Meeting Minutes from InspireSeattle Social on April 23, 2011

Meeting Basic Community Needs During Difficult (If Not Desperate) Economic and Political Times

The discussion panel, from left to right:
   Julia SterkovskyRichard ConlinEric Oemig,
   and Dave Gamrath acting as moderator

Thank you to Dave Gamrath for organizing and moderating at this event, and to both Dave and Shamah for hosting.

Read the details of the evening's discussion by visiting
"Inspire Seattle: Whither Progressives"
by Donald Smith
at the Washington Liberals website

Follow the links below to read more about
Julia Sterkovsky's ideas for
   - Telling a new story
   - Community sustainability


A Summary of the Evening's Discussion
from Dave Gamrath

Panel –

Julia Sterkovsky

·         Executive Director of the Seattle Human Services Coalition, a multi-racial, multi-cultural group of human service providers and concerned community members committed to helping Seattle-King County residents meet their basic human needs.

·         13 member coalitions each representing an area of service within the community such as hunger intervention, domestic violence prevention, early education, community healthcare and homelessness to name only a few.


Richard Conlin

·         President of Seattle City Council.  First elected in Nov 1997, and President since 2007.

·         Over past 12 years, Richard has focused on making Seattle a more sustainable city, reducing waste, strengthening neighborhoods, improving pedestrian mobility and transportation infrastructure, and making government more transparent. 

·         Prior was Director of the Community and Environment Division at Metrocenter YMCA

·         Led the Seattle YMCA Earth Service Corps, supporting youth development through environmental education and action and led Master Home Environmentalist program

·         Also co-founded Sustainable Seattle in 1989


Eric Oemig

·         Elected to Senate for 45th in 2006 and served from January 2007-2011.

·         Priorities included fiscal responsibility, performance audits and accountability; education and children; environment and water and energy issues.

·         Worked extremely hard on campaign finance reform. 

·         Eric also was a local hero when in 2007 he led our state’s efforts towards impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney. 

·         Prior to politics, Eric was a manager in the software industry. 

·         Eric was also a founding member of InspireSeattle


Forum Overview

·         Post our “Great Recession”, we are now in a budget crisis leading to cuts in services.

o   People seem to have high expectations and criticisms of government for not being efficient, but want to cut government’s budget as a fix of this!

o   Federal level – Tea Party and Republicans on the attack to cut human services

o   State level – biennium budget deficit of $4.6B leading to massive custs

o   City/County/Local levels – also dealing with severe budget issues.

·         Tax Revolts – throughout the country there seems to be a high mistrust of government and a real anger towards paying taxes. 

o   This is ironic given our debt and budget crisis.  New taxes are off the table

o   Even the wealthy exhibit stiff resistance towards paying higher taxes

o   Corporations are moving headquarters out of the USA (35%) overseas to places like (Ireland 12.5%), Swizerland (15%), etc. to avoid taxes, and keep cash offshore (over $1 trillion) 

·         Recovery – unemployment “down” to 8.8% and the stock market is up, but likely facing continued large gov’t revenue shortfall, and greater and greater public debts.

o   Movement of living-wage jobs overseas and replaced them here in the US with low wage service industry jobs

·         Broad forum questions 

o   Are we entering a “new normal” in our society where government can only provide a bare minimum safety net, and those at the low end of our economic spectrum are left to fend for themselves? 

o   What is the current and future role of government, businesses, faith, philanthropy, neighbors and individuals in meeting community basic needs?

o   What does the future look like? 

o   What can activists do to help shape the future?



·         What is happening in Olympia surrounding the state budget?  And do you concurr with my calling this a “crisis” at both the state and the national level? 

A – These times truly are desparate, both nationally and locally.  Many examples were provided.  Progressives need to stay on the offensive at the local, state and national level to show their support for public services, and the need to raise revenues through appropriate tax measures. 


·         What’s happening with the City of Seattle budget?

A – Seattle is in relatively good shape compared with other budgets.  The city has worked hard to aviod cutting human services.  Also, the city has been working hard to find ways to reinvent how government operates.  An example of this is with our parks and community centers, as well as working to save jobs.  We’re making good progress, but the huge cuts at the federal and state levels will flow down to the city, and the future will be very difficult.


·         How has this budget crisis impacted The Seattle Human Services Coalition?  How does today compare with the past decade?

A – These times are very difficult.  We are looking at having to remove 57,000 local people from services they need.  We need to keep working to make sure basic needs are met.  In this process, to be successful we all need to address people’s attitudes – how we communicate is key.  We don’t need to argue – we need to effectively change attitudes.


Dave provided insights from local Conservatives on these issues, including the US Chamber of Commerce and former Republican legislators. –

·         Most conservatives want to help people, but are also very concerned with waste and misuse of tax dollars in government.  “Gov’t would never make a profit in real world”.

