ChrisTiana ObeySumner, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 5
Release Date: 10/10/2023
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On this Tuesday topical show, Crystal chats with ChrisTiana ObeySumner about their campaign for Seattle City Council District 5. Listen and learn more about ChrisTiana and their thoughts on:
[01:06] - Why they are running
[04:49] - Lightning round!
[12:20] - What is an accomplishment of theirs that impacts District 5
[16:09] - City budget shortfall: Raise revenue or cut services?
[21:48] - Public Safety: Alternative response
[26:58] - Victim support
[35:53] - Housing and homelessness: Frontline worker wages
[39:25] - Climate change
[43:28] - Transit reliability
[46:58] - Small business support
[52:48] - Childcare: Affordability and accessibility
[56:33] - Difference between them and opponent
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
ChrisTiana ObeySumner is a Black, queer, non-binary, and multiply disabled person, community organizer and activist. They are CEO and principal consultant of Epiphanies of Equity LLC -- A social equity consulting firm that particularly specializes in social change, intersectionality, antiracism, and disability justice. For two decades, they’ve dedicated their life and career to amplifying the importance of social equity – defined as the lifelong work of deconstructing inequitable sociological impacts and products such as policies, institutions, cultures, biases, and constructs; and facilitating strategic and embodied pathways towards the construction of equitable processes, accountability structures, and outcomes.
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review show and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
Today, I am excited to be welcoming to the program candidate for Seattle City Council District 5, ChrisTiana ObeySumner. Welcome!
[00:01:02] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Thank you so much for having me - I'm so excited.
[00:01:04] Crystal Fincher: Well, I'm excited to have you. And just starting off, I'm wondering what made you decide to run?
[00:01:11] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: I get asked this question a lot - you know, it's, the best way I can put it is this. I have been engaged in some sort of civic, politics, social equity since I was a small child. My grandmom was a Black Panther, my family was always very opened and talked a lot about what it meant to be - you know, if not you, who, if not now, when - sort of things. And especially growing up in a family who was chronically unhoused or homeless - a lot of folks who were disabled, a lot of folks who under-resourced - most of my family is in Camden, New Jersey, in Philadelphia area. And so, and for me being autistic as an 80s child, so the ADA did not really help as much. There was always sort of a need and a early exposure to what it meant to advocate, to speak up for yourself, to speak up for others, to really call out inequity when you see it, to get into good trouble. And that has really been the through line of my life and my life's work - I have done that as a youth leader, I've done that for Mad Pride - especially in Louisville, Kentucky. I've done that in terms of homeless and housing unstable youth, especially in colleges - I came here to Seattle in 2010 to go to Seattle University, where I became Commuter Student rep and Non-Traditional Student representative for those reasons. I've worked in direct social services at DESC, Compass Housing Alliance. I did my AmeriCorps at Full Life Care for Harborview. My first work-study job here was in the Office of City Clerk where I learned how to read policy. I started my business, Epiphanies of Equity, in 2018, right after the running for the transparency seat in 2017, where I came second to Kirsten Harris-Talley. And since then has worked with over 250 businesses, governments and organizations across the country - obviously concentrated here - where we have specifically been working for social equity, for policy advocacy, for disability justice.
Essentially when humans are human-ing with other humans, we know that certain human things happen - how can we work towards a society where humans are working towards equity? And through all of this work - additional to the co-chair Disability Commission and Renters' Commission - I'm putting all of this resume out here to say, I have approached a lot of the work, especially since being here in Seattle, from a lot of different angles. And especially in the last few years, has really heightened where I've worked with a lot of folks in the city and beyond - this is the next natural step towards that work. And so when the incumbent or the previous councilmember, Councilmember Debora Juarez, announced that she was not going to run, I must've gotten - between Gluttonous Eating Holiday and the 1st of the year - got somewhere between a dozen and a half calls from folks who were just like - So, you heard, right? Open seat, you gonna run? And I really thought about it for a while 'cause I'm a wonk - of the Hacks & Wonks, I'm the wonk part of that - and I just really wanted to go to the policy piece and I decided, you know what, let's give it a shot. So here I am.
[00:04:47] Crystal Fincher: And here you are. Well, at this point, we're gonna switch up this interview a little bit and add an additional element that we haven't added before - a lightning round. Just quick answer, yes or no, or quick answer questions to level set a little bit. And then we'll get back to our regularly scheduled full-length answers where we can wonk out about everything. So starting off - This year, did you vote yes on the King County Crisis Care Centers levy?
[00:05:17] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:05:18] Crystal Fincher: This year, did you vote yes on the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services levy?
[00:05:22] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:05:23] Crystal Fincher: Did you vote in favor of Seattle's Social Housing Initiative 135?
[00:05:28] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes. And Epiphanies of Equity was one of the folks who also tried to endorse it, as well as the JumpStart Tax.
[00:05:37] Crystal Fincher: Excellent. In 2021, did you vote for Bruce Harrell or Lorena González for Mayor?
[00:05:44] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Lorena González.
[00:05:45] Crystal Fincher: In 2021, did you vote for Nicole Thomas Kennedy or Ann Davison for Seattle City Attorney?
[00:05:51] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: NTK.
[00:05:53] Crystal Fincher: In 2022, did you vote for Leesa Manion or Jim Ferrell for King County Prosecutor?
[00:06:03] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: I don't remember. I don't recall.
[00:06:14] Crystal Fincher: Okay.
[00:06:14] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Sorry.
[00:06:15] Crystal Fincher: Did you, in 2022 - no, that's totally fine. In 2022, did you vote for Patty Murray or Tiffany Smiley for US Senate?
