On the surface, there is nothing particularly remarkable about the YouTube video. The clip from November 29, 2011, hasn’t been viewed much more than 2,900 times. Like many other ‘flash mob’ videos from the era, the camera slightly shakes as five dancers, surrounded by Black Friday shoppers at Westlake Center and Mall, swells to nine and then to over 20 in a rehearsed group choreography to John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World To Change,” and Jessie J’s “Price Tag.”
If anything about the video stands out, it’s the chant “Occupy Seattle!” heard from the performers. What’s most remarkable however is what the video does not show: it captures one of the few times the worlds of Kshama Sawant and Egan Orion’s overlapped before this years’ election. Now both are vying for the same seat on the city council.
Orion, who provided production support to the Occupy Seattle Flash Mob (according to the YouTube video), was a “Flash Mob King” then, producing hundreds-strong ephemeral public dance performances in Seattle and across the country.
Though she was not involved with the video, at the time, Sawant, teaching economics at Seattle Central College, had emerged as one of the most prominent voices and organizers to emerge from Occupy Seattle, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests against economic inequality.
Eight years on, the worlds of Orion and Sawant collide again. Both are running to represent District 3, which spans a wide area including Lake Washington-adjacent neighborhoods such as Madison Park, renter-heavy Capitol Hill, and the Central District, and part of the ID, on a City Council that will likely see historic turnover with seven of nine seats up for election. Sawant, who has served on the council for six years, is one of three council members up for reelection.
The city has changed immensely in the past eight years. Four — really, five — mayors, a new democracy voucher program, a declaration of a homelessness state of emergency, accelerated gentrification and displacement, a repealed employee hours or “head” tax and the appearance of “Seattle Is Dying” later, the fault lines — between visions of what Seattle has (or should) become — have hardened.
Sawant, of course, is a socialist. Orion is billed as the more business-friendly candidate. Sawant’s somewhat uncomfortable talking about her personal life. Orion, when we meet him in Volunteer Park, offers up intimate details political candidates usually don’t disclose to a reporter. (Failures and heartbreak. A tequila-fueled spat in the streets of Mazatlán, Mexico. The name of the person he lost his virginity to.)
Born to two teachers in Auburn, Orion grew up a few blocks from Green River Community College, where he was one of the few kids who took part in its theater productions. As a closeted “theater gay” in “very white, very middle class” Auburn during the AIDS crisis, theater was a reprieve from bullying and a way to express himself outside of the confines of school. In high school, Orion ran Students Against Driving Drunk and led his school’s chapter of Students Opposed to Apartheid. For the MLK Day assembly, he invited then-mayor Norm Rice to his school and set up a U2 “Sunday Bloody Sunday” slideshow with music. Continue reading