May 18, 2021
Today Crystal is joined by Nikkita Oliver: Seattle activist, community organizer, lawyer, educator, and now candidate for Seattle City Council, Position 9. They get in to the transformative change needed to our systems of public health, public safety, and housing, how mutual aid is being incorporated into Nikkita’s campaign, and the virtues and challenges of being an outsider in our political system.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“Nikkita Oliver Focuses on Mutual Aid, Community in Campaign for City Council” by Chamidae Ford: https://southseattleemerald.com/2021/03/20/q-a-nikkita-oliver-focuses-on-mutual-aid-community-in-campaign-for-city-council/
“Nikkita Oliver’s Vision for Public Safety Goes Way Beyond Defunding the Police” by Nathalie Graham: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2021/04/20/56698867/nikkita-olivers-vision-for-public-safety-goes-way-beyond-defunding-the-police
“King County’s new youth jail and the false promise of ‘zero youth detention’” by Nikkita Oliver: https://crosscut.com/2020/02/king-countys-new-youth-jail-and-false-promise-zero-youth-detention
“Seattle City Counsil passes ‘JumpStart’ tax on high salaries paid by big business” by Daniel Beekman: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-city-council-passes-new-jumpstart-tax-on-high-salaries-paid-by-big-businesses/
“New laws aim to keep people from losing their homes in Washington” by Melissa Santos: https://crosscut.com/politics/2021/05/new-laws-aim-keep-people-losing-their-homes-washington
“Encampment Sweeps Take Away Homless People’s Most Important Belongings” by Rick Paulas: https://www.vice.com/en/article/v74pay/encampment-sweeps-take-away-homeless-peoples-most-important-belongings
“Timeline of Seattle Police Accountability” from the ACLU of Washington: https://www.aclu-wa.org/pages/timeline-seattle-police-accountability
“Nearly 200 cops with credibility issues still working in Washington state” by Melissa Santos: https://crosscut.com/news/2021/04/nearly-200-cops-credibility-issues-still-working-washington-state
Learn more about Creative Justice at https://www.creativejusticenw.org/
Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher. On this show, we talk to political hacks and policy wonks to gather insight into local politics and policy through the lens of those doing the work and provide behind-the-scenes perspectives on politics in our state. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episodes notes.
I want to welcome to the show, candidate for City of Seattle Council Position 9 - one of the at-large open seats being vacated by Council President Lorena González. Here with us today is Nikkita Oliver. Thank you for joining us today.
Nikkita Oliver: [00:01:07] Thank you so much for having me - so excited to share space with you.
Crystal Fincher: [00:01:11] Excited to share space with you also. So I just want to start off by asking - what motivated you to run for office again, number one, and to run for this position?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:01:22] I will say it was a really challenging decision. Our first run in 2017, I think was a huge community grassroots effort. It was dynamic and transformative, and provided a really dynamic platform for continuing to grow community organizing. And I think that is what excites me most about what we're doing in 2021 - and even what we've seen in 2020 - is just the opportunity to build the strength of community, continue to organize with community, bring more voices to the table, especially communities that have been most impacted by systemic oppression. Or maybe even just get rid of the table and expand the ways in which we have dialogue and conversation. I think being in the COVID pandemic and the crises that we've faced has really pushed us to think more creatively about how we organize, what does community care and collaboration look like, where does mutual aid fit into the work that we're doing? And honestly, mutual aid being very foundational to so many movements in the work that's happened in the years prior to 2020.
And so as we approached 2021, I knew pretty clearly that running for mayor was not what I wanted to do, though there was some community requests for me to consider that. I just thought very deeply about the really powerful racial justice uprising and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the intersections of that with labor organizing especially amidst this COVID-19 crisis - whether or not that executive office was the best place for someone who has my values and the platform that the community has built together. And so I was actually pretty squarely ready to sit out of the election and continue doing community organizing work and building mutual aid, but community members started to bring really important arguments and ideas and possibilities.