[00:06:23] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Patty Murray.
[00:06:25] Crystal Fincher: Do you rent or own your residence?
[00:06:27] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: I rent.
[00:06:29] Crystal Fincher: Are you a landlord?
[00:06:30] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: No.
[00:06:32] Crystal Fincher: Would you vote to require landlords to report metrics, including how much rent they're charging, to help better plan housing and development needs in the district?
[00:06:41] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes, it's actually part of my platform.
[00:06:44] Crystal Fincher: Are there any instances where you would support sweeps of homeless encampments?
[00:06:49] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: No - not at all, in any form.
[00:06:52] Crystal Fincher: Will you vote to provide additional funding for Seattle's Social Housing Public Development Authority?
[00:06:57] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:06:58] Crystal Fincher: Do you agree with King County Executive Constantine's statement that the King County Jail should be closed?
[00:07:05] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: I do believe, yes - I'm abolitionist, so I think all the jails should be closed.
[00:07:09] Crystal Fincher: Should parking enforcement be housed within SPD?
[00:07:14] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: No.
[00:07:15] Crystal Fincher: Would you vote to allow police in schools?
[00:07:18] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: No.
[00:07:19] Crystal Fincher: Do you support allocation in the City budget for a civilian-led mental health crisis response?
[00:07:26] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes, if it's civilian-led and it's not further padding SPD budget.
[00:07:31] Crystal Fincher: Do you support allocation in the City budget to increase the pay of human service workers?
[00:07:36] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Absolutely.
[00:07:37] Crystal Fincher: Do you support removing funds in the City budget for forced encampment removals and instead allocating funds towards a Housing First approach?
[00:07:46] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:07:47] Crystal Fincher: Do you support abrogating or removing the funds from unfilled SPD positions and putting them toward meaningful public safety measures?
[00:07:57] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes, if they're unfilled.
[00:07:59] Crystal Fincher: Do you support allocating money in the City budget for supervised consumption sites?
[00:08:04] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:08:05] Crystal Fincher: Do you support increasing funding in the City budget for violence intervention programs?
[00:08:11] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes. As a violence intervention program - I was, I think in my head I was getting, I have them mixed up the two different things - which, when you're talking about them, which one are you talking-
[00:08:24] Crystal Fincher: Like community-led violence or organizational-led violence intervention programs.
[00:08:28] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Oh! Yes, yes, yes.
[00:08:30] Crystal Fincher: Gotcha.
[00:08:31] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:08:31] Crystal Fincher: Do you oppose a SPOG contract, a Seattle Police Officers Guild contract, that doesn't give the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of Inspector General subpoena power?
[00:08:46] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:08:46] Crystal Fincher: Do you oppose a SPOG contract that doesn't remove limitations as to how many of OPA's investigators must be sworn versus civilian, or police versus non-police?
[00:09:04] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Can you ask the question one more time?
[00:09:05] Crystal Fincher: Do you oppose a SPOG contract that doesn't remove limitations as to how many of OPA's investigators must be sworn versus civilian? Should there be a cap on civilians?
[00:09:19] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: No.
[00:09:21] Crystal Fincher: Do you oppose - yes. These are confusingly led - we're not - these are not intended to be gotcha questions, so I want to totally make sure you understand. And that one's a little kludgy.
[00:09:34] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: There should not be a limit on civilians. So yes, I would oppose something that would have a limit. Yes, okay.
[00:09:39] Crystal Fincher: Do you oppose a SPOG contract that impedes the ability of the City to move funding to police safety alternatives?
[00:09:48] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:09:49] Crystal Fincher: Do you support eliminating in-uniform off-duty work by SPD officers?
[00:09:56] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Support eliminating in-uniform work by off-duty?
[00:09:59] Crystal Fincher: In-uniform off-duty work, like if they were to work in a security capacity elsewhere. Would you support eliminating them doing that in-uniform?
[00:10:08] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:10:09] Crystal Fincher: Will you vote to ensure that trans and non-binary students are allowed to play on the sports teams that fit with their gender identities?
[00:10:17] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:10:17] Crystal Fincher: Will you vote to ensure that trans people can use bathrooms and public facilities that match their gender?
[00:10:23] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:10:24] Crystal Fincher: Do you agree with the Seattle City Council's decision to implement the JumpStart Tax?
[00:10:29] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:10:30] Crystal Fincher: Will you vote to reduce or divert the JumpStart Tax in any way?
[00:10:35] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: No.
[00:10:36] Crystal Fincher: Are you happy with Seattle's newly built waterfront?
[00:10:41] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: It's all right.
[00:10:42] Crystal Fincher: Do you believe return to work mandates, like the one issued by Amazon, are necessary to boost Seattle's economy?
[00:10:49] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Absolutely not.
[00:10:50] Crystal Fincher: Have you taken transit in the past week?
[00:10:53] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:10:54] Crystal Fincher: Have you ridden a bike in the past week?
[00:10:58] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: I have a disability that doesn't allow me to ride a two-wheeled bike, but I do have a tricycle that I ride sometimes.
[00:11:03] Crystal Fincher: Should Pike Place Market allow non-commercial car traffic?
[00:11:09] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: No.
[00:11:10] Crystal Fincher: Should significant investments be made to speed up the opening of scheduled Sound Transit light rail lines?
[00:11:17] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:11:18] Crystal Fincher: Should we accelerate the elimination of the ability to turn right on red lights to improve pedestrian safety?
[00:11:26] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yeah.
[00:11:27] Crystal Fincher: Have you ever been a member of a union?
