By Zoe Schurman
My name is Zoe Schurman, and I’m a 7th grader at Washington Middle School. Wednesday (November 14th), I went to a Seattle City Council meeting, wanting to learn about what was going on in our city. I got a real education in how government works – and how it’s not working for most of us.
I got involved in this fall’s city budget debate because I’m part of Zero Hour Seattle – part of a worldwide movement of young people fighting for climate justice. We advocate for things like free and accessible mass transit, zero-emission school buses, an end of fossil fuel dependency, and a stop to the youth jail. Like many people, I see that climate and other issues are all inter-connected. For example, if people can’t afford to live in Seattle because of the high cost of living, then they have to commute further to work and school – burning fossil fuels in the process. I came to see that here in Seattle, we need to build a lot more affordable housing in the city.
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I was one of the few kids who could make it to last Wednesday’s council meeting. I skipped school to come because I believe that our city needs to spend more money on building affordable housing, as Councilmember Kshama Sawant has proposed. The housing crisis affects everyone: People without homes; the workers who, although they work in Seattle, can’t afford to live here, including construction workers who literally build the city yet can’t live in the city that they build; working people and seniors who have lived here for decades who are being uprooted out of their homes by soaring rents and property taxes.
There are pets in our city that get better care and better shelter than humans. Think about this; when it gets too cold, hot, or smoky in our city, on the news it says to make sure that your pets are fine and that they have warmth and good shelter. What about the humans without shelter? What about the humans who are freezing, overheating or stuck outside breathing in air with dangerous amounts of particulate matter? What about the 4,300 kids in Seattle Public Schools who were homeless, according to last year’s statewide study.
In City Hall last Wednesday, the Council’s Budget Committee was debating and voting on amendments to the City’s 2019 budget. The meeting was scheduled at 9:30 am – a time when most working people could not make it. Even so, more than 100 people attended. I’m sure that some were missing work or school (like me) to be there – because they thought it was important for them to voice their concerns to their elected leaders. Many spoke up during the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, calling on the Council to put more money into affordable housing and social services. But as they spoke up, it seemed to me that some of the City Council members weren’t paying attention to what the people had to say to them. Some of the council members were walking in and out of the meeting room, while others were looking at their computer screens.
When it was my turn to speak, it seemed they paid attention to me. Maybe it was the novelty of a middle school kid testifying on the budget on a school day!
After we all spoke about the need for more housing, the council members started discussing for more than an hour some tiny details of the massive $6 billion budget. A lot of the debate revolved around what process the committee should adopt for taking up amendments.
It was evening when the chair of the committee, Sally Bagshaw, finally brought up Kshama Sawant’s People’s Budget demands to add tens of millions of dollars to build thousands of affordable homes. By now, many hours since the start of the meeting, there were barely any members of the public left. And now – with no crowd to hold them accountable – the eight other council members quickly voted down Sawant’s proposals, in just a few minutes.
As I watched this, I thought about the three California cities where voters just approved taxes on big business to fund affordable housing and public services. We didn’t even get a chance to vote here in Seattle, because last June the City Council voted 7-2 to repeal the Amazon tax instead of letting it go to the November ballot.
Seeing this display by the City Council has made me more motivated than ever to keep fighting for the rights of others: For those who are living on the streets, in shelters, in cars, and for the thousands of working people, including teachers, nurses, and social workers who can’t afford to live in Seattle because of how high rents are.
I want a city where everyone has shelter, food, equal rights, and healthcare. At City Hall, it was made very clear to me that most of the council members didn’t really care about those things. And I realized that only a powerful, organized movement of ordinary people is going to solve the housing crisis and get us the city we need. We also need to elect the right people, people who will work with us and not against us!
The outrageous success of big business in Seattle attests to how beneficial our community is to THEM. It’s time they showed the same respect to US. And it’s time that city council members respected what we have to say, instead of ignoring us or brushing us off, as I saw on Wednesday.
In a city with a $5.9 billion budget, there shouldn’t be a need for kids to stand up for people’s basic human rights! If you want to get participate with the fight for our rights, we have to go to protests, rallies, and City Hall. Together, we can make a difference!
Zoe’s letter was originally sent to the office of Council member Kshama Sawant with permission to share with local media. CHS is happy to provide a forum for Zoe’s message.