And so wanting to always engage with folks that I have relationship with, and really sit through and think about our strategy for the big picture of the world we want to build, the city we want to live in - the more we talked, the more this seemed like a very feasible and also responsible thing to do. We're facing a huge housing affordability crisis. We've been in a state of emergency around homelessness since 2015. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated so many of the pre-existing conditions of inequity and racial injustice that we have already seen happen, that has been happening. And really just as we're in these monumental crises, talking about how much we need transformational change.
As a restorative justice, transformative justice advocate, there's the work in restorative justice of repairing harm and being accountable. But then the next level to that is transformative justice - of changing the systems and the conditions that we live in so we don't keep seeing that harm continue to happen. And the movements from last summer and in the fall - and that work really has changed the national conversation about our ability to talk about accountability, restorative justice, repair and reparations, and even abolition. There seems to be a really important political space to take those dialogues, the ideas - and turn them into real policies that actually have impact on the lived experiences and material conditions that folks are living through, and so that's really what got me to commit to running.
Obviously, similar to our 2017 campaign, we want to do things differently than the status quo. And so knowing how foundational mutual aid has been to folks' survival in this last year and how foundational it's always been and will continue to be - to be able to see thriving, resilient communities - we wanted to weave mutual aid into the campaign structure, into the work that we're doing. Because it feels kind of foul to spend well over $300,000 to build name notoriety to win an election, when there are so many people that may face eviction at the end - if this moratorium ends and there isn't a real plan to keep people in their homes. So many people who can't get enough food for their families or don't have access to the right kind of medical care - we wanted to find ways to weave mutual aid through the campaign.
So we've done things like work on vaccination pop-up clinics and help get the word out to community members, bring volunteers to those clinics, and have mutual aid food supports. Our very first campaign event was a mutual aid exchange where people brought what they had that they could share and other people picked up and took what they need. Our current lit for our campaign has a vaccination guide on one side and information about the campaign on the other. I mean, really wanting to prioritize - how do we think differently about the way we use political platforms to actually build the strength and galvanize communities, especially those that have been most impacted by injustice.
Crystal Fincher: [00:06:29] I love that model. I love bringing mutual aid into community and making that a value of a campaign and an action of a campaign in public service. I'm wondering - so before when you ran for mayor, there were a lot of people excited about, "Okay, we have someone in the executive position." You have definite authority from that perspective. In a legislative context, where you're one of several councilmembers who may not all share your values, and you're one person coming into that body, having to work with your colleagues, convince them to your position - how do you see being able to make progress on the issues that you care about without being the sole voice who may be a - what some people may consider a protest vote in a lot of those situations. How do you actually move your colleagues and make progress on the issues that you're talking about?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:07:34] Yeah. At heart, I am a community organizer, and I think that that is a really important element of what, not just I, but the community that I organize with will bring to Council. What Council has really lacked is the ability to mobilize, politically educate, and galvanize each other's colleagues in a direction that actually begins to address the crisis we're facing with responses that are commensurate with that crisis. And I think the Council actually has changed some over the last few years. Since 2017, it's actually changed considerably. I think having both Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant, and then also Teresa Mosqueda on the Council, has started to build a more progressive left flank. And so adding Nikkita for Nine to that Council would add an even stronger left flank that is focused on meeting people's basic needs, focused on housing.
If we don't make significant strides in this next four years around housing, we will have effectively displaced and pushed out so many community members, and maybe will not be able to create space for folks to come back. So the Comprehensive Plan 2024, which is an update to our Comprehensive Plan, is going to be a key piece of addressing issues around exclusionary zoning, co-ops and community land trust, infill and diversity of housing options to get people in homes. And to make it so people can return back to the city, workers can live and work in the same spaces, and also help us reach our climate goals.
And I think that these are actually things that many City councilmembers actually share and desire to address - whether or not they actually have been able to galvanize each other towards achieving that goal is a different issue. But I do think a Mosqueda-Oliver-Morales-Sawant flank does present a huge opportunity to do some seriously transformative things in our city and address those crises. Now I'm not going to pretend like it's going to be easy, and I know that's four votes of nine, but in most instances you just need one more vote, maybe two or three depending on what area of the budget process we're in. And there is a huge amount of possibility, I think, to educate folks and galvanize them in the right direction.