[00:11:29] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes, SEIU 1199 Northwest.
[00:11:31] Crystal Fincher: Will you vote to increase funding and staffing for investigations into labor violations like wage theft and illegal union busting?
[00:11:40] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes.
[00:11:41] Crystal Fincher: Have you ever walked on a picket line?
[00:11:43] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: I have.
[00:11:44] Crystal Fincher: Have you ever crossed a picket line?
[00:11:46] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Absolutely not.
[00:11:48] Crystal Fincher: Unlike Drew Barrymore, evidently. Is your campaign unionized? Is your campaign staff unionized?
[00:11:56] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: I have pushed for that because I use a organization that is in the process of unionizing.
[00:12:04] Crystal Fincher: Okay, and so assuming they're unionizing, will you voluntarily recognize their efforts?
[00:12:10] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yes, yeah, yes. And my business is a co-op as well.
[00:12:16] Crystal Fincher: Awesome. Well, that concludes the lightning round - hopefully pretty painless. Now, back to regular questions. So lots of people look to work that you've done to get a feel for what you prioritize and how qualified you are to lead. Can you describe something you've accomplished or changed in your district, and what impact that has had on your district's residents?
[00:12:40] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yeah, so I've lived in District 5 the entire 13 years that I've been here. One of the things that people don't understand about District 5 is it's a lot more diverse than folks believe it is. I think the people who are the loudest seem to be seen as the demographic here - as primarily white, wealthy, middle-class, upper-class, homeowner types, right? But there's a lot of folks here who are people of the global majority, people who are disabled, people who are renters, people who are students. And one of the things that was really great to be able to advocate for was when I was co-chair of the Renters' Commission - at the time with Jessica Westgren, who was my co-chair - the Renters' Commission really advocated and wrote a letter of advocacy to City Council and to other pertinent entities, put out a press release in the news about some different rent stabilization and renter protection pieces that we'd like to see. What was able to come out of that was Councilmember Sawant's office passed the six-month advance notice for any rent increases, which was really significant for me. When I moved here in 2010 as a student, one of our first apartments that me and my mom lived in did have a pretty significant rent increase. I remember it was around the holidays and we only had maybe 30 or 60 days to get out or pay. My mom was on SSDI, I was on SSDI going to school - we did not have that. We were lucky to find another place to live, which eventually did end up getting sold. But there had been several times, either living with my mom or after I got married living with my partner, where if we didn't have that six-month advance notice, that we wouldn't also have had the opportunity to either save money if we could, get assistance if we could. I don't think people understand how quickly and how swiftly being housing unstable or becoming unhoused can really be. It really just takes being in a situation where you are responsible for an extra $200 a month - which means food, which means co-pay, which means transportation. In these cases, I don't know if you call the universe, luck, the ancestors, Buddha, whatever you call it - that was able to help us to find another opportunity for housing, but especially working in direct social services, I knew firsthand that that's not the case all the time. And so, especially as there's increased renters in the city, I think that's really helpful for that. There's other things that come to mind, but I feel like that's one that folks have heard me talk a lot about.
[00:16:07] Crystal Fincher: And that is helpful. I wanna talk about the City budget. The City of Seattle is projected to have a revenue shortfall of $224 million, beginning in 2025. Because the City is mandated by the state to pass a balanced budget, the options to address this coming deficit are either to raise revenue, or cut services, or some combination of both. How will you approach the issue of how the City collects and spends money on behalf of its residents?
[00:16:35] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: One of the things people hear me say a lot on this campaign trail, which I think I can get into a little bit with this question, is - I say a lot, either getting to the taproot of the issue or finding upstream solutions for effective collective and downstream results, which sounds - I understand it sounds very schmaltzy but let me explain what I mean with this question. There's this both-and situation that's happening with the budget that is really a interconnected effect to some upstream issues. And so there are certain areas of the way that the City gets revenue that are longer-term solutions that we really need to address. For example, we have the most regressive tax structure in the state. Washington State has the most regressive tax structure in the country. When we talk about some of the suggestions from the task force that just put out - the opportunities for progressive revenue task force - there are really promising things in there, like say having an income tax - which I know in Seattle, I'm learning, is a dirty word. This is the seventh state I've lived in, this is the first state I've lived in that did not have an income tax. Now I will say living in Louisville, Kentucky, it went a little bit too far, to be honest - I mean, they had a state tax, a city tax, a borough tax, it felt like a tax tax, they had all kinds of taxes - I'm not saying that. But we don't have an income tax at all in the most regressive tax structure in the country that also has one of the widest income disparities - the top 20% of income earners in the city makes 22 times more than the bottom 20% of income earners - there's a difference between $400,000 and about $18,000. So if we have a state constitutional law that says we can only have equality-based taxes and not equity-based taxes, or flat tax, that's not really gonna help have a progressive tax structure now, is it? So there's long-term pieces that folks have asked me before - Well, what, are you just gonna go off to the state and try to advocate to change the constitution? Yes, I will, if it's causing these issues.
