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    Kent Kammerer: Seattle loses its neighborhood 'Yoda'

    The late activist and writer loved talking to people, wherever he found them, and he served as ringmaster for a crucial level of civic debate in Seattle.

    Kent Kammerer hosted discussions on city policies over monthly breakfasts at Salmon Bay Cafe.

    Kent Kammerer hosted discussions on city policies over monthly breakfasts at Salmon Bay Cafe. Bacon sandwich/Flickr

    Kent Kammerer

    Kent Kammerer

    Kent Kammerer wasn't a journalist, but he talked to people. He loved talking to people.

    I first got to know him when I was invited down to the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition, a rag-tag, grassroots group of truly independent Seattleites that meets once a month in a diner to hear speakers talk about civic issues. The SNC can be a tough crowd. That first time, I was on a panel with then Seattle Times Executive Editor Mike Fancher, who was nearly eaten alive by citizens angry at the paper, and the media in general. The SNC may be a kaffeeklatsch, but the participants can bite.

    A couple of things struck me. One was that it was a refreshing change from Seattle Nice: these were activists who weren't shy about asking questions or speaking their minds. And these were no-Astro Turf activists, but people who represented and loved their varied patches of Seattle. It was like a meeting of Darwin's finches all in one room. Grumpy finches.

    The other was that the group had no particular ideological bias, save a general questioning of civic authority, namely city hall, downtown business, the media, and conventional wisdom. They are a coalition of folks who don't indulge in group-think. Some lament Seattle's one-party-townness, but at the grassroots, outrage is often less driven by ideology than circumstance. As a guest, you never knew from which field a ball was coming, left, right, or from somewhere up in the bleachers

    Presiding over it all, like a mossback Yoda, was Kent Kammerer, who booked the guests and took careful, thorough minutes of the meetings, which he would send out afterwards. I was impressed by these documents because they showed that Kent actually listened to what was said, and worked hard to present even views he strongly disagreed with fairly. And over the years, as I attended breakfast both to speak and listen, I became friends with Kent. I found a retired teacher who was intensely curious, deeply thoughtful, not cynical — capable still of hope and outrage — and someone deeply committed to democracy.

    Through the SNC, he helped facilitate direct links between neighborhood activists and policy makers and others who were civically engaged. Recent coalition guests include King County prosecutor Dan Satterburg, new city librarian Marcellus Turner, Sound Transit and Metro critics Emory Bundy and John Niles, Anne Levinson on police accountability, University of Washington Professor David Montgomery talking about how civilizations unravel and fall apart. The ensuing Q&A's at the breakfasts are always the best part. I love the image of a bunch of crusty neighborhood activists discussing theories on the fall of empire while eating hashbrowns at Ballard's Salmon Bay Cafe.

    Kent was the ringmaster of a crucial level of civic debate in Seattle. He helped create an old-school social network with more substance than Facebook. It was a place where people could gossip and argue over the back fence, but also often put questions — big questions, or wonky or trivial questions — to people in the know.

    Kent loved new information. He was a teacher, but also a student. And his love of asking questions extended everywhere. I remember early on Crosscut, I had written a story that had infuriated the town of Pomeroy, Washington. Kent wrote me. It turned out he had traveled to Pomeroy, he knew Pomeroy, and that I had missed some important things about the place. Kent knew these things because he'd once parked his RV there and had met and talked with the locals in this obscure part of Washington. He was well-traveled around the region, and I imagined him exploring it "Travels with Charley"-style. His impressions were insightful. They came from listening. It turns out, Kent not only took the minutes at SNC meetings, but he had a knack, an ear, and a love for talking to people who were just people and taking in their stories and opinions.

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    Posted Mon, Nov 14, 3:43 p.m. Inappropriate

    Yes, he was a good guy. Very nice piece, thanks Knute.


    Posted Tue, Nov 15, 6:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    Going to the SNC meetings didn't really fit into our family's schedule, but Kent's write-ups were always very informative. I will greatly miss Kent.


    Posted Tue, Nov 15, 8:20 a.m. Inappropriate

    Are his minutes from these meetings available anywhere online?


    Posted Tue, Nov 15, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks, Knute, for this story. It give those who did not know Kent a nice picture of what he was about.

    When I told Kent I was running for City Council, he warned me about the process even as he thanked me sincerely for giving it a try. At various times through the year-long campaign he'd call or email with encouragement. He had an uncanny knack to share those words of encouragement at the times when things were roughest. His endorsement was welcome, but his friendship and encouragement were much more important through the long days and nights of campaigning.

    For the majority of Seattleites who've never been to a SNC breakfast, you're really missing something. I always marvelled at the roster of Seattle heavyweights who would travel to Denny and, when that diner closed, to industrial Ballard to share their views and have them dissected by some of the smartest people in Seattle.

    Several people are stepping up to make sure SNC and Kent's eclectic breakfasts will not perish. That's a small comfort in the wake of the loss of this great man. I'm so thankful we had a chance to celebrate him and others instrumental in the SNC family this past summer -- something I hope will be an annual thing we can use to keep Kent's memory alive for future generations of Seattle advocates who don't quite fit into group-think, neo-urbanist view too often masquerading as the dominant conversation in our fair city.

    David Miller


    Posted Tue, Nov 15, 11:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    David, Thanks for letting us know about the plans to continue Kent's breakfasts. That's good news!

    Posted Tue, Nov 15, 2:03 p.m. Inappropriate

    A friend of the people, and an inspiration.

    Posted Tue, Nov 15, 11:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thank you for this, which captures the Kent I knew from Crosscut articles and got to know in the last year with emails full of wry jokes and wonderful pictures. He made it a small project to encourage and mentor me to be a Neighborhood Activist in the real sense, even though work circumstances lately have left me with no free time. He defied categories that many of us get castigated with, by being a constant listener, willing to articulate and very kindly question all points of view.

    Posted Wed, Nov 16, 6:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    A good man. A friend and mentor. My heart is sad.

    Posted Wed, Nov 16, 7:57 a.m. Inappropriate

    For anyone aspiring to be an activist in Seattle, Kent was an inspiration. He got the best people to come to a small gathering held once a month. You had access to people you'd never have anywhere else.

    The minutes of the meeting were phenomenal. He was able to give detail while providing a great overview.

    I will miss his quiet smarts and willingness to step up to better our community.

    Melissa Westbrook
    Save Seattle Schools Community blog


    Posted Wed, Nov 16, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    I met Kent Kammerer over 15 years ago when he invited me to a Seattle Neighborhood Coalition breakfast. My roommate and I had just started the Seattle Commons Opponents Committee, and Kent also invited then-Editor of the Seattle Times Mike Fancher. I complained that their glowing coverage of the proposed Commons presented a real conflict of interest given their extensive property holdings in the area, and shortly thereafter they put a better reporter on the story who started discussing the real costs and impacts of the proposal.

    Kent was an extraordinarily gracious person who made a difference in many many lives, and will be sorely missed.


    Posted Thu, Dec 15, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    Kent was one of my few rocks during some very tough times in Seattle and one of its last icons of true NW culture. His spirit is the City's only hope. Knute Berger - you carry quite a bit of that spirit yourself, and you should be proud.

    Posted Sat, Jan 7, 8:07 p.m. Inappropriate

    I posted two pictures from the Kent Kammerer memorial on January 6 at http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2990822496442.154339.1438511308&type;=1&l;=5d772f6418


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