A broad coalition cutting across class, race and income lines - including groups as diverse as the Community Council Federation, NAACP, the Minority Executive Directors, ACLU, all Seattle Democratic Party Districts, church leaders and housing and homeless advocates (such as ourselves) - came together and turned back Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess' anti-panhandling ("aggressive solicitation") law.
Only three weeks ago, legislation looked like a done deal, But, instead, Mayor Mike McGinn vetoed the bill brought to his desk by a 5-4 vote. (This was a courageous act: Nickels only vetoed two pieces of legislation in eight years.) Burgess is not likely to muster the six council votes he'll need to overturn the veto. What happened?
It started with a lone dissent from City Councilmember Nick Licata. In the week leading up to the council vote, a remarkable organizing effort by this diverse coalition brought Councilmembers Bruce Harrell, Tom Rasmussen and Mike O'Brien to Licata's side.
The Burgess bill gave police far too much discretion and violated due-process rights for those hit with citations. It invited selective enforcement against people of color, poor people or just people who don't look quite right. That's why community leaders reacted so strongly (as they did to the so-called "Sidran civility laws" passed a decade ago). Such laws target behavior of one class of people who happen to be poor.
Burgess and allies such as fellow council member Richard Conlin, who introduced and supported this bill, have whipped up a level of divisiveness not seen since the Mark Sidran era. When McGinn's veto is upheld, it will be a tremendous victory for true civility and fairness and will help put a lid - hopefully, for a long time - on further attempts at such class-based and divisive legislation.
The defeat of this bill also elevates the stature of councilmembers Licata, Rasmussen, Harrell and O'Brien, and Mayor McGinn.
But what really made this come-from-behind victory significant and turned April into an exhilarating month, however, was that we were reminded, as we haven't been in a while, that we should never give up and always seek to build broad coalitions even with unlikely allies and keep at 'em.
John V. Fox and Carolee Colter are coordinators for the Seattle Displacement Coalition (www.zipcon.net), a low-income housing organization.[[In-content Ad]]