Now, in the short-term - we can increase the JumpStart Tax to bring in more funding. We can look at, especially parts of the budget that is going towards criminalization and punishment. And I think to explain a little bit about when I talk about reallocation of funds, community and SPD have both said that there are certain things that they're doing that they feel is outside of their purview and what they actually feel is necessary for them to do. We're in agreement there. And a lot of those sort of lightning questions you had around domestic violence, around violence intervention, around social services, even around parking or events - District 5 has a 7-minute response time in SPD. And a lot of it is because they are going all over the place. I listen to the police scanner - I think it's something I got into after the 2020 protest comms, things I used to do - and there's so many, I would say like one in every four calls, that seemed like it was either like someone's in the elevator or someone's screaming down the street, something like that. If we were to take those services that the community feels like SPD is out of their purview, SPD feels like it's out of SPD's purview - and we reallocate those services to community-based services, not necessarily that they would also have SPD come along. First of all, that'd be against the point in a lot of ways. But we have them go to alternative community services - true alternative community services, preferably nonprofits and organizations that are already doing this work on the ground. You see the average cost that it took for SPD to do those services that we would be reallocating, and we reallocate that part of the budget to those new services, especially if there are upstream pieces that could help - like housing. It would be in our best interest - whether it's for our community, for the folks who are impacted, or for taxpayers - to have money that's going towards, say, sweeps, go towards permanent housing.
And so I would really, if elected, love to continue to work on how do we implement those seven or nine suggestions from the Progressive Revenue Task Force, and also continue to look at innovative solutions towards balancing this budget in ways that we can take the burden off of just increasing taxes - on the real estate taxes - in a way that's regressive. I think that we want to do, say, like a capital gains tax - I definitely think we need to do that. We want to do vacancy tax, we want to do land value or land banking taxes - I think that's important. I also feel, I feel really strongly - again, I know this is state - but I feel really strongly that as a city councilperson, it's my - any city councilperson's responsibility to advocate for issues that are impacting their community. And having flat rate taxation and regressive taxation is having a devastating impact on the community.
[00:21:48] Crystal Fincher: I also want to talk about public safety and particularly alternative response, because we do - as you said before - need a more comprehensive approach to public safety, and that goes beyond policing. While the council and mayor have definitely taken action to increase the police budget, give retention bonuses, and other incentives to retain and hire more police, we're lagging behind other jurisdictions around the country - and even in our own region and county - with alternative response programs to better support those having behavioral health crises and other issues. Seattle has stalled in implementing what is a very widely-supported idea. So where do you stand on non-police solutions to public safety issues? And what are your thoughts on civilian-led versus co-response models?
[00:22:40] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Major part of my platform - I guess now, because folks ask about it a lot - is that I firmly, firmly believe that we need to transition from hyper-relying on the police and having alternative solutions that is 100% civilian-led. I mean, let's look at it this way, like with the example I gave, right? If SPD is saying they're working out of their purview, it's impacting their response times. It's impacting how much their workforce burden is. It is forcing them to redeploy folks out of places like investigations, causing these huge backlogs in the lab, to street patrol. Why then would we require them to be a co-lead with the alternative solutions? We are trying to remove that hyper-reliance and burden off of them completely - like if it's out of their purview, it's out of their purview, and that's all that on that. Now, like I said, a lot of my family lives in Camden, New Jersey, and they had a huge reduction in their crime right before 2020 George Floyd racial reckoning by completely overhauling to community interventions and alternatives. They have some situations where there is a co-lead model, but those are for situations where there's active threats of harm with weapons involved, right? But if it's more so things, like I said - like intimate partner violence, domestic violence, someone needs social services, mental health services - things that wouldn't require police to be there, which is gonna be very few things. It has led to such a significant change in a place where it used to be considered one of the more dangerous cities in the country.
So I think what's really important here is I think when folks hear me talk about this, their first thought is like - Ah, this is a Defund the Police, BLM person. I think that that has definitely been something, looking the way that I do and sort of wanting to talk to what's really gonna get to the taproot of the issue, has been part of what folks have considered in terms of my viability, or like how am I going to be when I'm in office - one of those things, right? But the reason why I went through that whole resume in the beginning was not to toot my own horn, so to speak, it was because it shows that I have successfully and continue to successfully sit in spaces where folks are in conflict, folks are scared, folks are confused, folks do not have a lower risk tolerance that is needed for true transformative social change. And I am able to support and move along progress towards goals, especially goals at the organizational level and even the policy and governmental level. It's not as well known because I'm sort of - I am working with the folks who then go off and do the press conference, as opposed to one doing myself, right? But that is what I bring, that is the toolkit that I have built. And that toolkit has worked time and time and time and time again. In terms of SPD and public safety in a lot of ways, like I said - I look at it like if you go into an organization, you have a team or a department that is working outside of their scope, outside of their purview, they're overburdened, their work is suffering - you're sort of in a space of like, do we give them more money to give them more team to do all the things we're asking of them? Or do we do something else? And what I would always say in this case, if it was in the scenario is - you take all of the tasks that is not core and central and imperative to that team or department, and you reallocate it and create a new team or department. And you reallocate the budget that averages what that team and department does for those services - and then you continue to watch for progress. And I am very confident that if we actually diversify what we do to address all of the different multiple pathways towards this shared goal of community safety, we would be in a way better spot than continuing to throw money at a bunch of overworked, overburdened people working out of scope.
[00:26:57] Crystal Fincher: Gotcha. I also wanna talk about victims. So many times we're talking about stats and responses and all that, and sometimes we don't focus on people who've been harmed or victimized. And a lot of people speak for victims, but we don't do a good job of listening to people who have been harmed themselves. And usually what they say is that - one, they wanna make sure that what happened to them doesn't happen to them or anyone else again. And they want better support. And that support - not just talking about within the system currently - they call police, there's a response. But even if police respond and come and take a report and do their thing, that person is still left - if it's a property crime, without property, with damage, without money, sometimes having to take off work - and it really does impact lives. How do you propose to better support victims or people who have been harmed?