I also believe that there is a very active community that is behind this campaign, and we have received endorsements from community members, community groups, as well as unions like UAW 4121, WFSE 1488, UFCW 21, IUPAT DC 5, IATSE Local 15. I mean, these are very different - our connection to labor is very different this year than it was in 2017. And I think having collaborations with grassroots community and with labor is going to create, outside of City Council, a level of movement that City councilmembers are going to have to be responsive to. And I think that that's key. No one councilmember is going to change every issue. But it is about - are you able to bring the policies that are commensurate with the crisis, while simultaneously organizing and galvanizing community, and organizing your colleagues? And I've been doing that for years - think about the No New Youth Jail fight. In 2012, no one thought it was possible to get to a place where in July of 2020, Dow Constantine puts out a letter saying that he will close the Youth Jail by 2025. That is because we organized community, and I do think that that same ability to do that organizing work is possible.
Crystal Fincher: [00:11:23] You've talked about the need to address eliminating displacement, leaving space for people who have been displaced to come back. We are, as you said, in the middle of a crisis with a large and growing unhoused population, with just housing unaffordable for people from the bottom up until - unless you're in the top. How do we address getting people who don't have homes into homes? In the context of - we have a Council who seems to share that value, who seems to want to take action, and has taken some action - but we still have this big problem. What is missing and what needs to happen? What can you do about it?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:12:10] We need a Seattle that faces its problems head on. James Baldwin says, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." And Seattle has really failed to turn and face and address - not just the housing crisis with the gross inequity and inequality that exists from income and wealth, access to housing and healthcare - and how highly racialized and genderized that is. If we're going to get to solutions that actually address root causes, it requires us really engaging a real conversation around the ways in which the Seattle we have been building has only been for a few people. It's only been for wealthy folks. It's only been for corporations. We actually have a long history of that. It started in 1923 when we put in place the first exclusionary zoning laws, and those have remained in place and actually worsened in some years through other Comprehensive Plans. And so as a result, we now find ourselves where we are.
I think that's also why it's important - people will say, "Nikkita, you've never been in office - what makes you qualified to be an elected official?" Most of the people running for office right now are people who have either been staffers, or actually already been in office before, or they're political insiders. And as a result, do we really want to keep repeating the same policy ideas, the same ways of thinking about government that have actually put us in the place where we have this problem now? I think it's really important that we consider - maybe we need new voices, new ideas, new ways of doing things to actually get us to a place of change. And that's why I think this four years is super key, and I think the four years before it was key. In reality, some of my Native elders say, "If you were going to plant a tree, the best time to do it would have been yesterday. But if you haven't done it, you should do it today." And we really need to start planting those trees, especially as it relates to the housing crisis, because housing is a key determinant of health, it's a key determinant of access to education and economic opportunity, it is a key determinant of public safety.
So all of the big issues that we've been talking about in the last year are deeply impacted by the housing crisis itself. So our current zoning patterns have really bifurcated our city - two thirds of the residential land is not accessible to all but those with the highest incomes. And so we really need a mix of housing and residential patterns that open up different types of spaces and options. And that's going to require us addressing the fact that having a majority of our areas where folks can live being single-family zoned, actually does not serve our city being able to develop density, infrastructure, and enough affordable housing to make sure everyone can get housed, we can address the climate crisis and meet our climate goals, and also have infrastructure that makes more the city walkable and accessible to people by public transportation, by foot, or by bike. A major part of the policy work that we'll need to do, and I want to participate in, and I'm excited about - is addressing our zoning issues.
And then thinking very thoughtfully about what are the various types of infill projects we can be doing in order to address the missing middle. What types of housing can we be building when it comes to co-ops and community land trust that Black, Indigenous, people of color who have been excluded from the housing market can actually have some form of home ownership and build equity. We know that historically, for white families, one of the major ways of building wealth has been through home ownership. So we cannot relegate BIPOC communities just to apartments. We need to make sure that there is the opportunity to build that equity and lay that economic foundation for our families.
