Seattle is Dividing

By David Johnson, LPKC Chair

KOMO this last week published an hour-long news special called Seattle is Dying. If you haven't seen it, go see it. While most are familiar with leftist and socialist momentum and policy in Seattle politics, this special does a great job of touching on the momentum going in a very different direction.

To summarize it for those who might already be engaged and understand it, or who can't be bothered to watch at this moment: Since the head tax split, there is a rising and active grassroots movement that sees the blight of Seattle as an issue of lack of support of law enforcement, tolerance of drug usage, and insufficient forms/usage of incarceration. This description leans uncharitable, but I'll risk that to emphasize the tensions with boilerplate libertarian leanings/talking points that are overtly present.

As libertarians, there are reasons to see this division as a blessing and a curse. There is a blessing in that both sides have areas of agreement that invite starting policy conversations and even cooperation. The leftist critique of Seattle's ongoing objectively abusive policing (according to federal courts) and its effectiveness in at very least not leaving that unchecked are commendable. Reversing the worst of the war on drugs and poverty and the incarceration state are at worst a good intention. And on the other hand, this new movement's push for accountability, transparency, and not just tax-and-spend offers great opportunities to scale back socialist power grabs and corruption, and of course new taxes. It is also raising the overall level of grassroots civic engagement and bringing into the political arena a movement that is at very least a much less authoritarian/partisan right wing of the political spectrum than we are used to in American politics at large.

But obviously, Seattle big government socialism is all sorts of bad from a libertarian standpoint in spite of the areas of systematic abuse they critique correctly. And as much as it might be tempting to say the enemy of the head tax and socialists must be my friend, one doesn't have to listen too closely to this special to hear the drumbeats of the drug war in the background pacing the march of unqualified police worship. This combination sets the stage for a tough-on-crime leadership that implements New York City style crushing of civil liberties.

How can we as libertarians orient ourselves in Seattle? I can think of three ways:

1. Become irrelevant. If we just ignore the landscape of local politics and do our thing, or throw rocks from the sidelines, or otherwise don't engage with clear goals of producing meaningful results, then we will simply cede leadership and determination of Seattle's future to these two factions to fight over.

2. Become pawns. Forget about the Libertarian Party, just pick a side and go all in supporting them. Probably with the anti-socialists crowd because we don't like socialists. It might be someone else leading, but it's the lesser evil.

3. Become leaders. If we are to remain ourselves and be true to our principles, while being effective in this mixed political reality, we must understand that our means of influence must then be what bends rather than our values. There is not a space to run a Libertarian Party-branded city council candidate. There is a lot of space for the Libertarian Party to work with, influence, educate, trade value with, and otherwise advance liberty through candidates who are rising on these new political waves.

And that's what we're doing. That's the essence of the Roads to Liberty vision I laid out.

We are having conversations with candidates and leaders who are learning who we are, what we believe, what our ideas are, and when to call us. We are meeting activists who are liberty-leaning coming out of the closet in this new movement, who then pivot to interest in us. We find opportunities to exchange resources and favors in ways that are win-win with friendly groups of activists on issues.

There is a big catch. It means the Libertarian Party of King County taking any position on any relevant issue/candidate/group is always by association planting its feet on one of the libertarian third rails of "socialists" or "cop-lovers". There is no escaping the potential for a bad faith "not a real libertarian" accusation. Where others are looking to engage in friendly fire, we are always an easy target because we are always either engaged with someone we don't agree with completely or we aren't engaged at all.

LPKC will go one of two roads when confronted with this. We could decide that politics isn't really important to us, and just give up, just go to social meetups, complain about how bad Seattle is, then eventually move out of the city if we don't like it (and let it take the state over too). Or we'll get thick skin, we'll stick to our principles and our passion, lead from the front instead of throwing rocks from the back, and take advantage of this enormous opportunity to build new political inroads and leaders.

I'm all in to advance free market education, pro-liberty results, and the Libertarian Party in Seattle. Are you?