Homelessness in Seattle has reached a crisis point. Despite some $1 billion in public and private spending, more people live on the streets than ever before. But rather than focus on the causes — addiction, mental illness and social breakdown — progressives in local government have waged war against abstract forces of oppression.
Last week, Seattle homeless advocates hosted their annual conference under the theme of “Decolonizing Our Collective Work.” According to the organizers, to reduce homelessness, government should prioritize “unpacking the current structures of power” and “examine the legacies of structural racism in our systems” to “co-design a path towards liberation with black, indigenous, brown and other marginalized communities.”
What does all that mean?
The director of King County’s homelessness program, Kira Zylstra, used taxpayer funds to hire a transgender stripper to perform during the conference. According to The Seattle Times, the stripper, Beyoncé Black St. James, “danced topless in a sheer bodysuit, gave lap dances and kissed attendees.” The audience — representatives from the region’s taxpayer-funded nonprofits and government agencies — clapped, cheered and handed St. James dollar bills.
The episode illustrates a growing trend in Seattle: Municipal employees increasingly see their work as part of a broader agenda of radical social change. Over the past five years, Seattle has rapidly added personnel under the auspices of “diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Take Christopher Peguero, manager of the equity program at Seattle City Light. Peguero views his role as much more than providing reliable electricity to utility customers. As he explained in a recent interview on the City of Seattle blog, public utilities can be instrumental in the fight against white supremacy. “Race is most central to addressing institutional oppression since it is central to historical inequity in the United States,” he says. “I feel that an inclusive model is the only way that we will ever reach collective liberation from institutional oppression.”
The Seattle Public Schools’ Ethnic-Studies Task Force has launched a new math curriculum based on the idea that the “Western” model of instruction has disenfranchised “people and communities of color” and legitimized “systems that contribute to poverty and slave labor.”
To fight this injustice, the task force argues, schools must transition “from individualistic to collectivist thinking” and implement a new math curriculum that will “liberate people and communities of color.” Tracy Castro-Gill, the district’s ethnic-studies program manager, identifies as a “teacher-activist” and promotes the notion that “math is a tool for oppression.”
Identity politics has become the dominant cultural orthodoxy of the modern Left, and it replicates itself effectively through public bureaucracy. Transgender striptease can’t reduce homelessness. Racially conscious public utilities can’t combat white supremacy. Nor can a “resistance and liberation” curriculum boost math scores.
But the pay is good: Zylstra earns $123,000 annually at King County All Home, Peguero makes $104,000 at Seattle City Light and Castro-Gill earns $108,000 a year at Seattle Public Schools.
These state-funded activist-employees are embedded in government, protected by powerful public unions and supported by the broader political culture. After the trans-stripper episode, Zylstra was placed on paid leave, but not fired; She resigned this week.
Castro-Gill, the agitator behind the “math-is-racist” curriculum, won recognition as the 2018–2019 Teacher of the Year. And Peguero, despite a stream of racially inflammatory statements on his social-media feed, continues to serve at City Light.
If Seattle progressives were truly to lay bare “the current structures of power,” they would only find themselves. They have controlled Seattle for a generation, yet they pretend to be outsiders fighting forces of “institutional oppression” and “structural racism.” City government employs more than 10,000 workers, all subject to rigorous diversity training and politically correct thinking. Despite the occasional p.r. fiasco, the progressive grip on Seattle’s political culture shows no sign of loosening.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post on December 18th, 2019.