And I think that our city has been way too dependent upon developers and the private industry as our way of responding to the housing crisis. Private developers have no incentive to actually address this crisis. In fact, they benefit from the way in which the crisis continues to go, and make rents rise, and property values go up. So we need to be thinking about how do we, as a city, get into housing - how are we building social affordable housing and investing in things that can get us out of this crisis. We need to build about $400 million worth of housing for the next 10 years. And the JumpStart Tax puts us in a better position to start doing that - with about $160 million, starting in 2022, going towards that housing. Or somewhere between $130 and 160 million.
And then another set of dollars going towards weatherization and retrofitting - addressing some of the issues around the housing crisis that comes from building. So while transportation might be our greatest carbon emission issue, buildings are starting - are a growing issue as well. So we have to build green and that means there's going to be a lot of opportunity through green economies to create career pathways, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship utilization opportunities - that gets young people and families into high wage earning jobs, with benefits. And industries that actually make our city greener and better and healthier.
And so I just think there are so many options, but these are interconnected issues. When we're talking about housing, jobs and employment and workforce development, and infrastructure, and public safety, and public health - they're actually deeply integrated issues. One of the things I've seen the City Council fail at doing is to talk about them from the place of them being integrated. We tend to try to address them in silos. And if we want to have a vision that actually gets us to a place of thriving as a city where everyone thrives, we need to find intersectional ways of developing solutions that works with labor, that works with impacted communities, and that works with communities that have been impacted by systemic and racialized depression.
Crystal Fincher: [00:18:10] So you talk about less-exclusionary zoning, about increasing housing supply. Does that get people without houses into homes?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:18:19] Yes, and - there's the issue of also keeping people in their homes that are presently facing the potential of mass evictions. Somewhere over 130,000 people - if the moratorium gets lifted - will face massive evictions. And so we need to be investing in renter support, we need to be finding ways to get rent forgiveness, we need commercial and residential rent control. And while I understand that residential rent control is still illegal, I think it is a fight that we need to get into because it is a part of a multifaceted strategy of keeping folks in their homes and then getting other folks into new developed housing.
That being said, we need a short-term and a mid-term strategy. And so tiny house villages has been an effective way of creating safer spaces for folks who have been living outside to have a space that is more stable and provides much more opportunity for health. I support continuing to expand our tiny house villages. We have lots of public land that we can do that on, and we have resources that we can use to support that effort. That being said, I think tiny house villages is a short-term response. People should get to live in quality, affordable housing, supportive and transitional housing that has running water and heat. I have young people where I work at Creative Justice, some of whom live in tiny house villages and they don't have access in their space to running water. And I want people to think about - how that cannot be our primary response. Housing is a human right. Quality housing is a human right. And some people may choose to stay in tiny house villages, but it should be a choice. You should get to choose where you move to next.
So that's why I also think a mid-term strategy is important. The County has put in place a tax that allows them to generate revenue to then purchase hotels where people can have supportive and transitional housing that is more long-term, but obviously it's not the only answer or solution. So tiny house villages, working with the County around hotels, continuing to grow our regional approach, and then building new social affordable housing. None of this is going to happen all on its own as the primary fix. It is a multifaceted, complex, and evolving strategy that needs to have flexibility and be able to adjust as the crisis either subsides - or, let's be real, could get worse. So we want that flexibility. Yeah, it could get worse because we've really failed to respond. I mean, it's been six years of a state of emergency.
Crystal Fincher: [00:20:56] Well, and so there is a proposed response that's going to be on the ballot called - the what I consider to be ironically titled - Compassion Seattle Charter Amendment, initiative. To basically put into policy the ability to conduct encampment sweeps, with some nods towards increased funding. What do you think about that?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:21:25] Yeah. I think Compassionate Seattle, the initiative, is problematic. There are some issues there. The first is - it does codify sweeps. It literally puts them into our City Charter. Something that we know is inhumane, creates safety issues, and is ineffective. We also know there's not enough places for people to go when they get swept out of encampments, so what we really do is we relegate folks to trying to figure out how to survive. When we put people in survival mode, we decrease their safety and we also decrease the overall safety of the larger community. Living outside is hard. People are dealing with trauma and mental health crises and also just trying to build a little bit of sustainability and safety. When we force people out - when we sweep them - we actually increase the likelihood that we're going to have public safety issues.
