My partner and I are small business owners in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. We have been in Seattle for eight years, and we’ve loved becoming a part of the community during that time. Our business is a fashion-apparel boutique located just blocks from the CHOP or CHAZ.
I write in response to the recent New York Times article on Seattle “Abolish the Police? Those Who Survived the Chaos in Seattle Aren’t So Sure.”
Our store was looted at 11 p.m. on July 22. Based on public video from the scene, the crowd spent at least 10 minutes pounding away at our double-pane windows while the local police department stood by and watched it happen. On our way to the store that night, after looters stole more than $30,000 in goods, we passed 20 police officers on bikes standing around. Once we investigated the damage, the police department told us that the City Council and the mayor had limited their ability to manage crowds, so their hands were tied. It was suggested that we contact our council members on what to do. I’ve since sent letters to three council members, including Council President M. Lorena González and Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who represents Capitol Hill, and have received no responses.
Our issue is primarily with the city’s tone-deaf response to the situation. We’ve been struck by the lack of unity and collaboration among key stakeholders in this discussion. It is clear that the different factions are not talking with each other, and the mayor is not bringing all parties together to create change that works for all of us. In our view, this is bad government.
When I spoke with the police department, they told us that they were not a part of discussions between the mayor and activists on changes to policing, and it’s clear from our conversations with business owners that small businesses were not included either.
Our politicians’ lack of imagination on how to work together and to include small businesses in their political calculations is a shame because we offer so much to the texture of Seattle. Our leaders seem poised to allow groups to destroy property over gaining some resolve about how to best solve the issue for all members of community, which is also a shame. It is this lack of imagination that stalls real democracy in action. Under the current environment, we are reticent if not downright scared to open our doors.
I hear, too, that, after all, our loss is just stuff, and it’s replaceable. We can “file [insurance] claims,” as Mayor Jenny Durkan was quoted as saying in The New York Times. Apart from her suggestion being a cop-out, this puts us in a precarious position. On the one hand if, we speak out against property damage then we are immediately cast as not supportive of the movement, which could impact our business during a tenuous time to begin with and isn’t accurate in the least. On the other hand, if we don’t speak out, our concerns are not addressed or even considered. We refuse to be collateral damage due to a lack of leadership. While we can make one claim, if this were to continue, repeated claims will have serious, adverse effects on small businesses because our leaders have no long-term plan to stop it.
Embracing small businesses as a partner better ensures a more enduring movement, one that seeps into every aspect of culture, which is what we need to create the big and necessary changes our community deserves. One can be pro-business and pro-social change at the same time. We’ve, in fact, held events for homeless advocacy organizations Mary’s Place and the YWCA, and have given several times to two bail-fund drives.
Therefore, I call on our leaders to disavow and discourage property destruction and looting as part of peaceful protests and to work with the police department to come up with a solution to stop it.
I often hear that we need to put lives over property. This is a damaging false choice. We can have a major and necessary social movement without destroying businesses. Small business remains an important part of the culture that makes Seattle such a wonderful city. Do we want a city full of Burger Kings and big-box stores? History shows us that social change, tectonic social change, can occur and last with profound effect without destroying property. For example, ACT UP made its mark by putting a huge condom over Jesse Helm’s home and shutting down the New York Stock Exchange — they did not destroy East Village small businesses or the ones on Madison Avenue.
And, finally, this is where I take issue with my representative, Councilmember Sawant, directly. She is a radical and as a radical she plays a zero-sum game, where when some win, others must lose. We understand that times like these require radical action, and we’re on board that significant change is needed. But we request that she do what democracy demands, the hard, nuanced and sometimes boring work of creative problem solving among all interested parties to benefit all members of the community.