[00:27:55] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: I think one of the biggest upstream solutions we really have to address is - if we are to have services and supports that help folks help victims, we need to make sure that they are resourced to be able to do so, and right now they are not. And when we say resourced - not just a budget for the projects, right, or the services, or the interventions, housing, funding, whatever that is, but the people who would actually work in those positions. We know, like for example, in emergency services or shelter services, folks are so woefully underpaid it's a national crisis. But also the resources to be able to have folks in those positions who are being amplified in their voices and leadership because they are part of those most intersectionally impacted. One of the reasons why - I guess another reason why I'm running for office is, you know - if we want to talk about the knowledge of the policy process, how to put bills forward, things like that - I definitely have that. But there is an additional piece of that - the wisdom of lived experience - that can help to understand how these things happen in the actual reality on the ground, beyond a theoretical philosophical perspective. As a social service worker, as also someone who is not just a survivor - I guess we could say survivor of domestic violence - but continue to live it, especially running for office 'cause everything's public, right? There's a lot of different requirements, structures, pathways in place that it just leaves you to wonder that if there were folks who, whether it was directly making those decisions or through advisory councils, that was able to keep to-date the ways that our policies, our systems, and our structures are gummed up on the ground, in the lived experience, in the actual reality - if we could move some of those things so that they could be more helpful. That has been the biggest barrier I've seen for folks being able to get care, or to get resources, to get supports after they've been harmed - whether it's for their property, whether it's for their life, whether it's for their wellbeing, whether it's for their safety - the money isn't there. The staff is overworked and underpaid, and the attrition rate is so high that it's hard to move through the system at all. And then when you do go through the system, some of the requirements that you have to meet or some of the standards put in place in the framework doesn't get to the core root of what you need.
A quick example - I guess I can say it for myself 'cause that's a safe thing, right - is when I first moved here to Seattle, there was a person who came here with me, who I had been involved with. When they came here, they were abusive in very many ways - emotionally, physically, psychologically. It was the physical abuse that finally was able to remove them, to get a no contact order - however, they violated it. They finally left the Seattle area around 2013. But especially running for office, we have found him on the website, on the socials, sort of finding me again after all this time. It's interesting because first of all, there really isn't protection order resources or domestic violence resources across state lines. There really aren't spaces to go where - you can't point to someone states away and say that this person is causing harm because it's on the internet. There was a event that the campaign was gonna go to where there was information that led us to believe that there was a credible threat to my safety. And so the campaign went, but I did not go. And I think when you do something like run for office, there are some folks who are like - Well, you signed up for that - but you don't really, right? And I guess I'm sharing my own story because it's the safest.
However, I share this story because the dynamics of it is replicated every day, all day. Sometimes it's not because someone is in different state. Sometimes it's because folks have a different cultural background where they're not able to get like services - say, get emergency shelter, emergency motel, or income. You have to make a written statement that's signed that you are experiencing these things. And if it's family, if there's other sort of cultural pieces people may not feel comfortable doing that. So how do we have folks who have that experience be able to support having a framework in place that's going to be centered in intersectionality and inclusiveness? There's some folks who - this is impacting them financially in ways that are not documented because they're having to take more sick days, or because it is making them more sick, it's increasing their chronic health issues, or their productivity goes down at work. So how do we have supports in place where folks can understand those dynamics so folks are not getting verbal warnings from their boss, folks are not having less hours put on their schedule, folks are not having to then take time off of work to go to the hospital because they're having increased health issues. There are some folks who they do have property damage - when the physical altercation that led to this person finally being removed from my space at that time, they used my laptop in the event. And I was going to school - I didn't have money to buy another laptop. The only recourse would be to try to get this person to pay for it through a legal process - I didn't have money to go through that legal process, that person didn't have money to pay for a new laptop. There really wasn't any resources available to help me get another laptop, even though it was part of this event. A lot of that required other qualifications for me to have that I just didn't have at the time, and a lot of which - because this person wasn't physically living in my home, which definitely doesn't stop these sort of things from happening. So when you do have property damage or property loss, and the only option is to go through a legal process - and you may not have money for that, you may not be able to take time off for that, you might not be able to get child or dependent care for that - what do you do? And so these are the sort of pieces where running for city council, running for office, doing this work is coming at this not just because I want to be on the dais or - yes, there's a policy pieces that's really important - it's because there's this lived experience here, either individually or in my community or in the work that I've done, where I really would love to see a governance system where we are bringing in that actual reality, that grounded reality of how intersectionally we experience the outcomes or the bottlenecks or the gaps in our policy, in our investments, and in our understanding and framing of the issues.
[00:35:53] Crystal Fincher: So you alluded to it a little bit before, but I wanna talk about housing and homelessness. And one thing called out by experts as a barrier to the homelessness response is frontline worker wages that don't cover the cost of living. Do you believe our local nonprofits have a responsibility to pay living wages for our area? And how can we make that more likely with how the City bids and contracts for services?