One of the things our campaign is proposing is actually having a radical response - where rather than sweeping people, we try to provide supports - whether that's medical care, food support, trash and disposal supports, or even supports for those who use drugs. We want to respond with a public health response, rather than one that criminalizes or increases the likelihood that we'll have public safety issues. And then also combine that with the other housing strategies of moving people who want to go into safer spaces into those spaces.
The second thing about Compassionate Seattle that I don't think people have talked enough about is they want to build 2,000 units of housing. And it's unclear whether or not those units are emergency or permanent housing. We know that emergency housing is actually not the most sustainable response for getting people into long-term supportive spaces, who want to be in those kinds of spaces. It has a six month requirement on the first set of units, and then a year requirement on the second set of units, which based on the timing probably means majority of those will be like an emergency housing situation. Which doesn't get to the root of your previous question about does this actually end the state of emergency around homelessness?
And then there is some talk about funding, but it's about a 1% increase of the funding we're already spending, and not really a serious increase into the things that we know address the root causes of why people are without homes. And it does have the potential of putting back in place the Navigation Team. Which I know is a complex issue, but the Navigation Team has really been used as a band-aid to allow sweeps to continue to occur, rather than building rapport and relationships with folks who are living outside, and using that relationship as a way of being able to support people in transitioning into a new living space. We need to be humane, we absolutely need to be compassionate, and we need to do what works. There are best practices around addressing this crisis and there are better ways to do it.
Crystal Fincher: [00:24:29] Is there ever a justification for a sweep?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:24:33] I don't think so. I think that sweeps ultimately criminalize people and they actually disrupt the small amount of safety that people have been able to create. There are humane, public health ways to respond to encampments and supports we could actually provide that increase the safety of folks that are living outside and increase the safety of the folks living around in those areas. Ultimately, most people who advocate for sweeps do so because they don't want folks without homes in their neighborhoods. And I do understand that there are public safety and public health issues that occur when encampments are in places like parks or near schools, but there are ways that we can decrease those safety issues that are much more humane and less likely to disrupt someone's very small amount of stability.
And also the way that the City has done sweeps - and I have seen many sweeps. I've gone out to them, I've live-streamed them, I've actually helped get people into housing who have been swept - sat with them and waited, and called advocates, and then been a part of getting them to a hotel or getting them to their next place. It's incredibly challenging and it takes a lot of time because the system of getting housing is very bottlenecked. So when we tell people that there are places for people to go, it's just not always true and it is often a super disruptive experience for folks who are already in a very traumatic position.
We could respond to folks that are living outside in a way that actually decreases trauma and increases public safety by providing some of those earlier supports that I described. And when there is housing available, going out to folks, building the relationship and rapport, and supporting them in making that transition into housing - without the force of armed police, bulldozers, cutting open people's tents, throwing their belongings away. One of the policies of a sweep is - if it's raining or if something is soiled or wet, the policy is to throw it away. It rains a lot in Seattle. So oftentimes during a sweep, many people's belongings are soiled and wet and they're often thrown away.
Crystal Fincher: [00:26:44] Yeah, it is in my view, a problem and definitely one in search of solutions. Another big issue that you are known for taking a leading stance on - is just public safety overall in Seattle. Everything from how you remain safer in community to how we approach our current method of policing and what is appropriate and what is not. You have an opponent who has been a staffer to a Councilmember and who has dealt with issues in community. How do you think you are better equipped to address this issue than someone who has been able to - from the perspective of someone also wanting to push for more change - to having an understanding of how the system works from the inside, with incredibly complex and complex on-purpose codifications of our current public safety policies and practices in a way that needs to be unwound and uncoiled in so many different areas, levels of government, departments. How do you see, as an outsider, the ability to more effectively address that than someone who has more familiarity with the system?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:28:04] I think I have lots of familiarity with the system. As someone who's had to survive and thrive in a system that was ultimately not built for me or my family, I think my familiarity with the system is actually probably much greater than folks who have insider politics. Because I've had to learn how to navigate it as someone who is not just an outsider in terms of not welcomed into political spaces, but also an outsider based on race, class, gender. It's really important to acknowledge that marginalized communities are actually very savvy in navigating systems, and have to be to survive, which often - it's why this value of those who are most impacted getting to be a part of policy solutions and solution implementing - is actually really important. Because not only do we understand the ill of the failed system, we also understand all the things that people have to do to navigate it. And I think that is really important.
