I spent yesterday attending the Crosscut Festival at Seattle University. I’ve gone to so many conferences through work that I can’t seem to break the habit of taking and writing up notes. So here they are.
The conference was organized as a series of panel discussions on business, social, political and environmental issues in the Seattle area. The panelists were “some of the boldest thought leaders in politics, business and social justice activism,” and in general the quality of the discussion was very good.
To get the most out of the day, I tried to attend sessions on topics that I’m not too familiar with, and not just sessions focused on tech – though I did attend a couple of those too.
One common theme that emerged from the day was the need for individuals to take action in whatever arena they find themselves, on whatever issues they care about, in whatever ways they can. I suspect this is at least in part a reaction to recent events in “the other Washington.” The election of Barack Obama did not usher in a post-racial America. And the election of Donald Trump means that progress on issues like women’s rights, climate change and others must come from us, the people.
Here are some highlights from individual sessions.
Tech and the City
This session featuring former Seattle mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver, venture capitalist Heather Redman, and Zillow economist Aaron Terrazos focused on the impact large technology companies, mainly Amazon, are having on Seattle. Oliver made the point that since corporations are recognized as legal persons, we should expect them to behave like people who are members of our community. In other words, they should invest in and engage with the community particularly in the areas of education, transportation and affordable housing.
Righting the Wrongs of Racism
A huge subject for a 45 minute panel, and the discussion did meander somewhat, but the main topic was the idea of reparation. The panelists, from a variety of backgrounds (Japanese-, Native- and African-American) each had interesting but slightly different perspectives. One area of agreement was the need for individuals to take action on their own. In fact, one of the panelists, Natasha Marin, has set up an on-line project where individuals can reach out to both request and offer aid. At the same time, there was discussion of the need for us to abandon the myth of “American individualism.” Nobody accomplishes anything by themselves, and this idea of individualism is holding the country back from addressing the problems we face. The rest of the world has long since recognized this and is going ahead without us. (One good example in my opinion is the fact that the rest of the world is continuing to abide by the International Agreement on Climate Change despite the US pulling out. Previous international agreements have collapsed without US support.)
Top Cops Talk Police Reform
Police Chiefs from Seattle (past and current) and Oakland were in very strong agreement about the need for profound structural and cultural changes within law enforcement. There needs to be a national standard for certifying police officers, and decertification of officers who don’t live up to them. Seattle’s new de-escalation training possibly leads the nation. They all also agreed that local police officers should not be involved in enforcing immigration rules. No one gains if undocumented immigrants are too afraid of deportation to cooperate with local police on worker exploitation, human trafficking or other criminal activity. Interim Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best put it well: “We aren’t safer when we don’t protect undocumented people.” Someone should tell Jeff Sessions.
The Thin Green Line
This panel was billed as a discussion of how environmental activists have succeeded in blocking coal terminals, oil-by-rail shipping, and chemical plants in the Pacific Northwest. But it was more than that. Sally Jewell, founder of REI and a former Secretary of the Interior under President Obama, and Emily Johnston, a poet and activist and founder of the climate justice group 350 Seattle were the main contributors. They presented an insider’s view and an outsider’s view of what’s needed to fight climate change. Jewell stated that we need to “deeply decarbonize.” (It’s too bad the current Secretary of the Interior, not to mention the President, doesn’t have the same view.) Johnston favors more direct action by individuals and probably has a more realistic view of how profoundly we need to change to meet that goal.
How Tech Can Solve Its Diversity Problem
Zoë Quinn was the most engaging speaker on this panel. She’s the video game developer at the center of the GamerGate controversy, and her book Crash Override describes her experience. The discussion was only partly about what corporations should do to diversify their workforce and management. Instead the emphasis was more on what we as individuals should do. Particularly men. Call out misogynistic or discriminatory behavior immediately, in the moment, even if it make us feel uncomfortable. There’s no point apologizing after the fact to the woman or person of color who was treated badly. That’s not helpful. Allies need to act.
The GOP Is Dead. Long Live the GOP
This panel, moderated by KUOW reporter Austin Jenkins, was about the future of the Republican Party in left-leaning Washington State in the era of Donald Trump. The panelists generally took the position that, like the old Pimco Insurance ads used to say, ‘we’re a little different.” Different from the national Republican Party, that is.
They differed on what to do about it. Former Senator Slade Gorton, who turned 90 recently and is still sharp and engaging, took the long view; Republicans have a proud history in Washington State on issues like education and the environment. The political pendulum swings back and forth and Republicans will eventually get their turn again.
Bill Bryant, the 2017 Republican candidate for governor noted that Republicans are only a couple of percentage points away from capturing the Governor’s office, and if they do the hard work and connect with voters about issues they care about, they can win.
Lori Sotelo, chair of the King County Republicans said that the job of party officials like her was to be cheerleaders for the Party’s candidates up and down the ballot, from President to dog catcher. Not a popular view with the audience.
Lastly, Chris Vance, a former state Republican Party chairman who has left the party and is now an Independent, got the loudest applause of the day when he said that to succeed in the 2018 midterm elections, “Republicans in Washington state need to disavow Donald Trump.” And Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell too, he added.
This panel really laid bare the challenges and the contradictions of belonging to any political party, not just the GOP. When you disagree with party policies, or with party leadership, do you leave or do you stay? Do you continue to be a cheerleader or do you “disagree and commit” as they say over at Amazon? Where do you draw the line? At what point does party loyalty begin to undermine personal integrity?
As a party organization, how can you credibly claim to be “a little different” while still running under the banner of the national party? Can you really distance yourself from your own party, but still claim to be a better choice than the opposing parties?
Really good discussion by a well-chosen panel that presented a broad spectrum of views.
Overall, I really enjoyed the day. I hope Crosscut does it again next year.