[00:36:17] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: You know, I think the really sad thing is that our nonprofits - nonprofits are operating in large part through funding from a larger entity, whether it is the City, whether it's usually the federal government - nonprofits need to be able to pay their staff, not just a living wage or a thriving wage, but a Seattle wage, right? The average person working in emergency or directs housing and social services right now is making between $50,000 and $55,000 a year. But a median one-bedroom apartment - if you were gonna have it as be three times your rent, it's about $1,651 a month. And the National Alliance to End Homelessness just put out a report where they suggested that the staffing component of the Homeless Assistance Grant is increased. But they said that it's a national issue and that in order for across the country, even just direct social service workers and homeless emergency shelter workers to be brought up to being able to pay for the average one-bedroom apartment, it would take 4.8 billion, with the B, dollars to do so. And so by nature of being a nonprofit, where is that gonna come from for a nonprofit? I mean, definitely going back to the task force for progressive revenue, we can look at the wage and equity taxes and see where that is. But really for a nonprofit, that's not gonna be really the case. What we really need is to redistribute - when we talk about reallocating funds, we also need to reallocate the funds in a city with such a high wealth disparity. And so I believe that part of the progressive revenue - we really wanna address, say, ensuring that we have even housing and services for folks so that we can end the crisis of who we could physically see outside, we also have to address what's happening in housing instability, economic injustice, labor injustice of folks who are only one paycheck - if that - away from also physically being outside.
And as someone who worked in direct social and housing services, I know that I worked with folks and also experienced situations where folks already were outside - they could not afford their rent and are receiving the same services. My quick story for that that I've been saying is that I remember having to get a conflict of interest waiver 'cause I had to take my client to DSHS. But when I looked at their letter, their DSHS caseworker was the same as mine. And so when we're looking at - oh, where's all the money going? If we only have these like, at minimum, 14,000 people outside, why are we using all this money? Well, because it's not just these 14,000 people who are needing these services, it's even the people who are providing the services that need the services. And so we really need to, as a city, actually not just talk about, but actually put to action economic and labor justice for this and other industries. But we also need to make sure that they are unionized and that they're able to collectively bargain for what they need for the future as well.
[00:39:25] Crystal Fincher: Now on almost every measure, we're behind on our 2030 climate goals, while we're experiencing devastating impacts from extreme heat and cold, wildfires, smoke, floods, you name it - it's here. What are your highest priority plans to get us on track to meet those 2030 goals?
[00:39:46] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: You know, when people ask this question, I always start off with saying - across living in seven states, that I believe I've experienced every type of natural disaster except for a tsunami, a sinkhole, and a typhoon. And yes, it does also include volcano eruptions, hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides - all of those different sort of things - I have been through it. I always said I was just unlucky. As I got older, I realized it's because of climate disaster. We know that the climate disaster is human-made. It's based on consumption. We also know that the human-made climate disaster can be concentrated to a very select few people, who are in an owning class of organizations or businesses, or sort of other sort of production means that is contributing to this - whether it's shipping, whether it's fossil fuels, whether it's even folks who rely on that. The airline industry, I saw that Washington State did just pass a law to start to move towards green aviation fuel for planes, so we're not using all the gas, but even then - really in this Green New Deal, there's a couple of things. Number one, we need to really look at the building efficiency and energy performance pieces. We need to make sure that we are having Green buildings, that we're retrofitting for Green buildings - going back to those resources questions, we need to make sure we have the resources to help folks move towards having more Green buildings because we know that not everyone is going to be a multimillionaire or have a corporation where they can fund that on their own.
The second piece is that we really do need to divest - in all ways, in all spaces - from fossil fuels. And not just the fossil fuel organizations themselves, but those who are hyper-reliant on fossil fuels. If there is an organization that is resistant to divesting from fossil fuels, then it is in our best interest to consider alternatives to using those services or patroning them. We also - I would really love to see how we address the deforestation of our urban forest, that is the city that we lived in. We have lost so much of our tree canopy that it is causing not only these sort of high heat zones that are really harming folks, but we also see them happening along the lines of segregation and redlining. There is increased impacts of environmental racism and injustices leading to folks, especially during the wildfire season, having to go to the hospital because of exacerbations of their asthma - that is leading to other chronic health issues, that is only going to lead to public health crises down the line. And there's so much more even from there, right - reducing our reliance on individual transit, which means that we have to really invest in our public transit infrastructure so it's reliable, so that the workers and operators are able to get everything they're asking for in their current collective bargaining and they're able to be paid a Seattle wage, and that we are able to make sure it's accessible to all people. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot - we didn't just get to climate disaster in the last couple years, really - this has started since the industrialization period. We know it's really picked up since the 1970s, but that means that we're going to have to really work double time to make sure that we are able to have a sustainable future for life. And that's not being - I mean that literally - like so that we can actually continue to live as humans on the planet, 'cause that's where we're at.
[00:43:26] Crystal Fincher: That is where we're at. Now you talked about transit - right now, we are in a world of hurt when it comes to transit, particularly reliability. Some of that is because of shortages of operators or mechanics, but people are having a harder time finding buses that arrive on time or sometimes arrive at all. Understanding that Sound Transit is a regional organization and King County Metro is a county organization, what can the City do? And in your role as a city councilmember, if you're elected, what can you do to stabilize transit reliability?