I'm also a lawyer. I'm an educator at Seattle University School of Law. I am a well-known and respected community organizer who has been a part of many coalitions that have brought about change. I mean, there are actual laws that I have been a part of changing from the outside. That's so much harder to do, when you're already the community that doesn't have power and doesn't have leverage - and somehow you still are able to mobilize people, politicize people, galvanize people to make change. I think our current system belittles that type of influence and power, rather than acknowledging it is actually incredibly important and transformative for the process of making our system more transparent, more accessible, and more accountable.
So I don't think we need more political insiders who know how it's been done for the past 5 years or 20 years. I actually think we need more people - who have had to observe the system and survive the system - in spaces of influence and decision-making, being able to direct and say, "You know what? If we wanted this process to actually be easier for folks who are most impacted, here's the list of things that I know both from lived experience, and from being in those communities, and being a part of living through those conditions- here's the things that we need to change." And I think that it is a huge change in the way that politics has worked in the United States and it is also an important change that has to be made.
That being said, I am under no illusions that being an elected official means that suddenly the system will be just. It won't. It really is me making a conscious decision to try to make change from the inside. It's part of why I have no desire to be a career elected. I don't want to be a career politician. Because I think that when you end up in that space for too long, you may actually lose touch with the folks that are most impacted and then suddenly the changes or the things that you're pushing are not reflective of the changes to material conditions that need to happen for people who have been excluded or denied access in our system.
And so also thinking about what is our succession plan? How are we seeing other community members built up, strengthened, and empowered to be in these positions? So we actually have a rotation of highly skilled community organizers who can also do the work of being an elected. So our campaign is prioritizing having folks who are new to politics, cutting their teeth on this campaign. I've been told, as our campaign is negotiating for our unionizing - our youngest campaign member is serving as the shop steward. I mean, there's just really dynamic opportunities that communities can have to build their power of base. And one of our great ancestors, Ella Baker, said, "We don't need strong leaders, we need strong communities." And I think about that a lot in this work - that when communities are strong - at the end of the day, it doesn't matter who's in that seat. Community will rise up and advocate for itself. And my goal is to use the office and the platform of running for office to continue to see our communities be strengthened. I don't think that's necessarily the vision of other candidates nor the vision of very many past electeds.
Crystal Fincher: [00:32:25] So what are the policies that you're looking to change or implement when it comes to public safety in Seattle? What does need to be done?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:32:34] I think we need to think completely different about how do you create public safety. If police and prisons and prosecution made community safe, the United States would be the safest in the entire world. We incarcerate 25% of the world's incarcerated population, and yet only have 5% of the world's population. And yet we are still struggling to figure out how to create safe communities. As a restorative justice, transformative justice advocate, and also as an abolitionist - is not a word I'm afraid to say - I believe we can create a world beyond prisons and police. I believe we can create a world beyond punitive systems. We have to do the work to make it happen and a huge part of that is meeting people's basic needs. When we meet basic needs, we build safety because basic needs are a baseline for community safety.
And I deeply believe that our city deserves options that go beyond policing and mass incarceration as our choices for public safety. The majority of what we call "crime" often happens because people don't have their basic needs met. So part of the work and the vision and the policy development is going to be around things that I've already talked about - affordable social housing, equitable if not free transportation, affordable childcare, fully-funded schools - that have counselors, restorative justice coordinators, health services, and really thinking about how could the City contribute to a community school model and having culturally responsive and accessible youth programs - thinking about full spectrum gender for healthcare for everyone.
