enough Levinas.

I want to be absolutely clear about one thing. What you did, if you had been anyone else, would be assault.

I said one thing while I stood across from you. A debate had begun between the officer to your right and the men to my left. The other officer tried to get out of being accused of upholding a racist system by saying that America is racist, so doesn’t that make us (the people being pushed) racist too? Of course, to him, being called racist is an insult, so he thought we’d be mad to hear him affirm the very reason we showed up in the first place. I have no delusions about how racist I am. Of course, you didn’t know that. You didn’t know that the only difference between my racism and yours is that I acknowledge and fight against mine. But you wouldn’t know that, because we’ve never really met.

I regret breaking my silence to speak. Not because I was wrong or unsteady. But because you weren’t hearing anything that was said. What I wish I had done was sing. I have a good voice. At my birthday parties, every year, my friends push me into singing “La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf. I did once on a boat on South Lake Union, so now they want me to do it every year. I kill at that song. But that’s not what I wish I had sung on Sunday. I wish I had sung “Down by the Riverside.” My boyfriend and I have been practicing. I heard a version of it that I loved at a church service in college, so when we started building a repertoire of protest songs, I added that one to the mix. Maybe you’re familiar with the lyrics, “I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside and study war no more.” Of course, swords are really passé, and you didn’t have a shield. You had body armor and a bike. But you get the point. It would have felt really good to sing in the middle of being afraid that the officer behind you, strutting around with his pepper spray out and unpinned, was just itching to use it. It would have felt good to make something beautiful while you were using force, violence, and threats to prevent us from peacefully observing a protest. And you see what you did right? When you pushed. We stopped being the observers and became the protesters, separated from our march.

I want to say a few words about the people who have suffered (not just been pushed around) at the hands of SPD, those who have been pepper sprayed, unjustly arrested, murdered. Charleena Lyles, Che Taylor, John T. Williams. They are, more often than not, people of color. The people on the south side of the street on Sunday, the ones who were more vocal than me, the Black people, they knew that they were already risking so much more than me by being there. I didn’t get to hear from them whether your fellow officers pushed harder or used stronger threats. I know that I had an easier time for being white, that your final statement before you rode off on your bike so recently weaponized against me, “No hard feelings,” may not have been uttered but for the color of my skin. (Also, of course you had no hard feelings. You had all the power and all the protection. Why would you harbor hard feelings for us?). All of this is to say, I know that there are people risking more, people who stayed with the march longer, people whose trauma will outlive the tape I have on replay in my head of you pushing me backward. I know that what I do is little, that I’m opting in with my whiteness when I work toward anti-racism. I know I can leave when I get tired, go through most of the world as if it were made for me (yeah, we’ll a put pin in how you handled rape allegations against Sheriff John Urquhart, and how I can’t escape sexism). But I will keep putting my body on the line, even if it’s just to create a little breathing room between you and the people of color I’m showing up for.

This part isn’t for you, Officer Couet, but I hope you read it anyway.

I know I can write these things because of my whiteness. I know that the potential for white outrage is higher because of my whiteness. I hope anyone who reads this, who finds themselves angry about the idea of a white woman and her white boyfriend being pushed around by riot police infuriating, check yourself. How mad were you when you found out Charleena Lyles and her unborn child were killed? What are you doing to make it possible to prosecute a police officer in Washington state? How will you put your body on the line? Have you paid a Black woman today?

See you around, officer Couet. Next time, I hope I have the presence of mind to sing while you assault me.

-Claire

There is no Substitute for Elegance

There’s a song in a musical about how you have to have elegance in order to fit in at fancy restaurants; I never could understand the lyrics. Today, especially where I reside in the Pacific Northwest, elegance is considered bourgeois—and the word bourgeois is even too bourgeois.

Once, during a philosophy discussion, I claimed that I like social rules. They put the world in order and have an elegance to them. My professor said that the real reason I like such things as having multiple forks and knowing where to put my napkin and when is because I like to be distinctive. He didn’t go so far as to call me a snob, but that’s what he was insinuating.

I am not a snob, but I do love elegance. I love flowing fabrics, crystal goblets, pearls, and caviar. My favorite designers are Alphonse MuchaErté, and Paul Poiret. If I could put feather accents on the shoulder of every dress and have huge, batwing sleeves on all my coats, I would. Velvet. Silk. Lace. They thrill me.

Of course, I’m a practical person in many ways, so my wardrobe is considerably plainer than any of the prints Erté ever produced. I’ve never worn a turban with a single feather jutting into the heavens. I own no silk bathrobes.

I do, however, own a pair of white, silk palazzo pants; two vintage coats with fur collars; a backless, black velvet, floor-length dress; and a pair of yellow suede heels. This finery could easily lead people to believe that I am completely obsessed with my appearance and have no bearing on the normal world, giving rise to frivolity.

On the contrary, I am not obsessed with my appearance. I care very little for it. That is what makes it so easy to change it. I do care about fun, and it is fun to wear a gigantic, floppy hat out to dinner. It’s fun to shave your head and wear dreamcatchers for earrings. It’s fun when your boyfriend can’t keep his hands off you in your satin jumpsuit despite being so skeptical about it on the hanger. I can be a Greek goddess or Edith Piaf or a ’30s film star just by putting on an outfit or doing my hair a little differently. And then I can go right back to being your typical Seattlite in riding boots, leggings, and a sweater.

