Seattle's not-so-radical history will reassert itself

Guest Opinion: What our past may tell us about the current push for new policies.

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The city's founders deliberately set out to create a bourgeois city, and it has remained one ever since. Radicalism takes root among those who have little to lose, and in Seattle there has always been something to lose. The shipyard workers who fomented the general strike had been paid well and had comfortable lives that they wanted to maintain. More recently, younger Boeing workers accepted unappealing contract provisions because they knew what a career in a Boeing factory could do for them.

Seattle is doing well economically and can afford to push the policy envelope a bit. But after an experiment or two, leaders will revert to type and get the city back to the business of the past 163 years: making money and enjoying the scenery.

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Michael Luis is author of "Century 21 City, Seattle’s Fifty Year Journey from World’s Fair to World Stage" and several community histories of the Eastside. He serves as Executive Director of the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood and can be reached at

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Posted Tue, May 27, 8:49 a.m. Inappropriate

We're all neo-liberals now?


Posted Tue, May 27, 10:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle's self-image as a progressive enclave is a delusion. On most issues, the city's politics are centrist, at least compared to other urban areas. Our relative prosperity gives us the luxury of appearing progressive. Our politics only **seem** progressive because the rest of the state and the country has shifted so far to the right.

Despite occasional outbursts of leftist rhetoric, lately expressed in the $15 minimum wage debate, city leaders consistently bow to the wishes of the corporate elite. In some cases, the city council and the bureaucracy are in the thrall of business interests, such as property developers, who almost always get their way when it comes to the types of housing they want to build, height limits, design reviews, and so on. This hand-in-glove relationship is part of the reason for Seattle's growing inequality. Any success by true progressives is on the margins, not in the core. The strategy is this: Give the vocal "progressives" a little of what they want, while the true movers and shakers march on.

Posted Tue, May 27, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Detailed take-no-prisoners explanation of your lament and the author's accurately pegged —"make money and enjoy the scenery," which has been especially pronounced throughout Seattle history can be found in the new book, Fragile By Design, The Political Origins of Banking Crises & Scarce Credit.


Posted Fri, May 30, 2:32 p.m. Inappropriate

My friend who attended the rallies and collected signatures for $15 now:

"It's hard to second guess this sort of thing. It's like bargaining a contract. $15 Now did get everyone's expectations up by threatening to swing for the fences, but in the end made the judgement that rather than risk striking out it was better to go for a double and stay in the game."

My response:

If Sawant had said no to this plan, called it unacceptably watered down, and continued with the ballot measure this plan would have been the minimum gained with the $15 now still a possibility. By going down without the fight promised she has shown herslf to be a paper tiger easily co-opted. Should Sawant start lobbying for rent control what leverage will she have? Will anyone take her seriously if she threatens to do a ballot initiative? Will you collect signatures for it? Will other people? She's done! She's got a smaller raise for the workers than might have been and helped the reelection campaigns of all these spineless liberals she has now joined with. In other words Sawant has effectively joined the Democrat party.


Posted Tue, May 27, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

That's a pretty interesting perspective on the previous Mayor, who was a lawyer and friend of Vulcan. What exactly was "far left" about Mike McGinn, unless your perspective is decidedly RIGHT of center?

As for Conlin, he'd moved away from much of the social progressive agenda that originally got him elected, he had already served four consecutive terms, and he had the misfortune of drawing the opponent rallying behind a minimum wage increase.

And if you're one of the many fools (including her own supporters) who thinks the election of Sawant is any demonstration of some far-left rallying cry, we'll see how that plays out... Plenty of Democrats supported her because of the minimum wage and plenty of Independents simply wanted to shake things up for a change.


Posted Tue, May 27, 4:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Since when has legalized marijuana been a "progressive" cause? All of my adult life, liberals have been just as prohibitionist as conservatives. The legalization of marijuana is a libertarian cause, and the state's approval of that initiative has nothing to do with Seattle's crazy $15/hr minimum wage fascination.


Posted Wed, May 28, 9:34 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm looking forward to the vote-by-district for Council seats and curious to see how that shakes things up.


Posted Fri, May 30, 2:36 p.m. Inappropriate

My hope is that district representation puts an end to these sports stadium giveaways. If these rich parasites want to bring an NBA team here under the current city hall handout they have until 2017 to get it done.


Posted Thu, May 29, 1:37 p.m. Inappropriate

No, I don't think that Ms. Sawant and the Occupy Whatever/$15 Now crowd are a wave of the future, but that does not mean they are not harbingers of deeper changes of the sort that can't as facilely be dismissed as this article purports. It is not simply a matter of workers being pushed down, but of being pushed out - we are in the process of becoming an "enclave" city (think San Francisco), populated by an elite of white collar professionals/technicians (mostly white), while service workers (mostly not white) are increasingly being priced out, due to stagnant wages and skyrocketing rents, pushed out to an outer-ring of decaying suburbs at the end of our future light-rail lines (think Paris). We are going from a polyglot metropolis to, well, a bowl of vanilla pudding. How boring, boring, boring. The galleries will still be here, where the customers are, but the artists? They'll be in Everett or Tacoma...

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