And what would it look like to have a deep and wide community-based set of options for responding to domestic violence, for ensuring that when survivors who have experienced harm exit situations, they have access to safe housing to go to. We're not really able to provide that right now. And what are the transformative responses when harm does occur? Often when harm has happened, it is because someone has also already experienced harm and our current system does not do the work of healing and repair, and so as a result, we perpetuate more violence. We're already working on civilianizing 911. There's been a lot of advocacy and work around community-based supports for those who use drugs. The State v. Blake decision at the Washington State Supreme Court was monumental. And while the state legislature may have rolled that back some and done some recriminalization, they did also get funding towards having more supports for folks who use drugs or folks who do get cases related to drugs. And so I think there are a myriad of responses that meet basic needs, that address also healthcare, mental healthcare, drug user supports, and provide us a menu of options.
Oftentimes when armed police get on the scene of a crisis, they're ill-equipped to respond to what's happening - whether that's a mental health crisis or a domestic violence issue, they tend to exacerbate what's already happening. And I think it's worth acknowledging that upwards of 40% of police officers have their own domestic violence issues at home. So we're sending people who are dealing with issues at home who are also ill-equipped to do a job that they're not right for. We need to do something different with our public safety model. And I know that may make people uncomfortable, but if we want to build a truly safe city, then movements for anti-violence tell us that prevention and intervention are actually the best strategies for that. And our current system is incredibly reactive and waits 'til harm occurs before we do something about it.
Crystal Fincher: [00:36:32] So what needs to happen, I guess, in the short-term. And specifically starting with the SPOG contract that is up and going to be negotiated. Will you be approving a contract that does not set the stage for that and what are your baselines?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:36:51] Absolutely not. I think that too often has the collective bargaining agreement been used as a means for continuing to perpetuate the harm caused to communities, not just by over-policing, but the whole failure of the criminal punishment system and all of the connected players from police, to prosecution, to courts. And so this collective bargaining agreement is really important - that it protects the rights of residents, it acknowledges the need for a change in how we create public safety, that it does not impede the efforts and the work to divest from a failed system of public safety and invest in one that actually works for everyone, that it also does not create loopholes for officers to evade and avoid accountability - including firing when there is misconduct found. I think it's important that rather than continuing to focus on pouring money into reforms, we actually focus on putting money into alternatives. And the collective bargaining agreement, in many ways, has been an obstacle to the City Council being able to do that in a way that is transformative. So the next CBA has to reflect those things in order for me to be willing to vote on it.
I also think that that's not a decision that I actually have to make just solely as a councilmember. I'll vote as a councilmember, but there are deeply impacted communities that should have a say in the collective bargaining agreement. And so I think also the process by which we get to the CBA is key. Communities need to have space in the discussion, influence and authority about what goes into that agreement. And then as councilmembers, we need to hear community if they say this does not reflect what we need. And in 2017 or 2018 - it was in that year span - when the last collective bargaining agreement was voted on by the Council, I went to Council chambers. I was there with King County NAACP, many Black Lives Matter organizers, other organizations that had a stake in how the CBA turned out. And you had many councilmembers say, "This collective bargaining agreement is not necessarily reflective of what community needs or even the recommendations we received from the Community Police Commission and other agencies tasked with police accountability, but we're going to vote on it anyways." And many councilmembers voted yes for it. And that did a lot of hurt and harm, and eroded trust between impacted communities and the City Council - and so we have to do things differently next time.
Crystal Fincher: [00:39:34] Okay. So it sounds like the 2017 accountability ordinance that was passed and then subsequently undone - would need to be a minimum benchmark for you to consider voting for it, if not go even further for that?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:39:50] Yeah. I mean, that's a minimum benchmark. I think the process matters as well. I think we cannot overlook the importance of community involvement in those negotiations. I think the fact that the MLK Labor Council voted to have SPOG removed from the council is huge and so labor's involvement in that work and those negotiations and how community's involved is important. I don't think the accountability legislation is the only piece. Even with the accountability legislation, the rights of residents are not protected at the level that they should be. In fact, officers are - who do commit misconduct, even when found to be in violation - are the ones that are protected in the way that that agreement has been structured.
