Around 300 people splintered from the planned MLK Day march at Garfield High School and rushed to 23rd and Union to surround the retail pot shop Uncle Ike’s Monday afternoon.
As around 5,000 marchers headed downtown along the planned route, the splinter group of hundreds and a contingent of Seattle Police officers following it wound its way through the busy construction activity in the 23rd Ave corridor. Chanting “Black lives matter,” the crowd assembled itself surrounding the Uncle Ike’s buildings on the northeast corner of the 23/Union intersection.
Meanwhile, thousands of students, activists, officials, and community members proceeded downtown through First Hill for planned rallies at the Federal Building. While waiting for the march to start at Garfield, Vanita Clark told CHS she has been coming to Seattle’s MLK Day events for most of her life. As a lifelong Capitol Hill resident who raised her children in the neighborhood, Clark said she was marching for rent control and fair housing as she has watched the African American community dwindle over the years.
“Our daughter grew up on Capitol Hill, but she had to move to Tacoma,” Clark said.
In 2015, the massive march — one of the largest MLK Day marches in the nation — was marred by a violent response from SPD officers to a smaller protest that followed the main march and rally. In 2016, it appears the push for a secondary protest beyond the planned MLK activities was to be centered in the Central District.
Group taking 23rd and Union “gentrification stops here!” pic.twitter.com/ZIPBRK3xAi
— Bryan Cohen (@bchasesc) January 18, 2016
The crowd of 300 or more filled the parking lot in front of 23rd and Union pot shop and the surrounding traffic lanes as a growing contingent of SPD officers and media observed. The shop’s owner was also seen outside the shop watching the protest play out before the store closed and rolled down protective metal doors.
One of the marchers read a list of demands for Eisenberg, including handing over half of the Uncle Ike’s property for community controlled low income housing and donating a percentage of his profits to community-based organizations.
— Alex Garland (@AGarlandPhoto) January 18, 2016
Sitting in silence, the marchers listened to Central District musician Om Johari speak about the changes she has seen in the neighborhood over the years. Johari encouraged people to learn the history of how people of color are systematically displaced from their homes. As a former worker in the juvenile justice system, Johari also criticized Eisenberg for selling marijuana on a block where many black teenagers were arrested and still in jail for doing the same thing.
The rally also included a song performed by Naakw Dancers, a multi-tribe dance group primarily tied to southeast Alaska. “All this equality we’re fighting for doesn’t mean anything if we don’t have a healthy, sustainable land to live on,” said Nahaan,one of the group’s members.
Uncle Ike’s was opened by Central District real estate investor and entrepreneur Ian Eisenberg in September 2014 during the city’s first wave of I-502 retail pot openings. With concerns about a “Little Amsterdam” developing in the area and objections from the neighboring Mount Calvary Christian Center, the store has faced legal challenges and protest from those who see it as a symbol of gentrification and racism on a corner associated with arrests and the impact of the “war on drugs” on the black community. In August 2015, protesters also surrounded the store. In September, a second pot store opened in the area as Ponder debuted just blocks from Uncle Ike’s. Earlier this month, the Seattle City Council voted to regulate an expansion of the zones in the city where legal pot stores and facilities can operate as the state prepares to merge retailers and medical providers under the same rules.
“At first, people said a pot shop was going to take down property values,” Eisenberg told CHS during the protest. “A pot shop is a weird thing to bring up on the gentrification argument. It’s better to bring up on the social injustice argument that black kids go to jail — or went to jail — for selling pot. Now people can legally sell pot. And I agree.” Eisenberg said he wanted to talk more with the protest’s organizers to clear up some misconceptions about his business.
Uncle Ike’s is a CHS advertiser.
No arrests were reported.
While the the anti-drug emphasis from SPD at 23rd and Union has been reduced from its initiatives in the late 2000s, the ATF and federal authorities continue to be active in the area as anti-crime taskforces target the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Uncle Ike’s is seen by some as a harbinger of the next wave of change to come along 23rd Ave. With one mixed-use apartment building nearly completed on one corner at 23rd and Union, another corner is about to dig in with a new construction project. Other businesses planning to open in the area include an electric bike dealership from the owner of 20/20 Cycles and a new coffee shop. On the southeast corner, the Midtown Center was put up for sale as “one of the last remaining large developable sites.” And, just down the road a bit at Jackson, real estate Vulcan has a deal in place as it eyes a plan to redevelop 6 acres at the intersection.