[00:44:03] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Yeah, it goes back to what I was saying earlier - you know, if elected a city councilperson, it's not just my job to do what I can and legislate within my purview. It is also my job to advocate and amplify what is happening in my district and in my city. And so that is the biggest piece of how we can have the multiple pathways towards shared goals in this case. If it's outside of my purview, that doesn't mean like - Oh well, I guess I can't do anything - but no, I'm supposed to go and advocate and say - Yo, what's going on with the 40 bus because it is taking, is like 20 minutes behind, or what's going on with, you know, the light rail and being able to get there, or what's going on with the E line. And I would continue to do that. I mean, advocating to King County Metro in terms of its accessibility and its affordability and its reliability is something I've already done in multiple ways - and it's on record of what I've done. But I definitely think what's really important here is going a little bit back to the climate justice conversation is - if we really truly want to reduce our reliance on vehicles, especially vehicles that are using gas, and we want folks to use more public transit, that's gonna, first of all, require like Complete Streets and making sure we have a pedestrian focus, if not pedestrians and public transit centered streets. But we also have to make sure the public transit is going to be a competitive option to having a car. And as someone who can't have a car because of my disability, I can only have public transit unless my partner drives me - and he works four tens a week, so most of the time I'm taking transit. You know, there has been situations, especially going east to west in District 5, where if I were to be able to drive a car, get an Uber, I can get there in 15 minutes. If I was to take the bus, I have to take two different transfers and get there in 45 minutes - if that. And so if we're in a situation - it's multifaceted with the infrastructure, where it's going, the operators - how much they're getting paid, their labor standards, are they getting breaks? Are they - do they feel safe? Are they getting medical for sitting all day? And is it affordable? You know, I talk a lot about first mile, last mile as a disabled person - can I get to a bus stop within a mile from my house, if I can walk a mile? Can I get to my destination within a mile from my bus stop, if I can walk that mile? What is the multimodal transportation going to look like? We really need to look at all of these different factors and the city councilmember's job is to advocate and amplify that to whatever level is needed and work together to get those solutions for your community as much as possible.
[00:46:58] Crystal Fincher: Now I want to talk about the economy. The City of Seattle has a vibrant business community - some of the largest corporations in the world are headquartered here and nearby, but also just a ton of small businesses - lots of entrepreneurs, micro businesses, especially in the district. What can you do to better support small business in District 5?
[00:47:22] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Well, I can tell you as a small business owner, too - it's really hard out here, right? Because there's so many different factors looking at, even just from the perspective that I have, with having staff where I have to make sure I have payroll every month and everything like that, right? The first thing I'll say is we know from the state and the city that we have a significant equity issue with public procurement. I am a business that relies on public procurement in a lot of ways. We need to make sure that we are actually putting the actions in place for public procurement and other equity for business owners. We have the Washington Women and Minority Business Enterprise certification that continues to need funding - to provide the grant funding, the infrastructure and supports needed for those businesses and others - that we can advocate to work for at the city and at the state level. Another thing I think is really important for businesses that have brick and mortar is I absolutely 100% believe in density, increasing housing density, increasing the amount of affordable housing that we have - 'cause we don't wanna just be putting housing in for housing sake and then be charging like $3,000 a month and people can't live there. But making sure we have affordable, accessible housing. One of the things that I've seen and folks have been really concerned about is you have these sort of small businesses that their commercial lease is maybe in the $1,000 a month area. Then they say - Hey, we're gonna build a development, but don't worry, we're gonna have retail space for you once the development is done. And if they can survive however long it takes to build this building - because they have to continue to be in operation - but then when the commercial leases or the retail spaces come online, they're in the $3,000 or $4,000 a month - three to four times increase of how much they're able to pay. And so they can't pay that and so those businesses just go away forever. And this is why folks get upset when they go from having a small coffee shop or a small diner or a small bookstore or a small grocery store in their neighborhood, and then the building goes up and now they have a Trader Joe's or they have a non-unionized Starbucks or they have something like that that shows up - someone who can afford those $3,000 to $4,000 rents. And so we need to also have a right-to-return put in place. We need to make sure that businesses, especially the smaller businesses, are able to have the supports they need if they are displaced, similar to like with renters - if there's a displacement where they will not be able to operate their businesses anymore, that they will be able to help.
And I wanna be very clear. When - I think a lot of times in the city, and what's really important about this question for me, is when we talk about businesses in Seattle, I think folks are thinking about the big businesses. They're thinking about the Amazons - heck, they're thinking about the restaurants that have multiple chains, right, and they sell different sort of things - that they're not gonna be as impacted, right? They're impacted, sure - 'cause the pandemic is pandemicking and that's impacting everyone. Especially when we're talking about JumpStart Taxes, right - we're talking about businesses that are making $8 million or more a year. And I'm talking about businesses like myself and other folks in District 5 - I'm talking about like $500,000 a year or less, right? Like I'm not talking about the same people. Even if you're thinking about - if you have staff, if you have a commercial lease, stuff like that - even a million dollars a year, which would be - I think I would just feel like I was sort of like, like the "In the Money" song would start playing if I ever hit a million dollars a year gross sales. But that's not common. When I talk about what is needed for small businesses in this district, I'm talking about those folks, right? I'm talking about the people who might be living in, around, above their business, who is - just like you can live paycheck to paycheck for your rent, living paycheck to paycheck for their business to make payroll, that have services or goods that they provide that the pandemic created this huge gap where they were not able to do that anymore, especially if they're a performer and needing stages to perform or something like that, or gallery space. Especially folks who are at the intersection of being, you know, what they call economically disadvantaged businesses, so they don't make a lot of money. Folks who are non-binary, trans, femme of center folks, folks who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, folks who are disabled, folks who are veterans - especially if they do not have the sort of veterans supports and services that you could get otherwise, especially if they, how service connected they are or what length of service they've had, 'cause that can vary. There's a lot of folks who really need help and that's where really understanding what's happening on the ground can come into play when we're making these investments in these policies to make sure that we are centering folks who are the most intersectionally impacted, and that we are not continuing to center folks who are, you know, in a completely different space and continuing that regressiveness in even the investments that we make.
[00:52:48] Crystal Fincher: I also wanna talk about a related issue of childcare. It doesn't just affect parents - it affects businesses, it affects everyone in our community because it impacts people's ability to participate in the economy and just make their bills. We recently got reporting and research that shows that now childcare is more expensive than college on an annual basis. It's many people's number one or number two expense who have families. What can you do to lighten the burden of childcare costs and availability for residents in District 5?