And I actually think what we need to do is it needs to reflect the reality that when misconduct occurs, that those officers should not be allowed to evade that and it should include firing. I think the fact that we have a Brady list of officers that we know lie, and so prosecutors don't want to put them on the stand - is so problematic. How can the people that we entrust as law enforcement be known liars, and then still be allowed to do a job that presents a huge amount of risk and potential violence to some communities in our city. That, to me, doesn't sound like public safety.
Crystal Fincher: [00:41:25] Do you think the Black Brilliance Project is moving in the right direction?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:41:30] You know, I love that our City - this is one thing I do love about last year. Our City did get creative. I-200 is a significant barrier to us being able to respond to the need for repair and reparations directly to Black and Native communities. But this is such a creative strategy - to have communities that are most impacted - lead their own research paid for by the City. So literally increasing capacity, and then in the midst of a major economic crisis, ensure that that folks who did not have access to resources had access to financial resources, internet resources - is huge. And then to have that research report inform participatory budgeting and the buckets that we will focus on, does in some ways really open the door to saying, "We are going to focus on the needs as led by Black community."
And so it's probably as close as we're going to get, in the current state of our legal system, to directly responding to the needs of Black community - until we can get that legislation overturned. So I do think it was a very creative strategy to make sure that the needs of Black community in our City is undergirding how we decide to spend these dollars and outlines what the buckets are, what are the policy focuses. And then I know that report also outlines how participatory budgeting can function in a way that centers most impacted communities. And as a community member who's done a lot of free work for the City and the County - wants to pay people for their intellectual property, and their capacity, and the time that they put into helping our systems rectify a problem that our systems have perpetuated. I think that that is of incredible value.
Crystal Fincher: [00:43:28] I happen to agree with that. I appreciate your perspective. We're coming up on the end of our time, but I guess my last question to you would just be - what are we not talking enough about and that needs to be on our radar? And why are you, especially in the context of your opponent in this race, the best person to take on these challenges?
Nikkita Oliver: [00:43:52] I think we talk about a lot in the Pacific Northwest. We do talk about a lot of the issues I care about. What we don't do is actually respond with solutions that are commensurate. Anti-blackness and anti-indigeneity and paternalism around our communities that have experienced extreme historical, generational, and present-day harm and trauma is a conversation that we absolutely have to engage. I feel like a lot of electeds that are not directly impacted by these issues act in very paternalistic ways - as if impacted communities don't know what we need. And so I think having very real conversations about anti-blackness and anti-indigeneity and the way that we make policies, and then having the even harder conversation about repairing reparations.
And one way that I think we can do this, in policy, is through cannabis equity. The War on Drugs, the tough-on-crime era, and then the way in which we legalized cannabis - was not good. We did it in a way that actually excluded the folks that were most impacted by the War on Drugs and the tough-on-crime era, and allowed white and wealthy people to have open-door access to get into the industry. And as a result, the folks we're seeing making the most money off of cannabis are white, wealthy people - and Black and Brown folks still do not have an opportunity to be equitably a part of an industry that honestly we were punished for its existence.
And so I think that that is one area where we can actually, in a policy way, talk about repair and reparations and start to address the inequities that have existed because of the War on Drugs and the tough-on-crime era. I think we have a lot of work to do beyond cannabis equity, but I do think it is one place that we can start. There is a huge amount of taxes that come off that industry - some of which need to be put into programs - to develop equitable programs for formerly incarcerated peoples and folks who have had convictions on their record related to cannabis. Getting people access to license, the support and capital they need to start that business, and Black-led co-ops is an opportunity to think about how, through this now legalized industry, we do the work of repair and reparations and uprooting and undoing anti-blackness in much of our policymaking. And that work could then become a model for how we tackle other areas where there's anti-blackness and anti-indigeneity - and what repair and reparations can look like in a practical way through policy in our system.
Crystal Fincher: [00:46:41] Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I appreciate it. Always enlightening to hear what you have to say and look forward to seeing how things unfold in this ever-changing wild election. So thank you so much.
Nikkita Oliver: [00:47:01] Thank you so much for having me.
Crystal Fincher: [00:47:07] Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU is Maurice Jones Jr. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I, and now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Just type in "Hacks & Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our mid-week show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full text transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced during the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes. Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.