UPDATE 9:11 PM: Here is a copy of the statement from the Seattle Black Book Club from Monday’s protest:
We have assembled at Uncle Ike’s today to stand up and speak out against gentrification and the harm it causes our communities.
Gentrification functions as an expression of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, and exploitation. When this destructive process is aided and assisted by so-called “community leaders” of the local Black misleadership class, it is called neocolonialism.
The methods inherent in the process of gentrification are little different than the colonial practice of ‘peaceful’ subordination, encroachment, and expulsion of a people from spaces traditionally occupied by them and their ancestors. This was practiced in the Pacific Northwest during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries against the indigenous populations by European and Anglo-American settlers.
The same political and economic structures, ideologies, and dehumanization of vulnerable people is as alive in Seattle today as it was in 1855 when the Treaty of Point Elliott was signed.
Let me remind you that ALL of Seattle squats on stolen Duwamish and Salish land!
This process is ‘justified’ under the supposedly “colorblind” economic principle of supply and demand that also lacks any sense of JUSTICE.
These white newcomers, many from outside the city itself, buy homes and land for cheap in formerly red-lined areas, building or remodeling houses, which drives up the property values of the homes around them until they are no longer affordable to the people who had been living there.
Or a developer, like Ian Eisenberg, buys up vast amounts of land and builds major apartments or condos too expensive for an oppressed community to afford. Either way the net result is the same, people are displaced and are some times made homeless.
There are some people who manage to hold onto their homes or apartments only to find watch as their children suffer another harmful effect of colonialism (and neocolonialism); a white-washed, academically lacking, miseducation.
Marginalized as ‘minorities’ and ‘special education students’ in their schools, our cultural traditions are shunned, our methods of communication are stigmatized, and our history is all but ignored. Students of color are penalized for not becoming more like their oppressors, and as a result are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of their peers making them exceedingly likely to become trapped in the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP).
At the University of Washington, a public institution with over 40,000 students only approximately 3% are Black, when in Washington Black people make up 4.1%, in King County 6.7%, and in Seattle 7.9%. Black youth in Seattle Public Schools (SPS) made up 4.5% of the students, but also over 50% of the students classified as being without a home.
Urban cities are, in essence, internal colonies replete with an occupying force known as law enforcement. These newcomers complain at advisory councils, such as, the East Precinct Advisory Council (EastPAC), about Black people and other people of color, and demand that the police extricate or expel us from “their” neighborhoods and ruthlessly punish us for existing at all.
Over the past year, Black Lives Matter has brought back onto the public agenda how the police brutalize and terrorize people of color and are a slave catching force for the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).
No longer will we remain silent. No longer will we be complicit in crimes against our community. No longer will we watch as gentrification and capitalism destroy our social networks and structures by displacing our people. No longer will we permit these supposedly ‘colorblind’ economic practices to continue without an appeal to justice.
Ian Eisenberg, owner of Uncle Ike’s Recreational Marijuana Shop and owner of numerous properties in Seattle’s Central Area, YOU WILL:
1. Hand over 54% of his real estate holdings to the community for the purpose of community controlled low income housing.
2. Provide funds to be used for the legal defense of people of color with drug cases in Seattle and the cities that people have been gentrified to, and provide funds to the Black Community to lobby for retroactive marijuana laws.
3. Provide funds for community-selected organizers to fight economic instability in or impacting communities of color.
4. Build or provide funding for a community controlled center that will have programs, which include but are not limited to, addressing economic disparities, food justice, and the education gap experienced by people of color.
5. Provide funds to assist people who have already been, or who will be, displaced by gentrification.
We are willing to take all necessary measures to satisfy the demands we’ve listed here.
Seattle Black Book Club
As last black resident on her CD block, woman says black families pushed out by design pic.twitter.com/FL09F462iR
— Bryan Cohen (@bchasesc) January 18, 2016