·         Better to teach people how to fish vs giving them a fish

·         Conservatives are “beyond believing” that gov’t can do something efficiently. 

·         Question – how do you respond the the charges that government is and always will be inefficient and can’t be trusted?

A – The Chamber of Commerce spent a lot of money to help defeat Eric Oemig in his run for reelection to the State Senate, showing the huge influence of money in elections.  It is naïve and deceptive to think that government is always bad and that the private markets are always efficient.  There is often huge waste with large corporate efforts.  But in working with Conservatives, we need to get past the anger and work towards understanding what it is that people really want.  We need to do the hard work of reaching out to others and working things out vs just fighting.  This can be hard, especially when we are facing anger, but it’s what is necessary to succeed.  Also, we need to do better at connecting with community members at a personal level.  This is a key successful tactic of the Tea Party.


Conservative view –  our basic needs were taken care of until the government decided to provide them.  Now people are reluctant to give because they are already paying the government to provide these needs.

·         Question – Isn't it true that government programs encourage people to become dependent and lazy, rather than encouraging work and independence?  Also, why do you think it is the government's responsibility to provide basic community needs?

A – This is a skewed view of reality, but we do need to work to be efficient at the services we provide.  Our government support should be focused on helping people to take control over their own lives and to be contributing members of the community. 


Additional Conservative Inputs –

·         Hard core Conservatives don’t want any gov’t involvement.  Spending money on people that “don’t want to work.  But this is a small minority. 

·         Moderate Conservatives believe the way to provide services  is through public/private partnerships – leaner, less waste, more due dilligence with funds

·         Question – as a service provider, how do you respond to this charge that any public funds should go through a public/private partnership to avoid waste and fraud?

A – Although no agency receives 100% funding from the government, most of the funding in the non-profit sector is from the government.  Government funds are core.  Partnerships are the norm.  If Conservatives want to cut government funding because they are saying services should be provided through non-profits, they’re missing the reality of how things work, and how they work best.


Taxes – a Conservative legislator said that when he was doorbelling, at least 50% of his constituents demanded both “don’t raise my taxes” PLUS “give my kids healthcare”. 

·         He indicated he almost always voted against new taxes, but did vote for new user fees a few times where he thought appropriate, and he still got hammered for this.

·         Need comprehensive tax reform, but –

o   Taxes should be “pro-growth”

o   Can’t punish the wealthy – they create growth by investing in private sector

o   No one trusts Democrats on taxes, that Dems will always create a crisis to raise people’s taxes

·         Question – how do we raise revenue in this environment?

To this, we had extensive discussion around the current tax revolt, and the need for government to be efficient in providing services.


Back to the first question for the forum:  are we entering a “new normal” in our society where gov’t can only provide a bare minimum safety net?

o   With exception of the very wealthy, we have all had to either lower our standard of living or reduce our expectations of our future standard of living

o   You can pick your culprit –

§  Globalization, corruption in Gov’t, corporate governance, deteriorating ethics, weakening American schools and infrastructure, rising standards of living for the masses in India and China, etc.  

o   But at the end of the day we have to make an assessment of where we are and what sacrifices we will make and what we can afford.

o   It's not a surprise then that those living on public support at the bottom of the economic ladder would suffer a lower standard of living as well. 

o   We simply are not the wealthy country we once were and don't have the economic prospects we once had.  In fact, by some measures we're insolvent.

·         Question – what is your response to this assessment?

A – the panel disagreed with the notion that it is the fault of China or the rest of the developing world for our local economic woes, as well as the notion that we can’t provide basic needs to our community going forward.


Audience questions and ensuing discussion included –

·       The huge US prison population and how so many of our scare resources are spent imprisoning people vs helping to better bring them into society.

·       How we need better Progressive media

·       City politics leading to inefficient outcomes

·       How to discuss issues with emotional and often irrational folks (Note – emotion is often underrated.  We need to connect with people on an emotional level to succeed.  What changes minds are not facts, but clear stories about real people.)


Final question –

·         What does the future look like, and what can activists do to help shape the future?

A – We need to get away from an “us vs them” attitude.  We need to practice the art of love instead of the art of war.  If people attach you for your views on things, we need to assess what is at the root of what they are afraid of.  You can’t win an argument. 

·         Clean and fair elections are key.  Visit to help support this and to get involved.

·         We don’t want to have to provide key services to people – it’s better to create a community where people can buy their own food and housing.  For this, we need to work to create a robust local economy so that living-wage jobs exisit.

·         Today, we provide K-12 education.  This should be changed to “Zero to 12”.  Early learning and support is key.

·         Most of our community is not angry because the government helps to provide basic services.  When we hear that in the media, it is spin from the far right.

·         To succeed, we need more than just passing a law.  We need a solid community foundation, infrastructure and support.

·         Broadening the base of our community is also important.  Seattle is trying to do this through a concerted effort to reach out to the rest of the state. 




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