[00:53:24] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: What we've seen across the country is that when it's subsidized, either through local governance, state governance, federal governance, or through the employer - and really preferably a mixture of both - it can have an astounding effect on affordability. Really, it's one of those multifaceted issues, right - where we also need folks to be able to do, like to work the childcare. They're another industry that's woefully underpaid, as well as our teachers in our education systems. We need to make sure that we have childcare that's multilingual, multicultural, that is going to have disability justice and universal accessibility standards, that we have dependent care that can also support folks who have dependents who are not children - which is not always considered, whether it's elders or whether those are folks who are adults who may or may not be children, but they still require dependent care - that can make it really hard to go to work if you are unsure how they will be able to move throughout their day without some sort of support, without putting them in somewhere like a group home. Especially for adults, I would love to see what it would look like to have clubhouse-style day programs that are moving towards having that disability justice approach, if it's for disability. Or having it be something cool, like maybe free education and learning about trades, so that we can increase the pipeline of folks going into the trades or just certain things like that. But really when it comes down to affordability and second, it comes down to employer cooperation. We need to make sure that if, say, someone does get sick and you need to take care of your family - really, I know it's a federal law, but FMLA is just not very helpful. Again, one of those actual reality experiences, right - the policy, great intention, impact not so much. And so we can't really rely on things like FMLA or even the Paid Sick and Safe Time - which you can go through very, very quickly, depending on what's happening - to help if there's an emergency, if you can't get childcare that day. Childcare in the United States is going for anywhere between $700 if it's subsidized to about $2,500 a month. That's rent. People can barely afford their rent now, let alone a whole other rent. And so we really need to find ways to subsidize this down to as free as possible, so that is just one area that's not concerning for employees. But again, just like I said with housing, we don't just wanna be building housing for housing sake - we wanna make sure it's actually going towards the taproot of the issue. We don't wanna just be having childcare, independent care for the sake of it. We wanna make sure that the people who are in there is going to be able to have the economic and labor justice, and that's gonna actually meet the intersectional, multilingual, multi-ability, multicultural reality of our district and our neighborhoods. And that's what I would be fighting for.
[00:56:33] Crystal Fincher: Now, as we close today with this final question, there are a lot of people trying to consider who they should vote for - between you and your opponent. When you talk to voters who are trying to make that decision, what do you tell them?
[00:56:48] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: If you look at my opponent, Cathy - Cathy, again, has one of those resumes that's very out in front and I think it leads a lot of folks to wonder like - Why you? Right they're, you know, they're a former circuit court judge, been sort of in that space for a while. But there's also a piece of that where I ask folks to really consider the archetypes of things - you know, what is really the archetype of what makes a good candidate or a viable candidate? A lot of folks are like - Well, are you knocking the doors? You know, are you a homeowner? Do you have the money? Look, here's the point - I'm a renter, I've had to work 40 hours a week doing this because I don't have money to just take off of work. I come from what they call network impoverishment. Folks have been like - Can you ask your family for support? I'm like - I'm the person they come to that gives support, I don't have that. If I don't work, there is no one's house for me to go couch surf at. I'm a transit rider, I am a multiply disabled person, I understand what it means to have to fight for your Medicare, to have to have $200 copays. A lot of those both-and pieces - yes, I rent a single-family house in Greenwood, but the reason why it's affordable is because it's sinking into this ravine in the backyard - and as I look up in the ceilings, there's cracks in the foundation. You know, there's a lot of these different sort of pieces where if we want to talk policy, right - and I go back to helping, being a part of passing the six-months advance notice on rent increases, co-organizing and passing one of the nation's first bans on sub-minimum wage, working with legislators on fighting for lifting the cap on special education, fighting to make sure that youth continue to use the bus for free, finding out what's a taproot issues, fighting for making sure that we have disability justice implemented throughout our cities, that we are actually holding - not just saying a thing, but doing a thing if we really truly care about race and social justice. We want to talk about policy process, how to move that forward, how to work with people, how to make sure you find multiple pathways towards shared goals, the policy theory and the process - I got that. And me and Cathy can go - you know, we can really match that up. What I bring that's different is that wisdom of lived experience - not just for myself, but in all of the folks I've worked with as a consultant, as a commissioner, as a direct social service worker, as a youth leader across seven different states throughout the nearly 40 years of my life. And I truly believe and have seen success in the toolkits that I bring, that when you bring both the knowledge and the wisdom together - where you are both taking into account how the lived experiences of those most intersectionally impacted can be amplified in voices in leadership, into policy, into solutions, into leadership, into investments, to true equity - you will see progress. And if you focus on that, you don't get caught up by the minutiae, you can move forward. I have seen and worked with a lot of different folks, processes, organizations, piece - in this city - where we get caught up in the minutiae. I've been successful before in being able to move things forward in a smaller way, but you make the white paper and you give the recommendations and you look at it and they put it to the side. This being the next natural step of being able to have that voice, that conduit for my community on the dais is one that I really truly hope to bring to this community in a way I haven't before. And I'm always happy to chat with folks, get coffee, have a Zoom meeting and talk about some of the other things that I've done because as you can tell, there's so many stories and so little time.
[01:00:27] Crystal Fincher: There are. Well, thank you so much, ChrisTiana ObeySumner, for taking the time to speak with us today about your candidacy for Seattle City Council District 5. Thank you so much.
[01:00:39] ChrisTiana ObeySumner: Thank you.
[01:00:40] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is produced by Shannon Cheng. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on every podcast service and app - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.
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