However, I would like to state unequivocally that these things are, indeed, frivolous. They are not, however, a frivolity that I intend to take seriously, ever. The real problem of frivolity is when it is taken too seriously. That is how a good time turns into snobbery. And snobbery is merely upper class exclusivism. The rules create order, but being flexible enough to eat a corn dog while wearing elbow-length suede gloves also has its merits. A generous spirit is essential, and you simply must have absolutely as much fun as possible. Elegance and dignity are not the same thing, after all.

Anarcho-Commun-Indepence Day

The 4th of July is far from my favorite Holiday. Christmas and Thanksgiving are the ones that insight so much feeling and good cheer. I get especially thoughtful and sentimental about those Holidays. And Easter is always profoundly impactful in its ability to remind me about sacrificial love and the hope of salvation, etc. Of course, I know our country’s history. I know that we celebrate our independence from the British, our ability to govern ourselves, and pay taxes with representation. But for the most part, July 4th is the day that my family piles into a van and drives somewhere. I don’t know if we’ve ever gone to the same place twice. Last year it was so hot, the only thing we could think to do was visit some caves where we learned about stalagmites and stalactites. One year, we went to the Spam Museum (yes it does exist). There is always a great deal of singing, a frenzied attempt to get out the door with all of our picnic fixings, and some dirt-road experience or another (my mom has always said that it’s not an adventure until you’ve been on a dirt road). Most of the time, we forget a knife and can’t cut the apples or the cheese.

Naturally, this year my usual expectation for adventure was aroused by the sound of fireworks in the distance and the unusually sunny weather we have been experiencing in Seattle. Unfortunately, I am too many miles away from my family to plan on piling into my parents’ minivan, and as it turned out, Seattleites don’t share my enthusiasm for dirt roads. When I was invited to a party hosted by an anarchist and a communist, I was intrigued but a little incredulous. The plan was simple: celebrate America in the most cliché ways possible. Someone bought a big flag and mounted it on the wall. We had McDonald’s, and everyone drank Coke and Budweiser. There were larger-than-life cardboard cutouts of Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx on one wall as well. Our hosts took their jobs very seriously, posting signs forbidding communists in the bathroom and wearing red, white, and blue armbands. The guests had varying degrees of investment in the theme. There was, however, an underlying sense that no one was very proud of America and that this whole thing was a charade, which it was. Perhaps Sartre would have been proud of us, but I have never really wanted to impress him.

Suddenly, the decision was made to walk over to Gasworks Park to watch the fireworks. If you don’t know, that is where everyone goes to watch the fireworks in Seattle. I didn’t want to walk or deal with the inevitable swarm of people, but it was that or miss the party. So, I put my shoes on anyway. Someone had the idea to bring our large flag, and off we went, banner waiving conspicuously. There were crowds of people over a mile away from the park. They were gathered at the edge of the lake or walking in the same direction as our group—there were about fourteen of us.

Then someone started singing “God Bless America.” We all joined in. As we got into larger crowds of people, we continued to sing. There were several repetitions of “The Star Spangled Banner” and at least two rousing renditions of “America the Beautiful.”

Just outside of Gasworks, we got into a huddle. Again, the plan was simple: we would enter the park waving the flag and singing, “Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?” We all sang loudly with our fearless leader waving the flag heroically. People cheered and gave us high fives. Many joined the singing. Others stood at attention, hands on their hearts with somber expressions. And suddenly it struck me—even though I sensed my childhood romps in large vans had vanished—America isn’t so bad. Entering the crowded park, all of us following a massive flag, I suddenly had a feeling of satisfaction, or even pride.

It was with mounting fervor that I sang, “Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave o’er that land of the free and the home of the brave?”

When we finished our song, we began chanting, “USA! USA! USA!”

One person in our group yelled into the mass, “Make way for America!” and people moved aside.

Some people took pictures and chanted with us. I couldn’t help but feel a little silly chanting those three letters over and over again, like I was part of the US Olympic Swim Team, but it was fun, and I couldn’t help but notice that it was bringing us together. People who probably wouldn’t talk to each other on any other day of the year were pointing at us, starting conversations, and, most importantly, singing together with smiles on their faces.

Once we found a spot to sit, again we sang, starting with “America the Beautiful.” I was surprised at how many people on our corner of the hill knew the words. After that we went straight into what must have been our eighth time singing the National Anthem. What was it about this flag and these songs that moved people to raise their voices and cheer? Were we all just that drunk?

When the fireworks started, we danced on the hillside to explosions of color and Bono going on about it being a beautiful day. And, well, he was right. As thousands of people packed up to go home at once, our group formed an inseparable conga line. We held fast to each other, never letting that flag out of our sight. Once we cleared the bulk of the crowd, we walked two by two or three by three, chatting like old chums.

I didn’t have high expectation for a 4th of July away from home. I guess it’s easy to feel glum when you realize that your traditions are fading into memories and you have no van to climb into for a day trip to Taylor’s Falls with your family. And there’s the underwhelming feeling that America might not be so great; after all, there’s nothing impressive about student loans and the ill-conceived notion that Jesus was American, bred out of a disproportionate sense of superiority. Then you sing. So what if the man waving the flag, causing strangers to cheer is an anarchist; there’s something about music, something that connects us to each other, even more than the widely recognized symbol of our nation that is The Flag. There is something about singing that fortifies every good feeling we have and makes us think the person next to us isn’t such a stranger after all. More than anything, it makes me feel like I’m home.